Paper or Plastic?

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Australian company Zeoform has created a biodegradeable plastic with nothing more than recycled paper waste and water. Someday it may clad one of your projects.

Cellulose is the most pervasive natural polymer on the planet. As the primary structural material in plants, it is essentially a long chain of connected sugars. We encounter cellulose in consumer goods such as textiles and wood pulp, in the form of paper. However, the Australian company Zeoform has figured out how to turn the soft, fibrous material into a hard plastic.

Made from nothing but cellulose fibers and water, Zeoform is promoted by its namesake company as “the world’s new plastic”—a nontoxic, compostable, and environmentally favorable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. The tagline is not to suggest that Zeoform may someday usurp its fossil fuel–derived counterpart. Rather, it’s intended to embody the broader meaning of plastic—namely, a substance that can be shaped and molded.

Sourced from the fibers of recycled waste paper, Zeoform exhibits characteristics of plastic and wood. It can be spray-molded, compression-molded, pressed, poured, and sculpted like plastic. After it dries, it can be sanded, routed, engraved, and laser-cut like wood. At its prototyping facility in New South Wales, the company employs its patented methods of steam explosion and enzymatic processing to transform waste paper into pulp, and then into furniture, housewares, jewelry, industrial parts, musical instruments, and building cladding. According to CEO Alf Wheeler, Zeoform derives its strength and durability from “a combination of fiber entanglement and hydroxyl bonding.” Like wood, it requires added protection from the elements; otherwise, it will biodegrade within a year or so.

Read more of Blaine Brownell’s article “Paper or Plastic?” in Architect magazine.

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