When plastics save lives

We’re all ready to lift the curtain. The operating theater is the stage, and the medical team the cast. There’s no room for improvisation in the performance that’s about to start.

A team of professionals move around the stage as if they were dancers from Swan Lake, because here, each and every one of them plays a vital role. Everyone knows what they must do, and when. Nobody says a word. A quick glance is all that’s needed to let them know when each of them will take center stage. The only soundtrack is the patient’s breathing and the beeps of the machines monitoring their vital signs.

But, have you ever thought about how many objects are needed to put on this “show”? Objects for medical use are vitally important and are much more than simple stage props.

Head surgeon, anaesthetist, surgical nurse, general nurse…they all need specific material to play their part. Everything must be prepared to make sue that the whole operation is synchronized.

Syringes, intravenous bags for blood or fluids, inhalers, catheters, and blister packs of stitches or medication also step into the limelight. Currently all of these health care materials and pharmaceutical packaging are made from plastics derived from petrochemicals.

Polypropylene is used to manufacture syringe barrels or inhalers. Polyethylene is used for films and medication bottles. EVA copolymers are used for blood, IV, or catheter bags due to their durability at low temperatures.  These packages protect their contents and are flexible, light, recyclable, and watertight.

Nonwoven fabric

Everyone knows that plastic syringes are safer than the traditional ones made from glass. However, it’s more surprising to discover that masks, caps, surgical gowns, sheets, protectors, and absorbent pads are also made from polypropylene fibers using the “nonwoven fabric” technique, offering an excellent barrier against liquids and the transfer of microbes.

In this case, the fibers are bonded through mechanical and chemical processes. This prevents fluff and therefore improves hygiene, compared to alternatives such as cotton, by reducing the amount of particles in the operating theater by 99%. This material is also environmentally friendly and can be recycled.

There are also plastic coverings for walls and floors, health professionals’ clogs, biological waste containers, operating table lamps, electronic device cases… the list is endless.

The applications of chemistry in the health care sector are almost infinite, and are all important to ensure that the work of medical professionals is as efficient and safe as possible. More importantly, they also safeguard people’s health.

This is what is truly important when we undergo surgery — knowing that we are in good hands, and that the outcome will be positive.

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