"We always say that PVC is a good product," Jill Bradford of Elasto UK Ltd. (Manchester, UK), part of the Hexpol TPE group, told me from the company's stand at Fakuma in Friedrichshafen, Germany. But—and you knew there would be a but—thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) can be an attractive alternative. That message came through loud and clear at the stands of Elasto and Actega, among other materials suppliers.
PVC advocates will tell you, rightly, that so-called health concerns regarding PVC are really about DEHP plasticizers, which have been linked in some studies to risks to the human reproductive system, and that a range of different plasticizers have been developed over the years to replace DEHP. While the "PVC-free" movement may be irrational from a scientific point of view, you can't fight public opinion.
"The demand for PVC alternative materials is coming from further downstream," says Bradford, and her company's customers are forced to pay attention. While TPE is more expensive than PVC, use of the material "allows manufacturers to say that their products are PVC free," adds Guido Heinen, Key Account Manager, Medical, at the Belgium offices of Elasto. "It's a public relations advantage. You may recall that one of the largest healthcare insurance providers in Germany made the decision to deny reimbursement when PVC devices were used," says Heinen. "Industry pushed back and the insurance body ultimately backtracked, but it's an indication of where things are headed."