Antimicrobials for plastics: What are the advantages?

Antimicrobials for plastics: What are the advantages?

The plastics industry, nowadays, is one of the greatest consumers of antimicrobial products and additives. The available technology allows to incorporate this functionality without altering the properties of the polymers or its common productive process, and it’s called nanotechnology, a science gaining strength over the last years.

It’s impossible to talk about the uprising use of antimicrobials at the plastic industry without mentioning one of the great villains of today’s society: the cross-contamination.

This type of contamination is the mean of transportation of pathogenic microorganisms from a surface to another, which may transmit some diseases. According to doctors and specialists, the cross-contamination is the main cause of death on hospital infections. It’s important to remember that this mechanism is not only found at hospitals, the cross-contamination is present on our lives, and to inhibit it is fundamental.

The antimicrobial incorporation at plastic parts is a very effective way to reduce the risks of a cross-contamination. Objects as plastic doorknobs or handrails, for example, are disease vectors, but are easily produced with the antimicrobial protection. When in contact with the treated plastic, the microorganisms interact with the equally distributed nanoparticles they are rapidly eliminated and inhibited from reproduction and multiplication.

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Researches have shown that in our houses, plastic meat boards are the main vectors of the cross-contamination. Even after washing, these products still hide bacteria that stablish themselves over the grooves caused by knifes’ blades, sometimes invisible to the naked eye.

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Besides the efficient microorganism elimination, the antimicrobial plastics also prevent the formation of biofilms. Biofilms are designated as “a community of microorganisms adhered to a surface covered by organic polymers produced by these microorganisms themselves.” The biofilm formation is very common on plastic objects and surfaces. Unfortunately, at some cases the common sanitation does not prevents or removes completely the biofilm

That defines another advantage of incorporating the antimicrobial property on polymers. The biofilm formation is initiated, mainly, by the adherence of microorganisms, followed by multiplication and colony formation. In polymers treated with antimicrobials, the fast and effective elimination since the initial contact prevents the formation of biofilms. Below, there’s an illustration showing the stages of a bacterial biofilm formation.

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Many people, by a lack of information, may think that to obtain this antimicrobial characteristic the polymers have a great cost upgrade. That’s the main reason why plastic products companies are not investing on this differentiation. Although, through nanotechnology, today the minimal quantity of antimicrobial additives required to the implementation at plastics is very small (less than 0.1%), which guarantees a very interesting price at the final product.

Beyond the cost, many people ask about esthetical variations of plastic products with antimicrobial products. As mentioned above the required quantity for the additive be effective is low enough that the appearance and general properties do not suffer any changes.

In this article, many advantages from these materials were listed. Something before treated as a futuristic idea, today is already earning space at industries and stores’ shelves. With the use of nanotechnology, the customers will be able to enjoy technological and smart products, also focused on the promotion of health, safety and well-being.