The development of antimicrobial additives for plastics resins is in response to innovative ways to proactively inhibit microbial growth on surfaces of many plastic products that consumers – both public and institutional – are demanding to prevent the spread of bacteria. In particular, the antibiotic resistant “super bugs” that are not only in hospital settings but are now out in the general population, are of grave concern spurring advances in resin-compatible antimicrobial technology.In fact, according to a report from The Freedonia Group,* a Cleveland-based industry research firm, demand for antimicrobial additives used in plastics is projected to advance 7.0% per year to $105 million in 2017.
These significant gains will result from increased demand for the types of plastics that are susceptible to biodegradation, such as flexible PVC – by far the largest outlet for antimicrobials in the plastics market due to the extensive use of this resin in medical applications such as catheters, intubation products, IV sets and other medical uses.A variety of plastic products incorporate antimicrobial additives to prevent degradation by algae, bacteria, and fungi, says the Freedonia Groups report. These microorganisms release enzymes which break down the long chain plastic molecules so that the fragments can be used by the organism as food.
In general, neat plastic resins are resistant, however when plastics are combined with plasticizers they can become susceptible to microbial attack.Since flexible PVC products tend to contain the highest loadings of additives, these materials are the most vulnerable, and thus account for the largest share of antimicrobial additive demand in the plastics market.In addition to flexible PVC other plastic products with enduring antimicrobial properties include food preparation surfaces, household appliances (particularly refrigerators), automobile interior parts, personal electronic devices such as computers, phones (mobile and stationary), sports equipment, construction products – particularly Wood Plastic Composites (WPCs) that are used in decking, railing and fencing that are exposed to moisture, light and heat – a perfect environment for various microbes to take up residence, and other contact surfaces.
The Freedonia Group notes that loading factors vary widely depending on the resin used as some are more susceptible that others to microbial attack, the intended application such as the WPCs used in building applications as mentioned above, or where repeated contact with water is expected require higher loadings, and the level and type of other additives that are present in the material.With plastic materials so ubiquitous across nearly every product category in some way, shape or form, the fact that the plastics industry – along with the additives providers – has entered the germ-fighting arena with antimicrobial additives for resins makes good sense. Protecting consumers from the continually evolving microbes that are a natural part of our environment – and have been for millions of years – gives the plastics industry a huge edge in why people prefer plastics! *The Freedonia Group’s reports on a variety of markets and topics can be found at www.freedoniagroup.com