A plasticiser is a substance (typically a solvent) added to a synthetic resin to produce or promote plasticity and flexibility, and to reduce brittleness. Thus, a plasticiser is chemically defined as a substance or material incorporated into another material (usually plastic or elastomer) to increase its flexibility and workability (Krauskopf, 2009). Plasticisers have been unknowingly used in everyday life for decades. Water, for example, is a form of a plasticiser that is used by potters for moulding clay, by painters for calcimine, and by boat builders and carpenters for bending wood (Deanin, 1986). In addition, vegetable oils are used to reduce the brittleness of resins in paint, foot oil as a permanent softener for leather, and lactates in casein paint. In the 1840s, scientists discovered cellulose nitrate which is the first polymer that has been widely used in industry. Shortly after this development, camphor, a type of white and waxy solid chemical, became the plasticiser of choice for cellulose nitrate (Graham, 1973). This was due to the intractable properties of cellulose nitrate which limited its application. Camphor remained the major application for cellulose nitrate in the 19th century. However, due to the undesirable odour, flammability and excessive volatility of camphor, scientists looked for an alternative. This was how phthalate, a white solid compound, was introduced. (Phthalate is pronounced ‘tha-late’.) The development of phthalates was in parallel with the commercialisation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and caused rapid growth in the industry. Applications of phthalates continued until the 20th century. Different types of phthalates were developed over time, differing in weight and performance.
* Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB),
6 Persiaran Institusi, Bandar Baru Bangi,
43000 Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia.