Have you ever wondered what makes surfaces like tabletops and counters shine? What about flooring such as laminate wood?
The hard, shiny work is done by resins.
It’s become a popular material and is used in all sorts of different scenarios, from handmade resin art to resin driveways and paths.
But where does resin come from? Are all resins eco-friendly or are they harmful to the environment?
Let’s take a look into the world of resin.
What is resin?
Resin is a thick and sometimes solid substance that can originate from plants or can be made synthetically.
When resins dry out and cure, they convert into rigid polymers. These can be transparent or treated with a dye, making them a useful choice in manufacturing and industrial settings, as well as for décor and jewellery.
What are the types of resin and what are they used for?
There are two main types of resin:
- Natural resin
- Synthetic resin
Natural resins can be made from both plants and animals.
These natural resins are used as sealing agents, varnishes, laquers and other similar processes.
Many trees, like pine and fir, produce resin naturally as a result of injuries to the bark. It’s a form of their natural defense mechanism. But you can also extract resin from other plants, including soy bean, aloe vera and many others. For example, in my Ecoffee Cup review, I mention that the main bamboo material is bound together with natural plant-based resin.
Shellac or lac, which forms a part of varnish, is an example of animal resin. This resin is derived from the lac insect, often found in countries such as India and Thailand. The most commonly cultivated lac insect is the Kerria lacca.
Synthetic resin comes from chemical manufacturing. This is predominantly some form of plastic.
To make synthetic resins, crude oil is heated up to high temperatures so that it breaks into individual units called monomers. These monomers are then put through various chemical processes to form resin.
Resins are classified according to their chemical composition and can be grouped into a number of categories.
The most common categories of synthetic resins are:
Polyester Resins or Fibreglass Resins
Polyester resins are used for construction and lamination. They tend to be low cost and are used in those areas that require a lot of cleaning. For example, in restaurants, bathrooms, and kitchens. They can also be used as a repair resin to make small repairs or seal cracks.
Polyurethane resin is mainly used for coating wood and leather products. It’s commonly used in the car and textiles industries where leather is used as upholstery. Here, polyurethane resin is used to coat the leather to make it easier to clean.
If you’re looking to treat timber, check out my blog on the most eco-friendly wood treatments.
Phenolic resins are thermosetting resins that are strong, heat resistant and moisture resistant. They also have high resistance to chemical corrosion. They are easily workable with machines and are used for resin impregnation, electrical components and adhesives for cement.
Silicone resins are food safe which means they can be used to make tools and moulds used in the kitchen. It can also be used for electrical purposes as well.
Silicone has a high tolerance for heat and is a good insulator. Have a look at this blog on how eco-friendly silicone is.
Epoxy resins are used to make paint, primers and adhesives. They can be easily used for crafting which makes it a very popular resin. It also makes surfaces easier to clean.
Polyethylene is the most common type of resin – 100 million tonnes of this is produced annually!
It provides a strong resistance against chemicals, steam or moisture, and has a high degree of flexibility. It is also used for packaging laminates and films, toys and mould linings.
Is resin bad for the environment?
As we have two main groups of resin, we’ll have to treat them both accordingly.
Natural resin on its own is not harmful to the environment. Its organic composition means it will biodegrade easily. This is good.
Unfortunately, most synthetic resins are produced by refining fossil fuels, such as crude oil. This makes the procurement as well as the processing of these resins harmful to the environment.
We all know that oil drilling is not good for the environment. The process causes air pollution, groundwater contamination and land surface disturbances to name a few.
Harmful chemicals are used during the processing of crude oil to resins, which are then released into water bodies without proper treatment. This affects water quality as well as the health of animals and plants in the local habitats and ecosystems.
Synthetic resins also slowly release toxic chemicals into the environment after their use, especially when they are not disposed of properly.
Not only are synthetic resins harmful to the environment, but they are also harmful to our health. However, the positive side is that once they harden, their toxicity to humans decreases significantly.
The most common synthetic resin, polyethylene, is actually the most toxic. The fumes from this resin can cause respiratory problems, irritate the eyes and skin so much so that it is recommended to dispose of this resin as ‘hazardous waste’!
Silicone resin is more eco-friendly than other chemical resins as it is sourced from sand particles – sand also happens to be the second most used raw material on Earth after water. But silicone it still requires the use of hydrocarbons and plenty of other chemicals during its processing and manufacturing.
Is resin recyclable or biodegradable?
Natural resins are biodegradable if they are produced solely from organic materials. However, it’s when these organic materials are combined with other materials, that resin becomes not biodegradable.
Chemical-based resins are not biodegradable as they are made from thermoplastics. By now, it is very well-known that materials of plastic origin take thousands of years to degrade. In the process, they also release microplastics and harmful chemicals into the environment.
Resins like polyurethane, epoxy and silicone resins can technically be recycled but there’s a catch – it is extremely complicated to recycle thermoset resins. Recycling resins costs a lot of money and energy and more often that not requires the use of additional chemicals. This makes recycling them almost impossible.
Resins are also not compostable as they cannot be broken down into their constituent organic components.
The saving grace for resin is that it lasts for a long time and can be reused multiple times.
Are there eco-friendly resin alternatives?
Relying on materials made of non-renewable fossil fuels is obviously not a sustainable option.
Although they cost a bit more than their synthetic counterparts, there are eco-friendly resin alternatives out there. These new types of resins started being manufactured around a decade ago.
Eco-friendly resins are made from plant-based substances, as well as recycled and recyclable materials. As these are made from non-toxic and non-hazardous raw materials, they do not have the negative environmental impact that synthetic resins have and are much better for the environment in the long run.
Here are a few eco-friendly resins to look out for:
- EcoPoxy – is a bio-based plant-based epoxy resin used for woodworking and crafts. Available in different colours and finishes, it has been certified by the USDA as a BioPreferred Product.
- CCR Bioresin – is also a BioPreferred Product and is used for casting and crafting. The CCR stands for Clear Casting Resin. It is 30% made from bio-based content and is more eco-friendly than other resins.
- TerraCast Resin – has all their resin colours made from mostly recycled materials. Their black resin has been made from post-consumer recycled materials!
Natural resins are by far the most eco-friendly resin versions you can get. They are not as carbon-intensive to produce and are biodegradable at the end of their life – although they will last a long time.
All of the other synthetic resins are not environmentally friendly as they are produced from thermoplastics and non-renewable fossil fuels, which of course aren’t sustainable. Avoid these where possible and opt for a natural eco friendly resin if you can.