Polymers and plastics are ubiquitous in our daily lives, and are used extensively in everything from construction materials and synthetic textiles to medical devices and product packaging. As a result, these materials are frequently exposed to microorganisms, which can accumulate on product surfaces and lead to odours, staining and degradation. Unfortunately, this can result in premature disposal of these items into landfill, significantly increasing their carbon footprint, while generating substantial waste and contributing to a loss of revenue. Antimicrobial additives are a viable solution to this problem, offering long-lasting antimicrobial protection to a wide range of products to prevent microbial damage and reduce waste.
The damaging effects of microbes
Microorganisms – such as bacteria, fungi and algae – are tiny lifeforms that exist all around us in vast quantities. They play a critical role in maintaining various ecosystems, by breaking down organic matter for conversion to new food and energy sources, and are also important in maintaining the microbiota within the human body. However, microbes can cause irreversible damage to many man-made products, leading to premature disposal or costly repairs.
Polymers like plastics, rubber and synthetic textiles are particularly susceptible to the metabolic activities of microorganisms. The enzymes and acids released by microbes can break down these substrates, causing discoloration, malodour and decay, and leading to structural and functional damage.1,2 For example, mould can build up and take root within the porous structure of polymer-based caulk used to seal bathroom tiles, leading to recurring aesthetic issues. Frequent cleaning and scrubbing with strong chemicals – such as bleach – can, in turn, prematurely degrade the caulk. In addition, microbe-related damage to these products can also make them unsuitable for repurposing or recycling. Without the protection of antimicrobials, microbes can reduce the lifespan of the materials used to tile bathroom surfaces, and they can quickly end up in landfill (Figure 1).