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Tough Enough for Bathrooms, Gentle on the Earth

Design Ideas Ltd.’s eco-conscious bath accessories rely on bio-based polymer


The Challenge

How did Design Ideas Ltd., a home and office product design firm, find a way to create refined, resilient and responsibly made bathroom accessories? 

Not by compromising. 

Design Ideas CEO Andy Van Meter and his team wanted to develop a “green” line of bathroom products to meet growing consumer demand for environmentally responsible products and to further the company’s own goals. “We take pride in making our products in a socially responsible way,” he explains.

The concept was to create products—including a soap/shampoo dispenser, toothbrush holder, wastebasket and cup—that not only stood out for their renewable content and biodegradability, but also for their high-end aesthetics. What Design Ideas found, though, is that the bathroom is a harsh environment for sustainable materials.

“We were having difficulty finding a source of polymer that could meet our sustainability goals while delivering on the functional requirements of the application,” Van Meter says. “Many candidates could not stand up to the moist, warm conditions of a bathroom.”

Design Ideas needed a material that was environmentally responsible while providing excellent injection molding performance. It also had to offer stiffness, durability, chemical and heat resistance, and come in vibrant, eye-catching colors. 

The Solution

Following several false starts, Design Ideas turned to PolyOne for collaboration. PolyOne identified a potential solution in PHBV — Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate) — a biopolymer material derived from 100 percent annually renewable resources, such as starch.

With a promising option in hand, PolyOne set to work. First, it characterized the base resin. Next, it conducted a series of experiments to develop refinements that would provide the right combination of processability and physical properties while retaining the biodegradability that was important to Design Ideas. 

The result was a polymer that does not deteriorate in the open air or with ordinary use, but does decompose into carbon dioxide, water and biomass when exposed to microorganisms in compost or soil. In addition, the PHBV-based biopolymer can withstand temperatures of 110 C/230 F and will perform for years under normal conditions.

As a final step, PolyOne pre-colored the compound to provide superior part appearance and lot-to-lot consistency for Design Ideas’ eye-catching color palette. 

The Impact

The custom reSound™ Biopolymer enabled Design Ideas to create a unique and attractive eco-conscious line of bathroom products while supporting its sustainability goals.

  • Green branding = new market penetration: With the distinctive bathroom accessories, Design Ideas created EcoGen™, a brand that targeted consumers’ desire for eco-conscious products without any compromise to style or quality.
  • Differentiated product line = higher price point: Thanks to its unique value proposition, Design Ideas was able to position its EcoGen products among such high-end house wares retailers as The Container Store.
  • Reliable product performance = enhanced consumer satisfaction: The custom-compounded biopolymer is impact resistant, enhancing safety in the bathroom. The material also passed a stringent dishwasher test involving multiple cycles, something most other biodegradable polymers could not achieve.
  • Green product with vibrant colors = increased consumer appeal: Green products are often less physically attractive than their non-green counterparts. The pre-colored compounds used by Design Ideas provide consistent, vibrant, beautiful colors that keep their good looks, even with regular use.

Design Ideas’ EcoGen line of accessories received significant media attention and proved popular with consumers. 

“We chose to produce this new range of products from the most natural material we could find without sacrificing performance,” Van Meter says. “Producing new products in an environmentally sound way is core to our mission. In PolyOne, we found a reliable partner that was able to create an outstanding material solution.” 

 

TM “EcoGen” is a trademark of Design Ideas Ltd.

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