(Oct. 20, 2008) — Canon Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. made headlines last week for materials-related choices in their electronics products. One of the companies chose to work with bio-based plastics, while the other one trumpeted a move away from plastics.
Canon announced that it had developed a new bio-based plastic for use in 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.
What makes the material special is its high level of flame retardance, which makes it appropriate for use in office equipment exterior parts. On top of that, Canon and Toray expect it to offer a 20 percent reduction in manufacturing-related carbon dioxide emissions, compared with conventional plastics.
Apple, on the other hand, 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 played up the materials angle in its rollout of the new products, saying they were “designed with the environment in mind.”
“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 chief executive officer.
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 MacBooks 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.”
Computer makers have been under a lot of pressure from Greenpeace, which puts out a Green Electronics scorecard that rates the major manufacturers. (Right now Apple is in the middle of the pack, far behind Nokia Corp. but light years ahead of Nintendo Co. Ltd.)
Those MacBooks still carry a premium price — prices start at $1,299, which is pretty steep for a notebook these days — so don't expect the competition to follow the leader and switch to aluminum enclosures.
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. Apparently there are a lot of consumers who care about environmental issues when it comes to buying computers and office equipment. If Canon can win some over by using plastic made from corn, manufacturers of other kinds of durable products (appliances, housewares, sporting goods, among others) will want to do the same.
Don Loepp is managing editor of
Don Loepp is managing editor ofPlastics News and author of The Plastics Blog.