INTERPHEX 2024: Balancing Efficacy, Cost of Cleaning, Safety, and Environmental Impact in Disinfection of Manufacturing Environments

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At INTERPHEX 2024, Wenyu Zhang, PhD, covered new trends in the aseptic industry and the key factors companies should consider while weighing their options.

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On April 16, 2024, at INTERPHEX 2024 in New York City, Wenyu Zhang, PhD, R&D Director, Berkshire Corporation, spoke about new trends in cleaning and disinfection of manufacturing environments and the factors that manufacturers must weigh when choosing cleaners and disinfectants. Zhang reviewed current practices along with their strengths and challenges, touching on chemicals, textile tools, and devices in use. He also went over new trends in the industry, and the chief concerns companies should keep in mind.

When talking about current challenges facing the sanitation sector, Zhang highlighted the five key concerns companies have when selecting aseptic products: overall effectiveness of the product; safety to both the equipment and those using it; environmental impact pertaining to hazardous waste, water and air contamination, and sustainability; the number of personnel needed to use the product and how much training they would require; and overall cost.

Currently, the industry relies primarily on chemical-based cleaners and disinfectants, such as solvents, detergents, sanitizers, disinfectants, and sporicides. Outside of water—which, while excellent for all key concerns, can only be used with water-soluble materials—organic solvents include alcohols, hydrocarbons, esters, ketones, glycols, and halogenated solvents. These products are usually inexpensive but can be dangerous to both the environment and users, as they are often petroleum-based and have negative health benefits. On the detergent side, surfactants are often used as a way to blend water and oil together. They give users a great deal of control over the combination variables, such as the speed that water enters the oil, how much foam is generated, and how long it lasts. Surfactants are a highly profitable field, making between $35 billion and $55 billion in 2022, but they are highly dependent on fossil fuels, and increase levels of aquatic toxicity and bioaccumulation, according to Zhang.


Just like organic solvents and surfactants, most current aseptic products have a cost. Chlorine chemistries are an affordable and effective cleaner with no lingering impact on the environment, but they have a limited shelf life and can be dangerous to use. Quaternary ammoniums, one of the most widely used types of disinfectants, are affordable, effective, and safe to use, but there have been recent debates on bioaccumulation and their long-term toxicity. This balance of pros and cons presents the opportunity for future products to fill those gaps.

As the industry looks to the future, it is more concerned than ever with the environmental impact of aseptic products, Zhang stressed. Companies and consumers have sustainability in mind when looking at products; so much of current aseptic development is focused on bio-based products and products with a lower environmental impact. Developers have begun creating sustainably sourced solvents, such as bio-based solvents, which are derived from renewable biological sources or agricultural by-products, or solvents made with greener manufacturing processes such as novel catalysis or biotech-driven processes. There are also ways to recycle and upcycle solvents. More environmentally friendly surfactants have also entered the market, such as biosurfactants, biobased surfactants, and conventional surfactants made with bio-based raw materials. Other biofriendly options for cleaning include natural or biobased disinfectants, sustainable textiles from natural or biobased fibers, and self-disinfecting and microstatic materials. Generally, these products tend to be more expensive than their more environmentally unfriendly counterparts, but as environmental concern continues to grow, many companies are turning towards biobased products.

But Zhang stated that the industry has a great deal of growing to do before biobased products can become the new standard. In some cases, they can actually be the worse environmentally mindful option, as the process needed to produce them uses more fossil fuels than synthetic-based products. It is important, he said, that companies don’t hone in on the bio option without taking the entire environmental impact in mind. There is a lot of work to be done on biobased products, but according to Zhang, the future looks promising. There are opportunities in current cleaning and disinfection practices for more effective, safe, and environmentally friendly options, and the industry is rising to meet them with greener and safer choices of cleaning chemistry.