Interview with MAM plastics specialist Norbert Polatschek

Norbert Polatschek, Head of Technical Research, feels at home in the world of plastics. He knows what materials and substances can be trusted and which have no place in MAM products. An interview about trends in materials, voluntarily exceeding standards and why it’s sometimes better to take your time.

As Head of Technical Research you deal with trends in the development of plastics – a delicate issue with baby products. What’s happening at MAM?

Norbert Polatschek: We are absolutely certain that the materials we currently use, including polypropylene and silicone, are the safest materials available. They are materials which are also used in medical technology because they are completely harmless to health. Nevertheless, we are constantly looking at alternatives. We ask ourselves what new technologies should we be dealing with or what standards we would have to meet. We follow discussions in the media. A current topic, for example, is BPS; a substance with a structure similar to BPA. Although there is no standard yet, we have had all of our products tested for BPS and we can now say that they are also completely safe in this respect. To give parents a choice other than plastics, which are perfect and safe for baby products, we have developed a glass bottle as an alternative. We also exchange information with our suppliers and the largest material manufacturers. We always try to think ahead, and for the long-term. We don’t follow every trend.

So you don’t take action too quickly.

Exactly. The principle at MAM is: Quality comes before time. If, for whatever reason, a material trend arises, we analyse it first. If there are any concerns – no matter how small – we are through with it. A lot of materials disappear from the market quicker than they arrived. This does not mean, however, that we don’t always want to be faster and more efficient with our innovations.

 

Why do many of your products go beyond legal standards?

We do believe that the global standards are sufficient for the safety of babies, but we set our limits higher just to be sure. That’s why we have a so-called MAM standard: If the rule says you have to stress a soother with 12 kilos, we say it has to stand much more than that. We want to be much better than the ­standards require.

Why do you use two ­materials, ­silicone and natural latex, for ­soothers?

They both have their advantages: Silicone can withstand high temperatures and boiling and is completely safe for contact with skin and saliva. In addition, it has the appearance of being hygienically clean since it is practically crystal clear. For the consumer, it simply looks ‘clean’. Latex or natural rubber, on the other hand, is highly bite-resistant. One thing's for sure: Both materials are completely safe!

 

Why doesn’t MAM use recycled or bio-based plastics from natural raw materials?

Company founder Peter Röhrig was personally active in starting the Austrian Plastics Cycle (Österreichischer Kunst­stoffkreislauf, ÖKK). This in itself is a sign that the topics of environmental protection and resource conservation are important to us. From the tens of thousands of plastics available, we select only those few that are best suitable. However, if we do not know exactly which materials have been recycled and absolute purity of the varieties of material can not be assured, then we cannot provide a sufficient guarantee of quality. That’s why recycled plastics are out of the question for us. Bio plastics are another interesting subject, which we look at in terms of their technical properties in order to maintain a high quality standard. A soother must not disintegrate if it is ­sterilised in boiling water – this is often the case with degradable plastics. There are also materials from renewable resources. We always have technical and sustainability questions in mind for future decision possibilities.

What are the challenges that MAM faces in regard to plastics ­technology?

Deciding on which of the many hundreds of ideas we have are actually technically feasible or may be possible in the future, will bring long-term success, and satisfy customer requirements. To accomplish this you have to keep an open mind to everything, ask the right questions and work with experienced partners and suppliers. We look at technologies in other industries and ask ourselves how we – and especially parents and babies – can benefit from technical trends. We realise that we do not know everything and, when ­necessary, actively seek advice from outside experts.

 

A little glossary of plastics

› Bio-based plastics

plastics of renewable raw materials such as sugar beets, for example. They are currently not used in MAM products because they are not sufficiently heat and break resistant.

› Bisphenol A (BPA)

a chemical substance used in the production of PC. Strongly criticised since it may harm the endocrine system and other bodily functions. BPA has been prohibited by law in baby bottles since 2011 and long before that at MAM.

› Bisphenol S (BPS)

a chemical compound, which is also used for the production of polysulfones and can be found in thermal paper and printing inks. Possible health risks have not yet been scientifically proven, but are under investigation. MAM products do not contain BPS.

› Natural rubber

a natural raw material obtained from the latex milk of the rubber tree. MAM uses fresh, natural rubber from Thailand, where it is directly processed to make teats.

› Polycarbonat (PC)

a thermoplastic, water-resistant, transparent and stable polymer which contains BPA. CDs, for example, are made from PC. Not used in MAM products since potential health hazards cannot be ruled out.

› Polypropylen (PP) 

odourless and skin-friendly material with a chemical structure similar to candle wax. It does not contain plasticisers and is used in MAM products instead of polycarbonate (PC), which contains Bisphenol A (BPA)

› Polyvinylchlorid (PVC)

a synthetic, brittle plastic which may contain phthalates (substances used as plasticisers) to make it more flexible. Used for flooring surfaces. Since phthalates can leach out and be absorbed by the body, MAM products do not contain phthalates or PVC.

› Silikon 

a transparent substance often used in medicine consisting of silicon and oxygen, the structure of which is very similar to quartz. Is used in MAM teats, because it is harmless to health.