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The Shape of Things to Come

By: Andrew H. Dent, Material ConneXion
Posted: January 5, 2010, from the January 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 4 of 5

Endocrine disruption, chemicals that act like hormones in human bodies and affect the endocrine system to cause hormonal and developmental problems, continues to be a concern for many scientists and consumers alike, and it is clear that all of the potential hazards of many of the widely used plastics and the additives to those plastics are still unknown. Expect more restrictions and more consumer-driven boycotting of certain plastics or additives.

Legislation is becoming stricter and is changing faster in the area of potentially toxic materials and additives. There are wide variations in this type of legislation from country to country, and even more from state to state in the U.S. What is the next wave of restrictions and bans beyond Europe’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and California’s Prop 65, as well as others?

Biopolymers Come of Age

You’ve followed the biopolymers story with avid interest—the claims, the successes, the failures. Whether you are a believer in this type of solution as the answer for future resource dilemmas or not, biopolymers are here to stay and are only going to be used more widely. What needs to be understood is that one single biopolymer cannot be a solution to all the needs, and it will take time to create the range of plastics from plants that can fulfill all the performance requirements of today’s beauty packaging. The rise of durable bioplastics that have higher performance but are not necessarily biodegradable/compostable is a welcome sign, with applications now surfacing in eye wear (Pearlthane Eco), sportswear (DuPont Hytrel RS) and running sneakers (Arkema Pebax Rnew).

The Future Combination

The additional demands that sustainable practices put on materials means that, more than ever, the whole life cycle and total impact of material choices must be understood. A combination of reduced consumption of toxic materials, increased use of renewable resources and extended producer responsibility is the future. Designers and producers will need to respond with creative solutions and innovative choices.

*www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/06/papers-copenhagen-leader (Accessed Dec 15, 2009)