Reprocessed plastic – not so fantastic?

In the course of the past week two consumer ‘durable’ products have failed me.

On both occasions a plastic component has failed prematurely. Whilst in each case the design of the component could have been improved, the more significant cause of the failure was the quality of the plastic used; which in both cases appears to be reprocessed.

The first item to fail was my desk stapler and to be honest in the 4 decades I have been using and abusing staplers, this is the first one I have ever broken.

And whilst these essential items of stationery appear to have a tendency towards adoption by co-workers, this particular stapler has been in my ownership for a relatively short period of time. Indeed, as I have become more and more screen based it has definitely lead a ‘quiet life’. So, imagine my surprise when using it the upper body dislocated from the base; on closer examination it was evident that a plastic component had failed.

No doubt thin sections and a lack of an adequate radius contributed to the premature failure, but in fact the main culprit was the material used.

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The second failure was my new bicycle pump.

This particular Birzman branded product was purchased to replace a fairly cheap and decrepit non-branded item. The first time I used the pump I was in awe of its patented valve connector and smooth action, however on the second occasion the piston and cylinder snapped clean off the base.

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Closer examination of the area of the failure revealed porosity of the nature which is quite common with reprocessed materials and once again the issue of poor quality plastic, along with component design, came to the fore. With plenty of sharp corners the risk of failure is likely to be enhanced particularly if the particular grade of plastic is notch sensitive.

Whilst of course the retailer who sold me the pump is willing to replace or refund the item, to me there is the wider concern of the reputation of plastics. I am old enough to remember the poor reputation that plastics had in the late 60’s and early 70’s when for reasons of design, material selection and application plastic products, would routinely fail and in doing so determining plastics as ‘cheap and nasty’.

Given that still to most of the general population ‘plastic is simply plastic’ the risk to reputation by using poor design coupled with materials of poor quality is significant. If a £35 pump costs an extra £1 because a good quality prime or reprocessed material is used, then that is a price worth paying both to save the hassle of a warranty claim but more importantly to make sure that people see plastics as the fantastic materials they really are!

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