Thursday, August 06, 2009

samsung bio plastic phpne: plant-based alternative

Samsung is making headway with its new Reclaim, a phone made from over 80% recycled materials.

The slider phone is made from bio-plastics which is produced from corn and is PVC-free. The phone features a 2MP camera, stereo Bluetooth and can support a speculated microSD card up to 32GB. The packaging of the device will be green as well, as it’s made from 70% recycled materials and printed with soy-based ink. The phone was launched by Sprint, who will offer it in “Earth Green” and “Ocean Blue” colors for $50 with a two-year contract.

Its great that Samsung has adopted bio plastics, but I would like to make a plea to all other designers out there to embrace this plant based alternative as well. Here is some history:

Face the facts: plastic is choking the planet. The molecular bonds that make the material extremely durable also make it ex-cruciatingly slow to degrade, so it hangs around for a long, long time. Americans currently recycle only 12 percent of plastic containers and packaging—most of it ends up in landfills or, worse, in the natural environment. There, it breaks down into smaller bits, picks up oily pollutants, and gets ingested by birds and fish. (The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a stew of plastic junk northeast of Hawaii that is estimated to be twice the size of Texas—is one of the more egregious examples of this phenomenon.)

Luckily, there is a viable alternative: plastics made from plants—bioplastics—have several key advantages over their synthetic cousins. They aren’t derived from petroleum, a dwindling, nonrenewable resource, they won’t stick around forever; and in the right conditions, they can degrade in a matter of months. And the carbon dioxide released when they do degrade is offset by the carbon sequestered by the next crop of plastic-making plants. The bad news: bioplastics currently make up just a tiny portion of global plastic production, and they face significant hurdles to more widespread adoption.

Bioplastics are not new. In the 1850s, a British chemist created plastics from cellulose, a derivative of wood pulp. Later, in the early 20th century, Henry Ford experimented with soy-based plastics in his automobiles, even going so far as to unveil a complete prototype plastic car in 1941. But by that time petroleum had emerged as a source for synthetic polymers, which possessed more favorable properties than plant-based versions. World War II cemented the dominance of synthetic plastics, and in the 70 years since we’ve not looked back.

Only in the last decade, in response to the rising cost and shrinking supply of oil, have bioplastics reemerged in consumer applications. In 2003, NatureWorks—a joint venture of Cargill, the largest agricultural business in the United States, and Dow Che ical, the country’s biggest chemical company—began producing Ingeo bioplastics, which can be extruded into containers for food packaging and into fibers for apparel, furnishings, and disposable products such as baby wipes. Ingeo is a PLA, or polylactic acid, derived from corn—the most common and fully developed of the current crop of bioplastics. But alternatives are also being made from castor beans, sugarcane, algae, and even chicken feathers. In theory, you could make plastic out of thin air by extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Cell-phone casings are one such example. Last year, the Japanese company NEC unveiled a phone with a corn-based-plastic body before Samsung. Other companies have added strengthening fibers to PLA—creating what’s called a biocomposite—but that tends to tarnish the material’s appearance and make it less desirable for industrial-design applications.

There are still some obstacles to sort out, even though bioplastics have a net-zero carbon footprint as a material, their production still creates CO². Plus, bioplastics pose a recycling problem. While they could be recycled in theory, the infrastructure to do so is not in place.

More here.

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