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MHS Library | How can chemical principles be applied to create a more sustainable future?

Investigation topic 4: The sustainability of a commercial product or material

In Australia, new materials that are useful for society tend to be produced through a linear economy in which products are purchased, used and then thrown away. Increasingly, manufacturing companies are moving towards a circular economy, which seeks to reduce the environmental impacts of production and consumption while enabling economic growth through more productive use of natural resources and creation of less waste.

Research questions that may be explored in this investigation include:

· Select a product whose composition has changed over time: for example, hair comb (tortoiseshell to polymer); dental fillings (from silver amalgam and gold to porcelain and composite resin fillings); contact lenses (glass to polymers); paints (lead-based to oil-based and water-based); and tennis racquet strings (from cat gut to nylon and polyester). How have the properties and efficacies of the products changed over time? To what extent have the manufacturing processes become ‘greener’?

Hair comb: Tortoiseshell to polymer

Simon Ings. (2015, April 30). Combs made of hair probe our changing idea of luxury. New Scientist.


Braun, T. J. (2002, June). A new material for producing faux tortoise shell fills. In Postprints of Wooden Artifacts Group Session (WAG). Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).

Contact lenses: glass to polymers




Musgrave CSA, Fang F. Contact Lens Materials: A Materials Science Perspective. Materials. 2019; 12(2):261.

BSOptom, B. S. S., PhD. (2017, August 15). Today’s Contact Lens Materials and Designs.

Tennis racquet strings : cat gut to nylon and polyester.

What is catgut?


Natural gut tennis racket strings: The history, myths and why it’s the best. (2020, March 6). Tennishead.


Making a Racquet.  - CASSILO, D. (2013). Making a Racquet. Popular Science282(6), 24.