Innovations in Eco-Friendly Disinfectants

Technology trends to advance eco-friendly disinfection will include a departure from chemicals to a light-based approach. Frost & Sullivan reports on eco-friendly products that will only kill targeted organisms and not affect the surfaces upon which they are applied.

Modern disinfectants consist of liquid chemicals that are derived from alcohols, aldehydes, ammonium compounds, oxidizing agents and phenolics. They are applied to surfaces in bathrooms, kitchens and hospitals to destroy microorganisms. While effective at killing germs, they can build up levels of toxic chemicals over time that will reduce indoor air quality; when they contain anthropogenic substances, they can irritate the eyes and skin, and increase the risk of respiratory and central nervous system disorders and cancer. Washing these accumulated toxins away can pollute groundwater and soil. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the use of these disinfectants is increasing 11% annually.

Chemists are developing eco-friendly disinfectants based on natural resources to address the health hazards and pollution risks of synthetic disinfectants by virtue of their nonhazardous nature and biodegradability. Among the hurdles that scientists must overcome, however, are limited stakeholder participation, low availability of renewable raw materials, and a dearth of awareness in developing nations. North American and European nations are the leading innovators in eco-friendly disinfectants, but in terms of production, the United States and Asia-Pacific nations are the leaders. After the United States and the World Intellectual Property Organization, Australia and South Korea hold the most patents for eco-friendly disinfectants.

It’s About Thyme

Thymox of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, bases its Thymox Surface, Thymox AG and Thymox Hoof disinfectants on thymol, a compound based on natural plant extracts and the company’s proprietary formulations. These products completely degrade in 14 days and are non-toxic. The thymol causes instability in the cell membranes of microorganisms, killing them. Thymox Surface contains thyme oil to prevent fuming and carcinogenic effects while enhancing the disinfectant’s ability to kill the influenza A virus. 

Thymos eco-friendly disinfectants are aimed at agricultural, food processing, health care and household applications. Thymox Surface was certified by the Canadian government’s EcoLogo program as non-irritating, non-toxic, and containing fewer volatile organic compounds. The National Science Foundation in the United States has certified that Thymox Surface complies with the requirements for environmental protection.

Thymos has put as much effort into marketing its disinfectants as developing them. The firm has set up official distribution centers in Canadian provinces and U.S. states, and employs distributors in China. It has partnered with Cargill to sell its disinfectants in the United Kingdom and other European countries, and in the Middle East and Africa. The disinfectants are sold in 200-liter and 1,000-liter drums that remain stable for as long as four years.

Differentiating Grades

Hospital-grade disinfectant and bathroom cleaner are two of the eco-friendly, fruit and vegetable-based products developed by The Natural Cleaner Company of Yatala, Queensland, Australia. Its hospital-grade disinfectant is made from bioflavonoid and organic acids to break biofilms by intruding into cell walls. The product is completely biodegradable and emits a citrus scent before dissipating. The company works with the Australian Inventory of Chemical Substances and the International Agency for Research and Cancer to maintain the non-hazardous nature of its products.

The Natural Cleaner Company sells its disinfectants to health care centers, government departments, resorts and zoos in Australia. Among its higher-profile customers are the Government of Queensland, the Australian Crocodile Zoo, and the Brisbane Lions football club. The company offers the products to the general public online.

Disinfecting the Big Apple

It is fitting that New York City, perhaps the most famous densely populated urban center, is the headquarters for EarthCare Corporation, which develops what it calls eco-friendly and people-friendly disinfectants for hospitals, households, schools, sports facilities and garbage processing centers. EarthCare manufactures its disinfectants from natural ingredients that it supplements with essential oils, ensuring that the products will completely biodegrade in less than 28 days.

Its disinfectants effectively kill surface contaminants such as the HIV-1 virus, H1N1, swine influenza A and the SARS virus in a single step without harming humans. EarthCare maintains the safe exposure levels of its essential oil disinfectants through periodic testing conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

South Africa’s Citrus Solution

Citrus fruit extract is the source for the Indusdx mild organic disinfectant formulated by Biodx of Johannesburg, South Africa, to kill pathogenic bacteria within 24 hours. The formaldehyde-free product is non-corrosive and non-oxidizing. Biodx’s Nutridx kills 99% of pathogenic bacteria, and because it is food grade it can be used as a food preservative.

Health care is the target market for the company’s Vitrodx eco-friendly disinfectant, which is free of the alcohol, formaldehydes, and gluteraldehydes that are typically used to sterilize critical medical equipment. This makes the product safe to humans even after prolonged exposure. Biodx frequently assesses the quality of its products by collaborating with the South African Bureau of Standards and eGoliBio Incubator, a research institute that focuses on life sciences.

The Road Ahead

Technology trends to advance eco-friendly disinfection will include a departure from chemicals to a light-based approach. Within the next year, scientists will design light-emitting diodes that operate at a wavelength that is deadly to germs in order to disinfect water. By 2020, more sophisticated formulation will produce eco-friendly products that will only kill targeted organisms and not affect the surfaces upon which they are applied.

Both approaches will achieve the primary goal of these alternatives to synthetic disinfectants: effective destruction of microorganisms without harming people or animals. After proving themselves in industrialized countries, eco-friendly disinfectants will be embraced by developing countries as they recognize the benefits of next-generation germicidal products.

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