In the world of materials, “proprietary mixture” is a common concept: if you tell the world what your material is actually made of, then they might simply use your recipe and make it cheaper. If you and your company have spent many months/years and incalculable amounts of money in the development, testing, and marketing of a product, it is perfectly understandable that you wouldn’t want this to happen.
When it comes to “sustainable” or “green” materials, however, it is increasingly difficult to actually determine whether these labels can be assessed without some more information than is being provided. Case in point, cristalplant.
At Salone this year, I stumbled upon (can you “stumble upon” something that is on the second floor?) an exhibition of pieces made from this material, which is purported to be a “sustainable”, “recyclable”, and “biobased” solid surface material. With the number of people interested in these materials for both interior and exterior projects, this would – indeed – be a massive development.
I went to their site, and found many accounts of how practical the material was, how well it formed, and how designers love it. I found that they have earned a GREENGUARD (kind of fun how the links are green, right . . . ?) certificate, but that is limited to VOC emissions. This is good, but it doesn’t really say much: Corian® and Staron® are also GREENGUARD certified, so it isn’t even a point of differentiation.
As for the “recyclable” aspect, what does that mean? Both Corian and Staron have lines that incorporate recycled content – is that the same here? Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but grinding post-industrial waste into fill for new product is a thin definition of recyclability.
The most interesting part of the promotion, however, is the “biobased” angle: neither LG nor DuPont are claiming that any plants died (not in this millennium, at least) to make their products. So, what sort of PLA, PHB, or PHA might be in there?
Here is where the transparency comes to a more translucent point: the BIOBASED link does – and this is a very good thing – explain that the material is “50% minerals and 50% polyester bio-resin”.
They go further to say that the mineral content is aluminum hydrate “recovered” from the “processing of Bauxite for the extraction of aluminium” (written by a Brit, no doubt). I’m no metallurgist, but a quick read would seem to indicate that aluminum hydrate is the sole and intended point of processing bauxite. So, not really “recovered” in the sustainable sense.
As for the 50% bio-resin, that is explained further with the following: “30% of the resin previously of fossil origin has been replaced by polyesters of plant origin deriving from certified cultivations.” This would indicate that the resin part is a 40/60 ratio of plant-derived plastic and garden-variety (ironically meaning not-from-the-garden) polyester.
This is further explained with the comment: “The material was certified in 2011 for its use of resins derived from vegetable starch and OGM-free maize; the material contains, in fact, more than 12% of these resins when the minimum requirement is normally 5%.” The specification that the resin is derived from vegetable starch/maize would indicate that it is a PLA, which is good; but the percentage of material stated at “more than 12%” when the minimum is 5% makes little sense when they say that it is 30% in the big shouty numbers. If half of the plant-derived plastic is plant-derived, what’s the rest of it?
Make no mistake: the fact that there is ANY plant-based plastic in a solid surface material is a good thing. Less petroleum-based material is always a step in the right direction. The material (according to the manufacturer) is also 30% lighter, which would also be a good thing. In short – this should be a much better material than the competitors’ products, from a sustainability perspective.
Why can’t the information be clearer?