An age-old crop traditionally used in natural remedies is making a strong debut on the sustainability stage as a viable bio-plastic. Castor beans are easy to grow, replenish fairly quickly and are farmed in soil that wouldn’t be good for food crops, eliminating the crop competition problem from corn-based ethanol. Castor plants only need watering about once every three weeks, and thrive in arid lands. Currently, most castor is grown in India, and as several companies actualize the oil’s potential as a source material, it could mean a thriving market for Indian farmers.
Interface, a company that is consistently ranked among the top leaders in sustainability efforts, is currently creating prototype carpet tiles made from Castor beans. Interface has committed to end using virgin petroleum to manufacture their carpet tiles in the next seven years.
The company has a strong recycling program, and currently recycle many of their own tiles from customers at the end of the tile’s life cycle. They have also had success from fishing net salvage projects in Southeast Asia and employing artisan weavers to use local materials for carpet manufacturing. Castor beans will offer a long-term, consistent source for Interface’s manufacturing plants. The prototype castor bean tiles are 63% castor oil and 37% nylon.
Another company, Zeal, is also looking to castor oil to create consumer products. The new sunglass line from Zeal is made completely petroleum-free. The frame and lenses are crafted from castor-based bioplastic, and are able to maintain high quality clarity and are able to block UVA and UVB rays.
While sunglasses are fairly low on the carbon footprint scale, they are an excellent choice for conscious consumers looking to eliminate petroleum products from their purchases. The sunglasses are also great example of what may turn out to be a viable option for ending the use of petroleum in manufacturing.