Creating fresher, cleaner and more durable plastics with antimicrobials

Plastic is one of the most versatile materials on earth, replacing steel in cars, paper in packaging, and wood in furniture. Its revolutionary discovery has led to the development of diverse, flexible and cost-effective materials that have influenced fashion and style, and made previously unattainable products available to all, from everyday necessities to once-in-a-lifetime luxuries. However, in the last few decades, the reputation of plastics has been tarnished by the environmental threat predominantly associated with single-use, disposable products that cover landfills and pollute our oceans. Our throw-away society – characterised by the dissemination of short-lived products and overconsumption – is taking its toll on the environment, and the focus needs to shift toward more durable products and less waste.

The Plastic Revolution

One sure way to tackle plastic pollution is to encourage consumers to continually reuse plastic products for longer where possible, and an element of that is addressing their concerns about cleanliness and durability. This is a particular challenge for things like food packaging that are prime hotspots for bacterial growth, staining and degradation, as well as for high-touch hard plastic products, such as communal office telephone handsets, medical carts and even airport security trays, that are likely to be continually re-contaminated by microorganisms. Large consumer goods companies are now encouraging zero-waste by providing refillable packaging options for products, such as detergent and shampoo. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, these bottles are rarely cleaned, allowing them to succumb to the growth of bacteria and mould.

Minimising or even preventing bacterial contamination within the plastics themselves is a remarkably effective and comprehensive approach that can overcome even these challenges.

Microbial Contamination of Plastics

Microorganisms are capable of adhering to plastic surfaces and, given the right environmental conditions, they will survive, grow and replicate, simultaneously creating visible discolouration, odour and damage that leads to early product degradation and disposal. Some plastics even contain high levels of plasticisers that act as a carbon-rich food source for bacteria and fungi, which can render them particularly susceptible to penetration from these microbes. In line with sustainability agendas, plastic manufacturing has begun transitioning from using synthetic phthalate to plant-derived alternatives, as they are often considered ‘greener’. However, it seems that plant-sourced plasticisers – such as epoxidized soybean oil (ESBO) found in some PVC food packaging – are especially vulnerable to microbial attack.

In addition, there are certain plastic products that have persistently high loads of bacteria due to their use. For example, inadequately cleaned food-contact surfaces, such as chopping boards, baby highchairs and food storage containers, will often contain leftover food residues and particles that provide a food source for microbial growth. Plastic items left in humid, warm or damp environments such as refillable shampoo bottles also provide the ideal surface for bacteria and mould to flourish.

In addition, body odours known as ‘permastink’ are created by the metabolism of sweat by skin flora, and can cling to activewear apparel made from synthetic fibres, making them tough to remove. When plastic products become stained, develop odours or start to degrade, most consumers will simply throw them away because they can be cheaply replaced, contributing further to waste and pollution.

Microban technologies can help manufacturers address common sustainability issues.

The Concerning Reality of Cleaning

Consumers are often aware of the visible damage to products and a recent multi-sponsor survey revealed that 72 % are concerned about exposure to bacteria in their everyday lives, a number that is certain to have increased as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, cleanliness and disinfection have become top priorities, in households as well as shared areas. However, regular disinfectants only offer limited residual activity once sprayed onto a surface so, as soon as a product is used again, it becomes re-contaminated with microorganisms.

For communal products such as electric bathroom hand dryers, these contamination events will be very frequent and regular cleaning practices are simply inadequate in order to maintain a completely aseptic environment. In addition, harsh cleaning chemicals and scrubbing actions can also contribute to early degradation and wear-and-tear, causing products to be disposed of prematurely, regardless of cleanliness.

Built-In Antimicrobials: A Solution Taking the World by Storm

Microban® International is recognised as the world leader in built-in antimicrobial technologies and odour-control solutions, providing complementary strategies to regular disinfection or laundering that can protect products from microbial contamination. Microban technology penetrates the cell wall of microbes, including bacteria, mould and mildew, to disrupt regular function and growth, helping to keep plastic products and surfaces cleaner between cleans.

Microban’s experienced polymer engineers incorporate its custom chemistries into products and surfaces at the point of manufacture, so that they become an integral component of the material and provide ongoing protection that works 24/7 for the lifetime of the product.

By protecting materials from microbes, Microban can reassure consumers of the cleanliness of surfaces, and help prevent biodegradation to keep that fresh product feeling for longer and avoid premature disposal.

Common Packaging Applications

The powerful effects of Microban® antimicrobial product protection can be added to a wide range of both rigid and flexible plastic packaging.

  • PET
  • HDPE
  • PVC
  • LDPE
  • PP
  • PS
  • EPS

Key Benefits of Built-In Antimicrobials for Packaging

  • Keeps Packaging Hygienically Cleaner and Fresher
  • Helps Minimise Microbial Cross-Contamination
  • Reduces Premature Food Spoilage
  • Improves Packaging Durability
  • Has A Long History of Safe and Effective Use
  • Suitable for Integration into a Wide Range of Polymer Materials
  • Provides Added Peace of Mind for Consumers
  • Contributes to a Cleaner, Greener Planet

Does Microban® Technology Affect Packaging Recyclability?

The simple answer is no, Microban® technology does not affect the recyclability of packaging. In fact, Microban® technology can actually increase the recyclability of plastic packaging by:

  • Reducing the microbial load in contaminated recycled streams where there is insufficient heat to kill all microbes; and
  • Reducing the ability of microbes to grow in polymers with high residual contaminated carbon content (e.g. recycled polymers with residual food content).

Microban: A Versatile Ingredient Brand Partner

The portfolio of over 25 approved antimicrobial chemistries from Microban can be formulated into polymer pellets, powders and liquids, to be manufactured into a range of synthetic materials, including polypropylene, polystyrene, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polycarbonate and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Specialised pellet-based masterbatches ensure that the technology can be seamlessly incorporated into injection moulding and extruded thermoplastic polymer production processes. Microban also offers a variety of powder and liquid-based masterbatches for other processes, such as powder coating, roto-moulding and foaming.

Microban is a trusted partner to leading plastic product manufacturers across the globe – including GE Appliances, Rubbermaid, Speck and Whirlpool – delivering products from washing machines to food storage containers with scientifically-proven antimicrobial protection.

The Future of Packaging

Growing consumer awareness of microbial contamination and changes to legislation that position product design at the forefront of sustainability initiatives has prompted plastic manufacturers to look for smarter, cleaner and more durable innovations. Microban is addressing this demand by providing built-in antimicrobial technologies that can keep surfaces fresher for longer and reassure consumers of cleanliness to extend the lifetime of each product.