Antimicrobial technology: innovation to tackle plastic pollution

Kimberley Cherrington, global brand manager at Microban International, shares insights on Microban’s antimicrobial technology which prevents plastic pollution and promotes plastic reusability

04 Apr 2023 | By Kimberley Cherrington

The built-in antimicrobial technologies can help reduce the accumulation of plastic pollution and create a more sustainable future

The growth rate of the Indian plastics sector is one of the highest in the world, and the country’s Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry aims to increase plastic exports to USD 25 billion by 2025. The world-wide need for convenient, affordable and portable packaging is a major driver for plastic consumption, and accounts for at least 5% of plastic exports, particularly in the food and cosmetics industries.

The affordability and versatility of plastic have encouraged its adoption in these two sectors, by providing a material that can be quickly and cheaply used and discarded. However, if not disposed of appropriately, plastic can result in damaging consequences, with significant quantities ending up in landfill, or polluting our oceans and causing harm to aquatic life. The current throwaway society - largely single-use disposable products – has tarnished the reputation of plastic packaging and led to a call for greater environmental responsibility, resulting in a critical turning point for the industry.

Current progress to prevent plastic pollution
Governing bodies around the world are working to implement legislation that can tackle plastic pollution, by reducing its disposal with reusable products and improving and expanding recycling practices. Last year, India introduced a ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of disposable plastic products that have low utility and high littering potential, such as cutlery, bags and packaging.

However, the efficacy of this scheme has since been heavily criticised - and even partially reversed in some regions - as there are limited affordable alternatives to many of the banned items. Despite this, 85% of consumers say that they are actively making different lifestyle choices in an effort to protect the environment. This highlights a significant gap in the market for more durable and environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastics for a consumer group that is eager to invest.

Concerns about cleanliness
The cleanliness of plastic surfaces is often a significant deterrent to reusing products, which makes the disposal of packaging unavoidable. For example, food packaging may contain leftover food residues that act as a rich nutrient source for microbes, allowing them to grow uncontrollably. Refillable bottles for drinks and beauty products are also becoming more popular in some areas of the world to replace the need for single-use containers.

However, if not adequately cleaned, these can also encourage the growth of bacteria, moulds and mildews. This can lead to unpleasant odours, staining and the premature breakdown of plastic surfaces, discouraging consumers from reusing the packaging and leading to its inevitable disposal.

Antimicrobial innovations to promote plastic reusability
This is why many manufacturers are turning to Microban, built-in antimicrobial technology to incorporate a new level of cleanliness into packaging, helping to prevent the growth of microbes on plastic surfaces. In doing so, these technologies extend the functional lifetime of products, by preventing the build-up of odours and keeping them more visually appealing for longer. This encourages consumers to reuse products more frequently and for longer, avoiding the premature disposal of plastic products and improving the material’s tarnished reputation.

This technology does not wash off or wear away, giving users peace of mind throughout the usable lifetime of the product. In addition to encouraging the reuse of products, antimicrobial technologies can also help to promote recycling initiatives. Recycled polymers are often more susceptible to microbial attack, as they will have previously been exposed to contamination. Incorporating antimicrobials into recyclable polymers can help to keep the material cleaner for longer, so that it is suitable for various future uses, promoting the uptake of more efficient recycling schemes.

Microban has a wide portfolio of over 25 globally registered antimicrobial technologies for polymers - available as pellets, powders or liquids – to ensure that there is a product suitable for every application need. Each chemistry is custom designed to be fully compatible with polymer production, so that it can be seamlessly integrated into the product during manufacturing without any effect on the aesthetics and functionality of the end goods. These chemistries have undergone extensive independent laboratory testing, and have a long history of use, so are trusted by some of the world’s leading product manufacturers.

New developments in plastic antimicrobials
Microban has recently launched a new series of antimicrobials that fulfil various needs in the plastics market, including technologies that are more sustainable or use less toxic active ingredients. MicroGuard is an example of this, providing excellent antimicrobial efficacy with a more favourable toxicity profile than currently available agents for PVC, PU and EVA products.

A key application for this technology is antimicrobial roofing membranes, where arsenic-based 10,100 - oxybisphenoxyarsine (OBPA) has traditionally been used as an antifungal agent. It has since been discovered that OBPA can readily leach into water sources, causing harm to aquatic life and leading to its ban in certain parts of the world. MicroGuard’s non-leaching antifungal capabilities therefore make it the perfect alternative to OBPA while delivering permanent product protection for a range of materials.

Latest Poll

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Results

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Shortcomings in EPR policy

 

22.22%

Inadequate infrastructure

 

11.11%

Shortage of recycling firms

 

16.67%

Lack of consumer awareness

 

50.0%

Total Votes : 18

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