Sustainable Materials for Injection Molding

The problem of plastic waste production has become increasingly pervasive over the last several decades. Driven by a desire for cheaper consumer products and faster manufacturing solutions, plastics have become vital in nearly every industry across the globe. Unfortunately, due to the absence of systematic recycling programs, this results in the production of about 400 million metric tonnes of plastic waste every year.

While injection molding is significantly less wasteful than some other plastic manufacturing methods, waste is still an issue, particularly from purgings, runners, and scrap. But there are some measures that injection molders can take to minimize this or remove it altogether. Along with internal recycling systems, such as those in place at Noble Plastics, innovations in sustainable materials are starting to emerge as a viable solution to plastic waste.

Exploring Options in Sustainable Materials for Injection Molding

For a long time, the applications of sustainable materials in injection molding were limited. However, with recent advances in science and technology, these materials are becoming much more accessible.

Bioplastics and biocomposites, for instance, have garnered a lot of attention in recent years. At Noble Plastics, we have partnered with Louisiana State University (LSU) on materials and process research, including biodegradable beads for Mardi Gras.  We are also currently partnering with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) for research in biopolymers and applications of waste streams into moldable materials.

But we don’t stop there. We’re also heavily invested in utilizing or recycling regrind. Regrind is the excess material left over after a production run. It typically comes from scraps, runners, and sprues and, until recently, piled up as unusable waste. But now, regrind is a major part of our offering as an injection molder. Some of our customers have even been able to use 100% regrind in their production. And, what we can’t use, we sell to recyclers.

With relationships and internal programs like these in place, Noble Plastics remains committed to participating with industry providers and researchers at LSU and ULL to advance innovations that drive sustainability in injection molding.

Case Study: Noble Partners with LSU to Produce Biodegradable Mardis Gras Beads

In 2020, Noble Plastics partnered with Dr. Naohiro Kato at LSU to research and formulate a biodegradable material that could be molded into Mardi Gras beads. At the time, Dr. Kato was leading research into algae and detected a polymerization of proteins in the composite of the algae. He reached out to the engineering department at Noble Plastics with his findings, and we were able to mold 320 32-inch biodegradable necklaces for the event.

(An amusing side note: Working with this material made our facility smell distinctly of popcorn. Our people on the floor got very hungry.)

Unlike traditional plastic Mardi Gras beads, which might sit in landfills for decades, this product was designed to break down within 1-2 years of sitting in soil.

Today, we aim to assist in further efforts to develop this algae-based material into a more commercially feasible option. As an injection molding manufacturer, we believe that we have a unique responsibility to find solutions to the problems of plastic waste production. Mardi Gras beads are only the beginning.

Sustainable Materials for Injection Molding: Challenges and Misconceptions

When it comes to challenges and misconceptions, many people still tend to believe that sustainable materials are inferior in quality. Then there is the perception that sustainable materials come with higher production costs and use limitations. This can be the case, but these problems can also be mitigated or resolved entirely through more development. As researchers continue to refine these materials, we believe that the usability and affordability will only grow.

At the end of the day, everyone can make products that melt away fast (think packing peanuts). The real magic will be creating sustainable products that will break down in the environment but that are able to be shelf-stable in the humidity and heat that comes with trucking, warehousing, etc.

But that’s why we’re so passionate about this subject at Noble Plastics. Plastic materials come with a long list of advantages, but it’s also our responsibility to adjust our methods for a more sustainable world that will last for generations to come.

Work with Noble Plastics for Sustainable Injection Molding

At Noble Plastics, our goal is to get to zero-landfill waste in all of our operations. While we’re still in the early stages of attaining that, we remain committed to providing the highest quality injection molding services to our customers with a mindfulness towards sustainability. Between that and our dedication to leveraging the latest in advanced manufacturing technology, including automation and FANUC robots, Noble Plastics aims to be a leader in the plastic injection molding industry.

Are you interested in exploring sustainable materials for your next production run? Reach out to our experts today and let’s talk.

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