Thoughts….Posted: November 15, 2015
Increasingly as I write, I find myself considering the political implications of the materials in question. The plastics industry seems
to reflect, as with most things, a wider political debate.
To use a cliche (and perhaps extend it a little) to illustrate my thoughts; biopolymers appear to be a rather small fish in a rather
large pond … The pond is full of bigger fish as you might expect. All the fish, both big and small take in sustenance to survive,
the small fish feed on renewable plant matter, whereas the bigger fish feed on oil. However the two are competing for the same space
if not the same food, so one fish, probably the smaller, might be threatened by the other. The problem starts on that day where the
small fish no longer have the space within the lake to survive, and are forced to extinction. The larger fish continue to power on,
until that day when their choice of sustenance no longer exists, and they too face extinction.
Obviously this is a rather single track minded, worst-case-scenario way of looking at the issue. To pull away from the cliche, it seems
that in such a saturated market, where there is an unfathomably vast amount of investment in non-renewable polymers, which have been
tailored and tinkered with to produce a product which meets the immediate customer demand and return maximum profit, biopolymers face
a Goliath. The synthetics industry has a research and investment head start. The relative costs of biopolymers are higher, making direct
competition difficult. The decision to choose the more costly biopolymer has to be an ethical one, with an acceptance that costs to
yourself as a designer, and your customer after you, will increase. Similarly, it would seem the same for making the decision to invest
in biopolymers rather than synthetic polymers. The risk is much higher, and so from a business sense, or at least a capitalist business
sense, synthetics might seem the most likely to return profit on investment.
The most positive factor biopolymers do have on their side however is their renewability, whether the synthetic polymer industry are
prepared or not, the tides will one day turn. When there is no longer the oil remaining to prevent prices from rising above that of
alternative materials, then a renewable shift has the opportunity to take place. Quite when this will happen remains a topic for debate.
Perhaps among the few people able to bring about that change sooner, are the designers and manufacturers of products. If they decide
to take the risk of an ethical shift as a unified group and produce an increasing amount if renewable products, this might change things
much sooner. This however, in a world governed by money and business, seems highly unlikely.