Image by Sulapac
Writer: Tommi Silvan, Vaasa university of Applied Sciences, Design Centre MUOVA.
There is some interesting companies in Finland working with sustainable materials in order to replace widely used plastics in production. One and maybe best known by now is Sulapac Ltd. Sulapac Ltd has got lot attention with their material innovation and they got even fashion company Chanel to invest in them. Company is founded by Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo, both biochemists specializing in biomaterials.
Sulapac® is a sustainable bio-based material, which biodegrades fully without leaving permanent microplastics behind. It is suitable for normal plastic product manufacturing machinery and this is a big plus. It is a lot like conventional plastic, but without its harmful impacts on the environment. We at Ecolabnet are proud that Sulapac Ltd is participating in our project as part of our product development chain when we are producing demonstration prototypes for the project.
Woodly Ltd is an environmentally friendly technology company and the developer of a wood-based, yet transparent packaging material called Woodly®. Woodly Ltd has vision to create the best-known packaging material brand in the world. Woodly® material is suitable for all kind of packaging form wraps to hard packages.
Sustainability is not only matter of materials but also production, delivering, service and actually the whole product circle. You have to understand what happens to product in all situations of product circle. To be really sustainable means you deliver, consume and collect the product back as sustainable way as possible.
Biodegradable materials and terminology
We can find new biodegradable materials in different kind of products. But not all are what it seems. There are several material features which make customers scratch their heads. You can find terms like biodegradable, fully biodegradable and bio based from product data. Bio based does not mean it is also biodegradable and biodegradable does not mean you could throw product safely to nature. Some materials need optimised conditions to degrade fully. Important thing is also does the product leave any microplastics when it degrades.
What means fully biodegradable material? Biodegradation material can be completely converted with help of microorganisms into water, CO2, and biomass. Biodegradable plastics become part of the microbial food chain and will be degraded. There are two main types of biodegradable plastics: oxo-biodegradable and hydro-biodegradable. First degradation starts with a chemical process and then follows biological process.
The European Commission has recommended EU-wide measures be taken against ‘oxo-degradable‘ plastics, and makes a clear distinction between biodegradable plastics and oxo-degradable plastics, the latter of which cannot be considered bioplastics. They are conventional plastic materials with artificial additives that do not biodegrade but merely fragment into small pieces that remain in and potentially harm the environment and endanger recycling and composting. (See https://www.european-bioplastics.org/eu-takes-action-against-oxo-degradable-plastics/)
It should be noted, that there is a difference between the definition of compostable plastics and biodegradable plastics. The decomposition of compostable plastics results from biological processes, involving customized mixtures of microorganisms. Compostable plastics degrade in less than 6 months to carbon dioxide (CO2), water, biomass and inorganic compounds without leaving traces of visually distinguishable or toxic residues but require controlled conditions. The decomposition of biodegradable plastics is carried out by microorganisms occurring naturally in nature, such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. Biodegradable materials are fully assimilated, leaving no residues in the natural environment in a specific time frame. (Source: https://www.sulapac.com/blog/key-feature/microplastic-free/)
3D printing and sustainability
For 3D printers there are various sustainable, recyclable and environmentally friendly materials on the market. Plastic is a common material for 3D printing but there are also printing methods using bio based materials. As the one future production method, and already happening now, 3D printing in large scale is interesting topic. It is suggested that it may reduce energy consumption over the lifecycle of a product. Comparing to shipping products overseas 3D printing locally the items could take about 50 percent less energy in total – thanks to reduction of material and shipping. In near future 3D printing biodegradable materials will be a crucial when considering the microplastic issue.
We are moving towards real industrial use of 3D Printing. Now there are many small players on the market and small companies and large enterprises are offering new products and technologies every now and then. But big companies are heavily investing into 3D printing. Soon it might be that only bigger companies have the capability to develop new products as the market will become tighter and big ones will run over small ones.