Eco-friendly materials ready to replace everything, Waikato University professor says
Everything in your household could be made out of eco-friendly or recycled materials, an engineering professor's research shows.
There is no need for new plastics to still be produced, Waikato University Professor Kim Pickering said.
Furniture and household appliances could be composed of hemp, harakeke (flax), scrap plastic and cornmeal gluten (a powdery byproduct of the corn milling process) or corn starch.
Houses could be well insulated using chicken feathers.
"And this is a waste product ... those feathers have got to go somewhere," Pickering said.
But so far, these sustainable products can't be found on the shelves.
Pickering has spent almost 20 years researching recyclable, biodegradable and bio-derived composite materials.
Her recent work involves 3D printing using sustainable materials.
"People have made shoes out of 3D printing materials. We could print shoes out of this stuff."
Calling quits on single-use plastic bags is a start, but it's not enough, Pickering said.
The Royal Society Te Apārangi awarded her a Scott medal - given to a New Zealand researcher every two years - for her years of work at the Faculty of Science and Engineering.
One day, even houses and bridges could be made from a combination of recycled and bio-derived composites.
"We want to grow hemp - as far as the composite goes, there are a lot of applications there. Anything with glass fibre in it, we could be replacing that."
Glass fibres are thin, silica fibre strands that insulation materials such as Pink Batts are made out of.
It would be easy to replace plastic in sports equipment, too - Pickering has a skateboard in her office that a fourth-year student made out hemp.
"What's stopping us now? The technology is there."
The stumbling block is money - the products are not commercially viable.
Companies have been interested, but nobody has taken the leap yet.
"It is difficult getting that buy-in, because there is that cost associated with it.
"Natural fibre can be produced more cheaply than glass fibre."
The end cost wouldn't be much different, Pickering said. But until it is mass produced it will be more expensive.
"That's a problem way beyond me."
"We would like to work with a company to ensure that [the materials] are reproducible.
"It's that final tweaking to make sure it is consumer ready."
"We're just not paying the full price of what we are doing to the planet.
It might be denial stopping us from moving forward, Pickering said. It's a natural response for when things are going badly.
"I love New Zealand. I just worry for it."