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Innovative Antimicrobial Coatings for Paper

At a time when there’s intense focus on the spread of Covid-19 and ways in which that spread can be reduced, there’s been a lot of attention on different surfaces, including print and paper, and how those surfaces can retain and potentially spread the virus. Research and guidance from the world’s leading health organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that there are no known incidents of Covid-19 transmission from print surfaces, whether that’s newspapers, magazines, letters or packaging. Two sides have recently published an article regarding Covid-19 and paper which goes into more detailed information.

With Government guidance about social distancing and the opening of new business sectors updated almost daily, many printers have been kept busy with increased orders for packaging and signage. But there may be new and innovative ways the print industry can play its part in fighting the spread of infection through the use of antimicrobial paper, especially for areas where hygiene is essential, such as healthcare.

A number of paper and finishing companies, such as James Cropper and Celloglas, have launched papers and coatings with strong antimicrobial properties, featuring additives that are highly effective against pathogens such as MRSA and E-coli. While a coating with a specific resistance to Covid-19 hasn’t yet been developed, they have great potential in cutting down the spread of bacteria and potentially offering a line of defence against future pandemics.

The active component of most antimicrobial coatings is silver. Silver has been used for years in the healthcare sector to improve infection control, reducing the levels of bacteria by rupturing the bacterial cell membrane. This immobilises the bacteria by starving it of oxygen and destroying the reproductive receptor.

According to the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of illness-causing germs are transferred by touch. Since paper can be a carrier of bacteria, it makes perfect sense to use an antimicrobial coating in all settings where the spread of bacteria needs to be kept to a minimum – restaurants, schools and, of course, GP surgeries and hospitals.

“Antimicrobial agents act against all types of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi,” says Richard Pinkney, Director at Celloglas, who produce the antimicrobial laminate Cellomed. “Silver has a proven success rate, even with resistant strains of bacteria. Antimicrobial print is revolutionary for our industry, but crucially it could make a huge difference in the worldwide fight against infection.”

The power of paper and cardboard to fight against the spread of disease is seen as an exciting area within infection control. According to a new report, the antimicrobial coatings market is projected to grow from $3.3 billion in 2020 to $5.6 billion by 2025. This is mainly down to the adoption of antimicrobial coatings in the healthcare and food sector, but they are expected to be used more and more in the packaging industry.

While antimicrobial coatings have proven effective against certain bacteria, viruses and fungi, work is underway on finding a formulation that disrupts the spread of human coronavirus. However, James Cropper took a step forward with their PaperGard technology. Already known to be effective against pathogens such as MRSA and E-coli, papers protected with PaperGard have been found to reduce the strain of coronavirus known to infect cats – by over 95% in two hours.

“PaperGard allows paper products exposed to high-touch volumes to ‘self-sanitise’ without affecting the appearance or performance of the paper itself,” says Richard Bracewell, Marketing and Technical Director at James Cropper. “The silver ions present within the paper continually work to prevent the growth of the micro-organisms, effectively reducing contamination levels on the surface.”

By adding antimicrobial coatings, the print industry can add even more trust in the medium and dispel many of the myths around any link to the spread of disease.

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