Microorganisms are capable of adhering to plastic surfaces and, given the right environmental conditions, they will survive, grow and replicate to create visible discolouration, unpleasant odours and physical damage that leads to early product degradation and disposal. Some plastics also contain high levels of plasticisers, which can act as a carbon-rich food source for bacteria and fungi, rendering them particularly susceptible to penetration and colonization by these microbes. In line with sustainability agendas, plastic manufacturing has begun transitioning away from using synthetic phthalates 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.
On top of this, a recent Multi-sponsor survey revealed that 72 percent of people are concerned about exposure to bacteria in their everyday lives. As a result, cleanliness and disinfection are top priorities for many of us, but the harsh household cleaning chemicals and scrubbing actions that we use can also contribute to early degradation and wear-and-tear, causing products to be disposed of prematurely, regardless of their cleanliness. Regular disinfectants also only offer limited residual activity once applied to a surface. This means that, as soon as a product is used again, it becomes re-contaminated with microorganisms. Consumers are usually aware of the visible damage that microorganisms can cause to their plastic belongings, and when these products become stained, smelly or damaged, most people will simply throw them away – because they can be cheaply replaced – contributing further to the plastic pollution crisis.