In his new review of Roger the Homunculus from Mezco's Hellboy Series 2, Poe bemoaned the rising cost of toys, and how it's related to the rising cost of oil. He also mentioned that there are lots of alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, which got my attention. Not being particularly hippie-ish, I'd never heard that. So what are the alternatives? Poe was too lazy to find out, so here's what nine seconds worth of research on Google turned up:
- Polylactide resin (PLA) is made from corn, and is as smooth and as clear as the petrol plastics we have today. The stuff is biodegradable, under specific conditions, so if packages were made out of it, they wouldn't have to end up in landfills. Even better, PLA requires 25-55% less energy to create than oil-based plastics.
- Hemp is demonized in America today, but it's probably the heartiest crop to ever benefit mankind: hemp's medicinal properties are recognized by the medical community; hemp fabric is strong and durable; you could get four times as much paper from an acre of hemp as you could get from an acre of trees; and hey, guess what, you can make plastic from it, too.
- Thermoplastic starch biodegradable plastics (TPS) use gelatinized vegetable starch to form their polymers - they've got a starch content greater than 70%. This goop, often made from soybeans, can even be used on existing fabrication equipment, meaning minimal changeover costs for the companies, and thus minimal price increases for us.
So that's three alternatives, and all three are eminently renewable - it's a lot easier to harvest a field of grain than to suck oil out of the ground. Imagine if the US government stopped paying farmers to not produce corn, or stopped buying it up just to let it rot in silos - there'd be more money for things like education and national defense, the farmers would have a high-demand market for their products, and we'd stop emptying our fuel tanks just to make room for more Star Wars figures.
I don't know if these alternative plastics would have the qualities needed by toy manufacturers. I don't know if they'd be strong or durable enough. But the alternatives are out there, and the first company to look into it and make their toys "greener" is going to get more of my money...