Paper to fight germs

When judging applications being in demand during and just after the Covid crisis, antibacterial print is certainly high on the growth list. Even beyond the current crisis there will be usage for antimicrobial print and paper to fight germs as consumers become more health conscious. Applications are found everywhere where print products change hands frequently: from paper money, restaurant menus, key cards, safety documents, playing cards and packaging.

Paper itself is a pretty low risk material. Erwin Busselot from Ricoh already laid out some arguments on paper and board reducing transmission risks. He states that tests have found that the Coronovirus survives the shortest on board, when compared to other surfaces. According to the WHO the likelihood of spreading the virus on packaging is low. Also, the paper manufacturing and printing processes do reduce the number of viable particles required to infect someone. Paper packaging or wrapping can also be used reduce transmission risks. Even paper towels are efficient in reducing germs, while hot air driers spread them around.

Coating to fight germs

Paper and print can even go beyond just having a low risk potential of spreading viruses to become a material to fight germs. Antimicrobial paper has been in use for years. There are solutions available adding copper or silver compounds to the paper, to the paper coating or to apply as print. Both are relatively expensive materials however and I am not sure whether they interfere with existing paper recycling processes. But there is more.

There are solutions that do away with heavy metals. Specialty varnish manufacturer VarcoTec in Germany developed a coating for the graphic industry named Varcotec Lock 3 to reduce germ counts drastically. The coating is said to use photodynamic effects activated by light and oxygen to kill 99.5% of all germs according to a German research institute. The coating can be applied as a dispersion or UV-varnish. For example, Druckerei Friedrich in Austria and WirMachenDruck in Germany are already offering these coatings.

Others technologies have been on the backburner for quite a while. Eddy Hagen reported on a coating called Bi-Ome AV developed 20 years ago for textiles, with limited uptake until recently. The solution is metal free as well.

Going beyond the development stage

A quick web research revealed many more processes and technologies to reduce germs and viruses on surfaces. These approaches remain on a purely scientific level so far and little has trickled down into the printing industry.

The Covid crisis is certainly heating up the discussion in scientific circles. The British Coating Federation (BCF) held a joint virtual conference with the Royal Society of Chemistry to discuss how special surface technologies could be used to tackle the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many approaches were presented and the discussion is slated to continue online. But as Tom Bowtell, CEO of the BCF, states it is not only down to developing the antimicrobial technologies: “Tackling regulatory hurdles will be one of the major challenges for such bio-active technologies, and our regulatory affairs team will be actively engaging with the relevant authorities at UK and EU level to support the efforts of companies as an urgent priority.”

It is disconcerting that paper is seen by parts of the general public as a means to spread germs leading to consumers staying away from printed products. There is little discussion on how paper can avoid or reduce the spread of germs. Part of it is that too little knowledge has trickled down into the printing industry. Time to step up for all suppliers to the printing industry.

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