A Question of In Mold Decoration and Recyclability

Skeptics beware. Last week, MindTribe encountered direct evidence that the Designers Accord is actually having an impact. An engineer and I were meeting with a vendor. I won’t lie. Our primary focus was in exploring some issues that might help achieve the design intent of our client’s ID team, not any altruism for the environment. Late in the discussion I asked, “So how recyclable is this stuff?”

The fascinating part of the vendor’s answer was not that he didn’t know – he didn’t. The part that was stunning is what this veteran sales rep said. He shot me a glance and said, “That is only the second time that I have been asked that. The first time was yesterday.”

The rep was an in-mold decoration (IMD) supplier who is well known and well liked within our ID/PD community. The people with whom he had met the previous day were industrial designers in San Francisco that MindTribe knows (and loves).

IMD on our HP notebook
IMD used by HP to achieve a pattern on a notebook

My colleague and I mentioned that MindTribe had joined the Designers Accord, a group committed to making products that have a positive environmental impact. We mentioned that as the engineering resource for many industrial designers, we feel it is our job to figure out how to help achieve the vision of the Accord. Then, we told him that the ID guys he’d met with were also members. (The Designers Accord)

He wrote notes on his pad. He said he’d get back to us.

Once he does his homework, he’ll find that the truth is not so scary.

The answer about IMD and recycling depends, something I learned in 2005 while doing research for an IDSA-SF InCa article (The Golden Age of Silver, see p. 8). Things like the hard coatings typically used with IMD films can inhibit recyclability. But some of the inks, when used with certain films, are not necessarily show stoppers the way that paint is. I am not saying that most of today’s IMD-enhanced consumer electronics are recyclable, but there is hope for the future. And if you are going to do a surface finish, at least IMD doesn’t emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during application. Also IMD surfaces are much less prone to scratching than painted surfaces, so plastic treated with IMD instead of paint makes products more durable and last longer. It’s not the ultimate solution, but it is a step if your client is considering paint! (My source was from a subscription to Knovel or see Study on Recyclibility [sic] of In-Mold Decorated Plastics Parts)

I mean no disrespect to our IMD friend. He is an invaluable resource to us, and this was indeed a small part of the discussion. What I am highlighting here is merely the earliest signs that the Designers Accord can make a difference. If the only one who asked the question was one “smart” designer in SF, the conversation could have died. By being the second inquirer in as many days, MindTribe helped send a message. The guy is a professional and was definitely motivated to follow up.

On the surface, the Designers Accord seems to lack teeth. The coordinators say that the barrier to entry is intentionally low to encourage adoption. To skeptics, it could sound like it is all talk or worse. (Would you take the pledge?) In fact, one reason MindTribe joined was because as product engineers we know that designers need us (and we need people like the IMD folks) to really make a difference.

In the future, there will undoubtedly emerge bigger stories of amazing William-McDonough-inspired creations (McDonough) that sprout sunflowers from biodegrading server farms (Remember the sunflower cell phone?), but for today, isn’t it good to know that together by just asking a question we are creating the demand for an answer?

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4 Responses to Early Evidence the Designers Accord Is Working

  1. Dave Smith says:

    This, more and more, is the way of the future. I myself am being “recycled and re-used” as a retired engineer who has been brought back into service to help add “sustainable procurement” to the Province of Nova Scotia’s procurement policy. So we are also asking our suppliers about the environmental impact of their products. If enough buyers and consultants ask questions regarding environmental effects, then more and more suppliers and manufacturers will design their products with these factors in mind.

  2. Lori says:

    Hi Dave:

    I personally appreciate very much that the Province of Novia Scotia pulled you back in from retirement to guide this effort. Experienced leadership can offer a better perspective on the how we adopted the nasty materials and processes to begin with, and thereby put us on a more promising path for responsible alternatives.

    Lori H.

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