) revealed that processors expect nanotechnology to be among the technological developments which will most impact the plastics processing industry, ahead of machinery developments and even legal issues. But in fact, nanotechnology remains a legal gray zone for many applications, which is why industry is working overtime to study these tiny particles' affects.
"Currently in Germany, micro-sized silver particles are allowed in food-contact applications," explained Rüdiger Baunemann, managing director, in a presentation earlier this month at the PlasticsEurope headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. PlasticsEurope is the trade group representing the continent's plastics suppliers—BASF, Bayer, Solvay, and Arkema are just some of the major industry players in this group. Baunemann spoke on the current state of investigations into nanoparticles and specifically their use in plastics applications. "The use of nanotechnology is a hot topic and it is only going to get hotter," he said, with lawmakers in Europe and beyond all eyeing the materials.
Consumers have heard the word often enough to have formed an opinion on the materials, it seems. In a survey done by Germany's BfR (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment), about 85% approved of nanomaterials' use in paints to improve their scratch resistance, and almost as many thought the materials' use in textiles to improve their dirt repellence was a good idea. But the closer an application came to a person's skin—using nanomaterials to improve soap, to improve vitamins' effects, to keep spices from clumping—the lower, far lower in fact, the consumers' approved of the nanomaterials. Only 30% found their use in spices to be worthwhile, and just 15% thought it a good idea to use nanomaterials to extend foods' "Best-by" dates.
"Building trust takes a long time; losing it takes just an instant," was Baunemann's summary of consumer viewpoints on these new materials. In all of the work being done by universities and plastics suppliers on nano-sized material developments, "We cannot forget to keep consumers informed," noted Baunemann.
Tests and studies are being carried out in Switzerland, where researchers are looking at what concerns if any there might be in recycling parts treated with nanoparticle-filled coatings. Also, PlasticsEurope is in discussions with the Fraunhofer Institute to conduct a test on whether there is any migration of nano-sized additives out of plastic food packaging into food or beverages.
A number of plastics suppliers are carrying out their own testing, and in fact finding some common effort is proving a challenge, admits Baunemann. "The hopes of the companies already involved with nanomaterials for individual innovation and to get ahead of the market makes it more difficult to bring them together."