Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The other kind of plastic

Water bottles, grocery bags and many other common consumer containers are made from recyclable plastics called thermoplastics or thermoplastic resins.

When you head out to add things to your neighborhood or company plastics recycling bin, these are the kinds of polymers you're taking out to be melted down and molded into new products. And that's great. But what about the rest of the plastics? The ones without the little recycling arrows or numbers?

Most of these harder plastics, known as thermoset resins, can’t be easily recycled. Unlike thermoplastic resins, cured thermosets will not melt and flow. They will soften when heated, but they cannot be reshaped. These polymers, used in things like circuit boards, airplane parts, Bakelite electrical insulation and epoxy glue, decompose when heated. Most products made from these plastics end up as waste.

But all that may be changing, according to a New York Times article:

Chemists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have devised a thermoset plastic that, rather than decomposing, heals itself when heated. Writing in the journal Macromolecules, the researchers, Youchun Zhang, Antonius A. Broekhuis and Francesco Picchioni, say the material has the potential to be recycled and reused many times. ...The researchers demonstrated that the material can be shredded, melted and remolded at least seven times with no loss of mechanical properties. Their discovery, they say, adds to scientific understanding of the nature of self-healing materials, and with more research may eventually lead to the full development of recyclable thermoset plastics.

This discovery could add a whole new green dimension to businesses who produce or use thermoset plastics in their products or have significant amounts as components in their machinery or equipment.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The government gets into green business advice

A government website can help you on the road to building or expanding your green business. The site has a green side many eco-friendly business owners may not know about.

Look for practical, to the point advice including:

* Energy efficiency guidelines, suggestions and resources
* Environmental management and liability Management
* Grants, loans and incentives to fund your green business
* Government contracting opportunities
* Green commuting options including telecommuting and shared remote sites
* Green marketing rules, including what companies can and cannot legally say about their green products
* Green product development ideas
* Pollution prevention and recycling
* Case studies from real green companies -- learn from those who have been there

While some of the information is common sense, there are a lot of valuable tips and links on the site, some of which could save your company from making some costly mistakes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A race car that runs on chocolate

No, this is not the teaser for a new Willy Wonka movie. Developers in the UK have designed and produced a Formula One race car constructed from bio-materials like carrots, potatoes, flax fiber and soybean oil. And it runs on a mixture of waste chocolate and vegetable oil!

Developed at the University of Warwick's Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre, the WorldFirst vehicle incorporates a cornucopia of green technologies, including a steering wheel derived from carrots, a foam racing seat that uses flax fiber and soybean oil, a bib made from flax fiber, lubricants based on plant oils, and an "emission-destroying catalyst."

The project team says their biomaterials approach was spurred by a need to reduce costs and impact for performance auto racing. According to their website,

Following the recent turmoil in Formula 1 arising from the high costs of running competitive motor racing teams, and doubts in sponsors minds over the commercial value of their involvement, the viability of motor racing is being critically questioned. With this in mind the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (WIMRC), part of Warwick University, are seeking to prove to the motor industry that it is possible to build a competitive racing car using environmentally sustainable components. 

No details were available on the performance of the car, but developers promise full Formula One speeds from their bio-friendly design.

Friday, April 3, 2009

More and more green business ideas

And as promised, more little green steps that add up to big green changes for your business....

A breath of fresh air

Switch from toxic cleaners to fruit oil or other natural cleaners
When it comes time to install or replace carpet, choose natural materials that won't off-gas into the workplace
If possible, open windows and allow breezes through instead of running a/c's on nice days
Use soy or vegetable inks for copying instead of dyes or inks with toxins and heavy metals
Print or choose printed greeting cards and business supplies that also use soy or veggie inks, preferably on recycled and recyclable paper
Encourage employees to wear comfortable, causal clothing that can be easily washed, is made of natural fibers and does not require toxic dry-cleaning

Reduce the use

Repair, refurbish or buy used to reduce the over manufacturing of furniture, printers, vehicles and other repair-able items
Have employees turn file folders inside out and write a new file name instead of throwing them away after one project is finished
Use the smallest lawn mower possible to care for remaining grassy areas (or better yet, replace the grass with trees and xeriscaping

When it comes to green, the little stuff becomes the big stuff and the big stuff becomes the tools for changing the whole wide world, one sheet of recycled paper at a time.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quote for the day

How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?

-- Charles Lindbergh

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Green from top to bottom

Going green is big business.

The good news is you don't have to do it all at once. The readers of this blog are at vastly different points in their move to green. Some are almost all the way there, some are just beginning and some are still deciding whether it's the right direction for their company.

That's all good, because every green step is good. If you're still in the process of going green at work, or are thinking about taking those first few steps, here are some ideas for little things that add up to a lot. (If you think your business is all the way there, check the list anyhow. You may find a thing or two you missed along the way!)

Saving resources:

  • Green lighting/low energy-use bulbs
  • Timers and motion detectors to turn off unneeded lights
  • Energy-star high-efficiency appliances, computers and office equipment
  • Just-in-time manufacturing to reduce warehouse space needs
  • Manufacturing process reviews and improvements
  • Telecommuting or remote offices for employees
  • Hybrid or solar powered cars and trucks in your fleet
  • Using delivery route mapping to reduce on-the-road time
  • Solar or other alternative power sources
  • Installing drip irrigation instead of water-wasting sprinklers
  • Offering filtered water instead of bottled water at meetings and in lunchrooms

Recycling and reducing waste streams

  • Buying and using materials with high post-consumer content
  • Recycling paper from copiers and printers
  • Reusable plates, silverware and cups in lunchrooms and cafeterias
  • Recycling drop off bins throughout the facility
  • Going paperless for project routing, memos and meetings
  • Repurposing desks, chairs and other office furniture rather than buying new
  • Refilling ink cartridges
  • Donating extra (non-toxic) materials, supplies and paper goods to area schools and children's museums
  • (For retail stores and distributors) Donating out-of-season/unsold clothing, bedding, furniture, household goods and personal care items to shelters, transitional housing facilities and low income housing projects
  • Buying recyclable office supplies and other consumables

Feeding the earth

  • Replacing corporate lawns with trees, low-water xeriscaping, food producing plants and native growth plants.
  • Offering plants, seeds, garden tools and other green items as incentives, promotional giveaways and corporate logo items
  • Serving organic or natural foods and vegetarian choices in lunchrooms and at special functions

More to come......