You’ll find a lot of single-use plastic items such as syringes and tubes since medical plastic is durable and most often recyclable. However, there is a wide range of uses for plastics with applications like prosthetics.
Plastic is a versatile, sustainable and affordable material. We’re seeing some exciting innovations in the uses of plastic, and some applications of plastic will always remain staples of the medical field.
What Are the Most Common Medical Plastics?
The healthcare field relies on different types of medical-grade plastic. It’s one of the sectors that is driving research with the creation of polymers and other new materials.
Here are some of the most common plastics used in medical devices:
- Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a medical plastic that is easy to sanitize. This material provides good UV protection and doesn’t deform from exposure to high temperatures or steam. Polycarbonate sheets are common for signage and panels.
- Polypropylene. This plastic is resistant to impact and corrosion. It’s more durable than other plastics, and you’ll find it in orthotics and prosthetics. Polypropylene is the go-to option for weight-bearing prosthetics due to its resistant properties.
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). ABS plastic sheets are durable and tough, providing a clean aesthetic appearance that is perfect for medical environments.
- Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG). PETG is a material that is safe to use in contact with food. It’s a common plastic used in the food prep area of clinics and hospitals, but you’ll also find PETG sterilization trays.
- Polyethylene. The usefulness of plastics in the medical field includes manufacturing implants. Polyethylene is a plastic that healthcare providers can sterilize. It’s also a material that doesn’t degrade over time, which makes it ideal for implants.
- Polymethyl methacrylate. This material has properties similar to glass. It can transmit light and reflect a beam of light, which makes it a good option for endoscopic implants.
- Polyvinyl chloride (or PVC). You’ll find PVC in different forms in the medical field. One type is a rigid material with excellent tensile strength, and another form is an alternative to rubber. When it comes to PVC, the uses of plastic include catheters and IV bags.
The Different Uses of Plastic in Healthcare
The usefulness of plastics to the medical field is nearly limitless. You won’t find a medical procedure that doesn’t require the use of several items made from plastic.
Here are some of the common uses of plastic in healthcare settings.
It’s crucial to protect items like needles or medication from possible cross-contamination. Medical plastic is ideal for packaging.
It’s possible to seal plastic pouches to protect single-use items and eliminate the need to sterilize them before use. You’ll also find plastic bottles and containers that protect prescriptions from UV rays, humidity and other elements that could damage them.
Single-use items make up some of the most common uses of plastic in the medical field. A wide range of single-use items use plastic because it’s inexpensive and because throwing away these items is safer than sanitizing equipment.
For instance, reusing a catheter isn’t safe since E. coli bacteria can develop regardless of the sanitation method used. You can find plastic single-use tubes, syringes, catheters, lancets, bandages, gloves and more.
The research field also uses medical plastic for single-use items like vials and sample bags.
Healthcare professionals use sutures, staples, bandages or glue to close wounds. These items often use plastics.
Plastic is a good option because of its tensile strength. It’s also not likely to develop bacteria.
Medical plastic is a common material for items like intravenous blood bags. Other uses of plastics include IV bags and containers for medical waste.
Plastic is a safe material for storing fluids. It keeps blood and other solutions in a stable state, and it’s an inexpensive solution for an item that healthcare providers throw away after use.
Medical tubing is a necessity for fluid management and drainage. You’ll find plastic tubing on respiratory equipment, pumps, catheters, pharmaceutical equipment and more.
The flexible properties of plastics make these materials ideal for manufacturing durable tubing. Some tubing is for single-use, and most tubing gets replaced after a while, which means it’s important to find an inexpensive material for these items.
Polyethylene is a common medical plastic for implants. Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene is a durable medical-grade material that doesn’t degrade over time. It’s a lightweight and cost-efficient way to make implants.
Plastic implants allow for more movement and feel more comfortable than other materials. Medical plastics are common for medical devices such as heart valves, knee and hip replacements, and surgical items like facial augmentation implants.
Polyurethane has existed in a foam form for a while, but there are new uses for this material. Researchers have found a way to use polyurethane foam to create a structure on which new bone tissues can develop.
Artificial limbs need to be lightweight and comfortable. Polypropylene is an ideal candidate since it’s easy to work with, and it results in prosthetics that allow for a wide range of movements.
Plastic is flexible and allows orthodontists to create braces, retainers or aligners adapted to the unique needs of each patient.