Materials scientists from Deakin University are exploring the idea of manufacturing artificial bones and medical tissues from materials that would have ended up in landfill, in an attempt to address Victoria’s growing waste crisis.
The team from the University's Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) is working on a raft of projects that plan a material's life from original use through to its final purpose, which they say is key to addressing the problem.
According to IFM's circular economy strategy lead Catherine McMahon, Deakin scientists are world leaders in their approach to materials design with their 'design out waste' ethos. This thinking is critical to achieving a circular economy in which existing resources are continually re-used.
"We're in this recycling crisis because our current generation of materials were never designed to be recycled or repurposed," says McMahon.
"Some of the ways our world-leading scientists are doing this is by looking at turning end of life textiles into bone repair systems, used silk material into artificial blood vessels, waste material into fabric powder dyes and ordinarily discarded textile waste into leather interior alternatives for cars.”
By approaching the design of a material already knowing what it will become when it's reincarnated, McMahon believes IFM scientists are forging a new wave of thought on waste management.
"Circular economy should be the new mainstream benchmark, just as recycling was in the early 1970s. Beyond the scientific community, there's still a lack of understanding about how much waste comes from the current recycling process. That's why communal thinking needs to be underpinned with a circular approach," she says.
Part of the process of redesigning textiles for a circular economy is ensuring that the maximum worth of a material is maintained. This approach is critical to addressing issues of pollution and waste around industries like fast fashion, according to McMahon.
"Commonly found poly-cotton blends in clothing can be partially recycled, but the process leads to waste and devalues the material. Our researchers are designing materials that are made to separate once they are no longer fit for purpose so that all of the product is easily reused or biodegrades," she says.
"[This is] an exciting space to be involved in. If we made products from their inception thinking about their end of life then we will never have a recycling crisis again.”
Image: Dr. Rangam Rajkhowa, Senior Research Fellow, Deakin Institute for Frontier Materials. Image credit: Deakin University