Posted on 6/13/2018

Making a Sustainable Difference in Manufacturing

Kylee Guenther

I recently ran into my favorite former boss at the grocery store a couple weekends ago. I hadn’t seen her in 5-plus years, and she was super curious to know how and why I’d transitioned from my lifelong plans of public service to now owning a plastics manufacturing company. She couldn’t see the connection! 

One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to switch up my career path was because I felt like I wasn’t making a difference—the WHOLE reason why I went into public service in the first place!

I’ve been concerned about plastic waste for years. Plastics have only been in our economy for about 60 years, and half of the plastics ever created have been produced since 2000, showing huge growth in this industry.

And while plastics have given us a lot—everything from lifesaving medical devices, to twisty straws for our summer ice tea—these magical materials present a big problem: There’s really no good solution for what to do with them, after we’re done using the product. To make matters worse, the life expectancy of the average plastic product is less than a year, meaning so many of these items are used once and tossed away.

We all know that plastics don’t break down, but I don’t think we really consider the impact plastics have on our environment. I’m so thankful for the recent attention National Geographic and others have given to the plastics crisis. 

What many people don’t know, however, is that even with our good intentions to recycle, a lot of what is thrown in recycle bins doesn’t actually get recycled, for one reason or another, such as food waste contamination, mixed or multi-layer packaging material, or simply being too small to make it through the recycling system. This issue has been exasperated, since March of this year, when China decided to no longer accept our recyclable waste.

We know that plastics are here to stay. It’s incorporated itself into so many facets of our lives, I’m sure it’s impossible, no matter how hard we try, to stop using it. With that in mind, that’s how my business, Spectalite,LLC, came to be!

Spectalite, LLC is a women-owned, advanced engineering and materials manufacturer, specializing in bamboo fiber composite plastic for injection molding and thermoforming applications. Our material is light-weight, sustainable, eco-friendly, durable, and cost competitive. Spectalite material can be used in numerous applications across various industries, including automotive, home and housewares, consumer goods and packaging, where plastic is already used, or for new products.

We reinforce polymers with bamboo fiber, to reduce plastic waste. Unfilled plastics are widely used, however, and these materials are often mechanically weak, thus requiring thicker (and heavier) parts to provide the necessary functionality. Where stronger parts are needed, fillers, such as talc, or glass are typically used. These parts are often heavier than unfilled parts and there are health concerns associated with the production and usage of the fillers.

Our automotive customers tell us that the biggest values they see with bamboo is its light weight and sustainability. Today, these same two aspects are driving business in the automotive industry, as companies are looking for means to help them reach the CAFE and California emissions standards, while also meeting their corporate sustainability goals.

Depending on the application, our bamboo material can reduce the use of plastics by 40-plus percent. We can also redesign the product for our material strengths, which would allow us to further reduce the overall use of plastics.

As Spectalite grows and puts more and more products into production, THIS is where I can make a difference—helping our customers find new and sustainable materials for their products while reducing plastic waste. Clearly, a win-win situation!

About the Author

Kylee Guenther | Spectalite

Kylee Guenther is an entrepreneur and Michigander. A self-proclaimed green little hippie since birth, Kylee is passionate about finding environmentally friendlier solutions to solve present day dilemmas such as light weighting.

Kylee was a University Fellow at Eastern Michigan University, where she studied Management. In her free time, she enjoys learning foreign languages, traveling and margaritas.


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