Technical Papers Plastics
Over 2.5 mln tons of polymer used in thin-walled plastics packaging in Europe

Over 2.5 mln tons of polymer used in thin-walled plastics packaging in Europe

Thin-walled plastics packaging is used in a wide range of industries including dairy containers like yogurt cups, yellow fats, frozen foods, fruit and vegetables, bakery, ready meals, juices, soup and meats. Recently it has also been used in glass and can replacement for commodities like meat and preserves, which reduces weight and opens up design opportunities. John Nash, Head of Strategic Research at AMI Consulting, estimates that over 2.5 mln tons of polymers are used in this market in Europe, with dairy and disposables the largest sectors. Polypropylene and polystyrene hold the biggest share followed by PET, and there is also some PVC used in these applications. During the economic downturn many packaging companies showed a drop in revenue, which led to restructuring. Eurostat data indicates that retail sales for food, beverage and tobacco reached a low in Q1-2009 and have started to grow since that time, although a drop in Q2-2010 is cause for concern.
Rexam High Barrier Plastic Containers has seen a rise in demand for ready meals, driven by cash-rich time-poor consumers in family groups where all adults are working. The choice and quality of food has improved making this a nutritious, safe option for busy households. In addition, ambient convenience foods don�t require special storage conditions and can have a long shelf-life. Recently, brands like Campbell�s soups, Chef Boyardee, Bush�s, Tulip, Maggi, Princes, Isabel and Chi-Chi have moved from cans and jars to lightweight plastics containers with lids. Rexam produces this new high barrier packaging using a unique rotary melt-phase process and incorporating regrind: there is reduced stress which allows downgauging of the barrier EVOH layer. The seal under the lid provides tamper-evidence and the label can be used to add gloss or insulation.
Sustainability is the key word for packaging producers worldwide including RPC Barrier Containers. Reducing food waste is a major factor, for example single-serve packaging can make big improvements, and 25% less fresh fruit is wasted when it is pre-packaged. In France, the introduction of Grenelle 2 in trials in 2011 will eventually require a Life Cycle Analysis for all packaging used in the country. Plastics processors can take basic steps to source responsibly, lightweight, reduce power consumption, reduce waste and improve the efficiency of distribution. Heinz is a key RPC customer and has a target to cut packaging use by 15%. Reynolds Packaging has reviewed the Courtauld Commitment, where companies such as Tesco, Carrefour, Sainsbury�s, Heinz, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Coca Cola and Ahold, have agreed to reduce packaging. Phase 2 of the agreement calls for smarter packaging, for example by reducing the weight of packaging and by reducing supply chain waste. Thermoformers already recycle skeletal waste as the material is high quality, keep the sheet gauge down to reduce costs, and are looking to reduce power consumption, which is a function of the machine, the material density and type.
Active packaging improves shelf-life and the main technology is oxygen scavengers with a global market value of around US$1150 mln, followed by self-venting films at US$610 mln, moisture scavengers at US$513 mln and microwave susceptors at US$406 mln according to Albis Plastic, which is a player in the oxygen scavenger market. The main end use market is meat packaging, followed by snack foods and ready meals. The original Amosorb oxygen scavenger was developed by BP Amoco, then bought by Ciba in 2001 and by ALBIS in 2009, however it was limited by cost and large particle size. The next generation scavenger is smaller particle size for thinner films, has higher absorption and better dispersion. It is compliant with the EU regulation 450/2009 on active and intelligent packaging.
The Coopbox Group is based in Italy and has over 30 years of experience in packaging for fresh foodstuffs, with a network extending across Europe. Many of the company�s customers have set sustainability targets like Groupe Casino, a major supermarket chain in France, and it is looking at improving the environmental footprint of its products. For example, it has been examining bioplastics, but the price, availability and performance cannot meet every requirement. An alternative innovation is to reduce weight and this has been achieved in its expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging trays, which weigh 50% less than conventional rigid plastics and its C-PET foamed trays, which weigh 30% less.
Compostable plastics, defined according to EN 13432 (ASTM D6400), are compounded and supplied by FKuR Kunststoff for injection moulding (polylactic acid (PLA) and cellulose acetate (CA)) and thermoforming (CA). PLA has drawbacks due to brittleness (also noisy) and limited resistance to hydrolysis, however additives can improve performance. Biograde V0291 gives clarity in injection moulding with wall thickness down to 0.35mm, while Bio-Flex S 5630 can be thermoformed on conventional equipment with cycle time similar to PP.
Superfos is a leading injection moulders of plastics packaging in Europe producing 2,700 containers per minute at nine locations. It has an active development division, which has looked at consumer trends include snacking replacing conventional mealtimes and the need to maintain nutrition in a busy schedule. The new Superlight range uses 20% less virgin material, has an even wall thickness even down to 330 microns and a stacking rim of only 8 mm. The Superlock range was developed as a glass jar replacement with a 2-year shelf life, maximum reduction in oxygen transmission rate, potential for pasteurisation and sealing before lidding. From Spain, EDV Packaging has produced a glass-replacement product with PP layers, a tie adhesive and a barrier layer of ethylene-vinyl alcohol (EVOH). This has uses for baby foods, vegetables and pickles, fruit, pasteurised and sterilised products, sauces and pates. New product launches are now trending towards plastics. Waldorf Technik supplies ancillary equipment to assist barrier injection moulding container production, which can include silicon oxide coatings. Coinjection multilayer moulding is one of the production technologies used to produce barrier packaging with shelf-life of two years i.e. as can and jar replacement. It also offers good clarity, more flexibility for colour, shape (e.g. round, rectangular and oval) and IML. Kortec supplies turnkey equipment and has developed PP/EVOH barrier systems since 2008. One sample container has 3% EVOH and PP walls, and is retortable to 121C. A 32-cavity multilayer moulding system is estimated to produce packaging for half the price of aluminum or steel cans. EVAL Europe (part of the Kuraray Group of Japan) provides EVOH barrier materials and has examined the oxygen transmission rate after the retort process for different content of ethylene, different times and different film thickness. It has developed a new oxygen scavenging system specifically for transparent retort applications.
In mould labeling (IML) enhances packaging and can provide additional functions. Treofan supplies BOPP films to this market from four manufacturing facilities worldwide and is working to improve its carbon footprint through a variety of initiatives including reusing scrap and downgauging. Its latest IML grade has a highly voided OPP core and excellent anti-static performance. Styron provides polystyrene for packaging and is working with an IP protected foaming technology called CO2RE, which provides a core layer of carbon dioxide foamed material. The equipment can be added to an existing extrusion line with an appropriate screw. It can give a 13-20% weight reduction in yoghurt pots, for example. This will in turn reduce the cost of Packaging Waste Disposal Tax. An LCA study has been conducted by David Russell at Dow Europe.
By 2025 there will be another 8 bln people to feed worldwide and 66% will be water-stressed. The polypropylene supplier Borealis has set its own environmental targets including cutting energy use per ton by 20% in 2020 compared to 1990, a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions at the same time, and decreasing the water footprint. A 190 ml baby food container made of barrier PP compared to a glass jar reduces the carbon footprint by 30% and the water footprint by 60%. PP clarity can be enhanced by soluble nucleation technology from Milliken. The latest generation of clarifier is heat stable to 285 C and is approved for food contact. The right additives can aid processing and cut energy use.
Octal of Oman is a relative newcomer to the PET supply market, with sales of US$330 mln in the financial year ending March 2010, and plans for growth to US$500 mln in the current financial year. It is the largest PET sheet producer in the world with current capacity of 350,000 tpa, scheduled to increase to 1 mln tpa in 2012. The company has developed a unique �direct-to-sheet (DPET)� technology, which removes 5 stages in processing, going direct from polymerisation to calendering. Less heat history of the material reduces colour tainting and improves clarity, as well as delivering high quality PET which can be recycled. Octal is looking at downgauging the sheet to reduce material usage. The benefits to thermoformers of this material include improved flow, for example it increases corner thickness/material distribution. There is evidence of yogurt as a foodstuff going back 4,500 years starting with milk being fermented in camel stomachs. EverEdge IP has recently introduced a new single-serve pack, which is squeezed to eat the contents avoiding the need for a spoon. �Crushpak� is said to use 25% less plastic than conventional packs and the thinner sheets lead to faster forming on existing equipment. It is currently in use in the USA, Mexico, New Zealand and Spain.
Packaging is now a very global industry with brand owners and packaging manufacturers located or distributing at multiple sites. The next opportunity to discuss world trends will be Thin Wall Packaging 2011, which will take place in December 2011 at Cologne, Germany
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