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What You Should Know About Animal-Derived Materials in Electronics

Many people would assume that the chances of finding animal products in their devices are near-zero. However, contrary to common belief, organic materials have been used throughout history to enhance the properties of electronic parts. This article summarizes what we know – and can verify – concerning the use of animal-derived materials (ADMs) in electronics.

Types of Animal-Derived Materials Used in Electronics

Animal-Derived Materials: Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are the most well-documented category of ADMs for industrial electronic use. According to the Hazardous Substances Database (HDSB), some manufacturers use fatty acids to improve flexibility, hydrophilicity, and thermal stability in plastic and rubber compounds. Some common fatty acids used as additives are stearic acid, oleic acid, and erucamide. In addition, their inherent antioxidant properties can help prevent oxidative decay in cables and other components. Consumers might find fatty acid additives in parts such as cable insulation, rubber gaskets, and other flexible polymer materials.

Animal-Derived Materials in Electronics
Animal-Derived Materials: Gelatin

Animal-Derived Materials: Gelatin

Although the use of gelatin in electronic products is less widely documented, numerous research studies have explored its potential benefits in the electroplating process. For example, gelatin can be a leveling agent and grain refiner when incorporated into electrolyte solutions. Consequently, it improves the plating’s uniformity, enhances material strength, and promotes stability. Like fatty acids, gelatin also possesses antioxidant properties that enhance corrosion resistance.

Animal-Derived Materials: Tallow

Many mechanical parts use lubricants to minimize friction-related wear and prevent heat buildup. Lubricants used in these applications may sometimes contain animal tallows, typically sourced from cows. Therefore, parts like switches, hard drives, and motors could be at risk of containing ADMs as well.

Animal-Derived Materials: Tallow

Pros and Cons of Using Animal-Derived Materials



In addition to the aforementioned physical properties, animal-derived materials offer the advantage of being much more sustainable than traditional plastics. Unlike petroleum oil, animal-derived materials break down in the environment. As a result, when used as a substitute for petroleum, these materials can potentially produce biodegradable plastic components. Animal-based plastics have thus garnered considerable interest among researchers. However, it is important to note that most plastics containing ADMs remain petroleum-based, with fatty acids primarily used as additives. Nevertheless, we might soon see an increased use of bioplastics in consumer products, making regulations surrounding ADMs even more relevant.

Ethical Concerns

Similar to individuals who adopt a vegan diet out of concern for animal welfare, some people may avoid products containing animal-derived materials for the same reasons. Since most ADMs are by-products of the meat industry, it’s possible that they have been sourced from inhumane facilities like factory farms.

animal derived materials

Regulations Surrounding Animal-Derived Materials:

Most devices must abide by various product environmental and social regulations. Unlike requirements such as RoHS, REACH, etc. regulations surrounding the use of ADMs in electronics primarily focus on medical devices. This is because substances of animal origin are at risk of transmitting diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). As a result, regulatory bodies such as the FDA and EU have implemented regulations to lower this risk.

The international standard that covers the use of ADMs in medical devices is ISO 22442-1 – Medical devices utilizing animal tissues and their derivatives. The standard focuses on minimizing transmission risk and provides guidelines to manufacturers. It describes procedures like animal inspections, long-term health monitoring, and transportation conditions for animal tissue. Countries like Canada and the United States use ISO 22442-1 as guidance to establish their regulatory requirements. They both require manufacturers to report data that ensures they’re conducting appropriate risk management.

In Canada, manufacturers can perform specific treatments on animal-derived materials, granting them reduced reporting obligations. These treatments effectively eliminate or inactivate pathogens, lowering the disease transmission risk. For instance, gelatin derived from bones can undergo alkaline or acid treatments, proven to eliminate pathogens and significantly minimize the associated risk.

The European Union has similar regulations on the use of animal-derived materials in medical devices, outlined in section 13 of EU (2017/745). It details how, among other requirements, animals must receive appropriate veterinary care based on the intended use of their tissues. Additionally, treatment of animal tissues to eliminate pathogens is typically required, except in cases where it would compromise the performance of the medical device.

When discussing the use of ADMs in electronics, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Many unverified claims surround this topic, and many manufacturers choose not to disclose the use of ADMs in documents such as material declarations. However, whether for ethical reasons or to prevent the transmission of animal-borne diseases, manufacturers must be able to confidently assess their parts for animal-derived materials if the need arises.

Animal-Derived Materials testing

If you need help with this process, please contact Enviropass for a free consultation!