Essential to our everyday lives
Without plasticisers, unique PVC products such as electrical cables, synthetic leather and many life-saving medical devices, would not exist today.
A plasticiser is a substance which when added to a material, usually a plastic, makes it flexible, resilient and easier to handle. Early examples of plasticisers include water to soften clay and oils to plasticise pitch for waterproofing ancient boats. Today, modern plasticisers are manmade organic chemicals; esters, such as adipates and phthalates.
Importantly, they are not just additives (like pigments or fillers), they are major components that determine the physical properties of polymer products.
The most commonly used plasticisers are phthalates. They are colourless, odourless liquids produced by a simple chemical reaction, whereby molecules of water are eliminated from commercially produced petrochemical products.
Many different plasticisers are produced but less than 100 are in commercial use. In Western Europe approximately one million tonnes of phthalates are used each year, predominantly to plasticise PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to make flexible PVC products.
Butyl Benzyl Phthalate (BBP) however, is used mainly as a speciality plasticiser.