Panasonic Taps Plants to Develop Green Appliances

Panasonic will adopt a plant-derived plastic to produce refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and other home appliances within a few years joining a broader trend away from petroleum-based material spurred by environmental concerns.

The Japanese electronics maker has developed a plastic that is comprised of 55% cellulose fibers and is durable enough to be used for its products. Cellulose is an insoluble substance obtained from the bark, wood or leaves of plants, or from other plant-based material.

With reduced plastic content, the appliances can be discarded as regular household trash after their use.

Panasonic says resin material with more than 50% of plant content is rarely used for commercial purposes. Because plant fibers are soft, molding the material into appliance parts had been a challenge. Panasonic tapped its expertise in battery development to increase plant content without compromising its strength.

But production costs for the new material are far above those for regular plastics. Panasonic plans to work with other companies to develop more uses for the material, such as disposable food trays. If its use expands and costs are brought down, the company will consider expanding production capacity.

Panasonic will also look into switching to 100% plant-derived material in the future.

With growing awareness about plastic waste causing harm in the ocean, companies are rushing to develop alternative material, but high production costs have become a stumbling block.