With awareness of the damaging effects of plastic pollution growing all the time, the search is very much on for greener alternatives. Japan’s NEC Corp has today made commercially available a material it hopes can be a part of the solution, introducing a bioplastic made with plant ingredients that breaks down in the environment in around four years.
Plastic has become an indispensable material for modern society, taking the shape of grocery bags, toothbrushes, soda bottles and packaging for many kinds of everyday consumables. The downside to this convenience and durability is the long-lasting problems it poses to the environment, where the plastic takes many years to break down and can pose threats to wildlife in the meantime.
We have seen a great deal of promising research breakthroughs that could bring about more eco-friendly alternatives, with scientists tweaking their methods to produce plastics that break down under sunlight, or can even be repurposed as the building blocks for fuel.
NEC has been working on its own forms of green plastics, too, and has happened upon a recipe that it says offers the same durability as the traditional material, but is far friendlier for the environment. Called NeCycle, it is made up of around 50 percent cellulose sourced from non-edible plants such as wood and straw, and can be used for injection molding just like regular plastics.
This offers it the same performance as typical plastics, but it doesn’t rely on fossil resources and biodegrades in natural environments like the ocean and soil in around four years. NEC says it has now come up with a way of mass-producing NeCycle, and in a way that requires no coating processes, thereby affording it the flexibility to take on many shapes.
This versatility could make it just as convenient as regular plastics, says NEC, which will offer the material in pellet form or as molded components for all kinds of products, including automotive applications and office automation equipment. It says it will initially focus on uses with high environmental impact, and hopes to sell 5 billion yen worth (around US$46 million), in the 2025 financial year.
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