Canon Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. made headlines this week for materials-related choices in their electronics products. One of the companies chose to work with bio-based plastics, while one the other trumpeted a move away from plastics. Canon announced that it had developed a new bio-based plastic that will be used in exterior plastic parts for office products that will be launched early next year. Canon worked with Toray Industries Inc. to develop the material, called "Ecodear." The resin is based on polylactic acid, according to a report in our sister publication Plastics & Rubber Weekly. "Particularly in the area of flame retardance, Ecodear is the world's first bio-based plastic applicable for use in multifunction office systems to achieve 5V classification under the UL 94 flammability testing program," Canon said in a news release. "Compared with conventional petroleum-based plastics used in multifunction office systems, the new bio-based plastic developed by Canon and Toray offers an expected reduction in manufacturing-related CO2 emissions of approximately 20 percent. The development of the new bio-based plastic will enable its use not only for select parts in multifunction office systems, but also for replacing petroleum-based plastics used for exterior parts, which require a high level of flame retardance." Apple went the plastics-avoidance route, introducing a new line of MacBook laptops with aluminum unibody enclosures. The move has been rumored all summer, so it wasn't a big surprise. But it still seemed like the announcement generated quite a bit of news coverage. “Apple has invented a whole new way of building notebooks from a single block of aluminum. And, just as important, they are the industry's greenest notebooks,” said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. Greenpeace, which has been pressuring Apple to change its material usage, praised the move -- not specifically because of the switch from plastics to aluminum, but for continuing to move away from PVC and brominated flame retardants. "The new MacBook's are a major step forward," said Greenpeace's Zeina Alhajj. "The models are still not entirely free of PVC, but they mark an industry first in having a BFR-free motherboard. Apple is now setting standards for other manufacturers to follow." Those MacBooks still carry a premium price, so don't expect the competition to follow the leader and switch to aluminum. I think it will be interesting to see how Canon's PLA products sell next year -- and how much the material choice is featured in the company's marketing efforts.
Electronics makers explore materials
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