How polymers save lives

A post by:     Thomas Sampers
Executive Board Member
Last updated: 2023-09-26

Modern medicine has massively improved the health of each and every one of us. Polymers have played a major role in this development. It is time to take a second look at this often disputed and controversial material.

Plastics have revolutionized healthcare

Can you imagine an operating room today without plastics? I can't - because they are omnipresent there. From packaging to tools to implants: It's hard to imagine healthcare products without polymers. And that's a good thing, because plastics have made many medical achievements possible in the first place. Yes, we rightly discuss the sustainability of PVC and other plastics, which is still often lacking today. But at the same time, plastics save countless lives every day. Abolishing them therefore cannot be a solution.

Why Polymers?

As healthcare has improved around the world, plastics have proven to be one of the few adaptable materials that can keep pace with the industry's dynamics. They have three properties of great importance to the medical field: Plastics are particularly durable and resistant, flexible and cost-effective. As a result, they ensure greater hygiene and safety, enable the most individual applications, and give more people access to medical care. Let me give you three examples:

Safer blood transfusions

Imagine the familiar blood bags were extremely fragile, had to be laboriously cleaned after each use, and yet were never completely hygienic and safe.

In the past, this was standard - because blood bags were stored in thin-walled glass bottles back then. We at RENOLIT have been producing films for plastic bags in which blood reserves are stored since 1967. These bags are cheaper, enable completely new ways of blood processing and are easier to transport. And above all: thanks to film packaging, blood can now be stored for an average of six weeks, more than twice as long as before.

One of the biggest innovations of recent decades, however, is plastic membranes, which we can use, for example, to filter pathogens out of the blood - thereby increasing the safety of blood transfusions many times over.

Customized implants produced with 3D printers

Who also first thinks of a large, shiny joint made of metal when they hear the word "artificial implant"? Most implants today are made of plastic - making them lighter, more durable and more compatible. And thanks to 3D printing, fully customized implants are now possible, which can be produced directly in the operating room. Not only in emergency situations, this is an incredible advance that still reminds me personally of many a science fiction movie. But with plastics, it's a reality today.

Opening up access to medical care

Bringing medicines, vaccines or medical technology to the world's outermost corners is a huge challenge. How can we make better health care available to more people in the developing world? Plastics make an important contribution here. Because of their low cost and long durability, they make healthcare much easier. Here in particular, plastics are a great blessing and prove their value every day.

Next step: Sustainability

Just as new innovations and technologies are constantly being developed for medicine, plastics themselves will also have to change in the future. Because one thing is clear: medicine, likewise, must become sustainable. But the solution can't be to abandon plastics. They are too valuable for that, and replacing them is unthinkable today anyway. That's why they must become more sustainable - and the use of fossil raw materials needs to be replaced by regenerative alternatives as quickly as possible. The goal is clear: we need climate-neutral plastics that can be fully recycled in a true circular economy.

Let's save the lifesaver plastic!

Polymers - and thus the basic material of all plastics - are true lifesavers. That's why it's important for me to state: Plastics are a valuable achievement that we will continue to need in the future - far beyond medicine. This requires major innovations in the direction of sustainability.