How to Use Sustainable Raw Materials in New Product Development (NPD)
When most people think of sustainable materials, they don’t think of plastics. Or, if they do, they think of them mostly in the negative, as in “We want these materials to be sustainable, not like plastics.”
Fenner Precision Polymers’ Dr. Samina Azad is working diligently to change that.
In her role as Technical Manager of Research and Development at Fenner Precision Polymers, Dr. Azad is especially interested in introducing sustainable plastics to the New Product Development (NPD) process, based on her previous experiences as a technical leader in the disposable plastic food packaging industry.
She defines three different types of sustainable materials available for NPD teams, including:
- Bioplastics, which have the same chemical structure as plastics derived from crude oil but are made from plants. Fenner Precision Polymers is in the process of switching to partly bio-based plastics for products based on thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), including belts and 3D filaments.
- Natural biopolymers, which have a unique chemical structure and are derived from micro-organisms or plants.
- Bio-composites, which are blends of plant-sourced polymers and micro-organism-based natural polymers.
A key part of sustainability, of course, is what happens after the products containing the plastic reach the end of their useful lives.
“It’s the end-of-life handling of these materials that enables them to become a sustainable resource.”
- Bioplastics can be recycled in the same way as traditional (crude-oil derived) plastics.
- Natural biopolymers are biodegradable and can be composted, because they are derived from plants and micro-organisms.
- Bio-composites may be composted, depending on the ingredients.
In addition, plastics can be recycled mechanically, with the materials turned into pellets that are reused in production. Or, in a new sustainability trend, they can be chemically recycled, breaking down the plastics into chemicals that can be reused to make brand new products.
Dr. Azad recently presented her work in sustainable plastics to the Technical Council of Central Pennsylvania’s Women in Tech Virtual Summit.