The Packaging sector is the largest consumer of plastics in Europe. Around half of all Western Europe's goods are now packaged in plastics, and yet - thanks to constant innovation and achievement of resource efficiency - these plastics account for only 20 % of packaging by weight. The use of plastics in packaging is so wide spread and obvious in our everyday lives that they tend to be overlooked.
Plastics packaging offers particularly efficient method of preserving, transporting, storing, preparing and serving food and contributes to a wide variety of packaging types to meet the increasing demands of modern, safe living. Plastics in packaging extend the shelf life and prevent tampering of our food. Plastics enhance safety and efficiency in medical and pharmaceutical applications and they have the ability to protect sensitive technical products from damage. This means that plastics make a significant contribution to improving the quality of our life offering safety, quality, convenience and savings.
Plastics in packaging make life lighter and easier
The plastics packaging industry knew an incredibly fast development after the Second World War. Plastics Packaging came to a widespread use with the introduction of polyethylene in the fifties.The development of polystyrene, polypropylene, PVC, polyesters and polyethylene copolymers saw the start of the rapid increase in the use of plastics. About one third of all goods in Western Europe are now packaged in plastics, and this means today's consumers rely on the convenience and services that plastics provide.
Plastic packaging fits perfectly into our everyday life. Thanks to its diversity, it's presence in every sector of the food industry, cleaning products, chemicals, cosmetics, healthcare, transport and distribution and industrial and agricultural products is unsubstitutable.
Plastics Packaging are adapted to our modern lifestyle, offering deep-frozen meals in small microwaveable easy-to-open food packaging, resealable packaging, dispensing packaging, ready-to-use products. Extremely lightweight, tough, airtight, transparant, opaque, coloured, ... Plastic containers allow to preserve flavor and to save time in conventional cooking and storage. This trend is enhanced by affordability of these convenience products. Packages can even be produced in shapes to relate to the product and assist marketing. A current pet food industry, pack, for example, is a plastic bag for cat food, shaped like a cat. Another is a chocolate pack shaped like a rabbit. Both have point-of-sale impact and have boosted sales of the product. Salad goods when unpackaged have only a very short life in the supermarket. But, when they are packed in a foil bag with a protective atmosphere, their shelf life can be increased by up to ten days. A film for meat packaging, for which a new barrier layer has been developed, now allows steaks to be kept in a special controlled atmosphere for over a month. The flexibility of plastics has given them an excellent position for fulfilling these specific packaging requirements. Packaging in other words contributes to increase the quality of our meals.
Whether used in homes, industry, retailing or agriculture, plastic is main packaging material for cleaning products. Child-resistant plastic closures and leak-proof plastic containers for medicines and chemicals provide safety, convenience, ergonomics and ease of use. Plastic packaging for shampoos, chemicals and motor oils make life easier and less hazardous.
Plastic packaging in the beauty sector ensures consumer safety by meeting all the crucial requirements of styling, colour, feel, chemical resistance, preservation and accurate dosage. Plastic packaging can adapt easily to trends in cosmetics or make-up formulations. It can facilitate better make-up or skincare practices.
A new and growing special market is the packaging of pharmaceutical and medical applications. Healtcare product packaging has to meet high standards for user safety, preservation, hygiene, packaging discretion and efficiency. There is a strong and growing demand for these products in industrialised countries, where considerable consumer expenditure is available for healthcare. Products, such as medicines, prostheses and hygienic products require particularly high demands on packaging. The chemical resistance, transparency and toughness of plastics enchance safety and efficency. Plastics, which can be moulded to any shape and wards against contamination, are the perfect materials for shipping and storing intricate medical instruments. This sector offers many exciting commercial opportunities for plastics. The flexibility of plastics are particularly suitable in the field of medical packaging for moulded packaging with sealing systems for controlled dosage, child-proof packaging, and tamper-proof/tamper-evident packages.
The use of plastics in transport packaging - for moulded crates, shrink and stretch film pallet-wrapping, moulded plastics pallets, bubble films, sacks for industrial products - will continue to increase. Low thickness, high strength-to-weight ratio, UV resistance, tear resistance, tamper protection, water-resistance plastic packaging saves energy, space and money. Additional savings come from reduction in shipping damage and elimanation of the need for additional package materials.The interest of the European plastic packaging industry is therefore high in this market, and a number of significant companies are active.
Protecting the environment
Protecting the environment is a constant concern for plastic packaging manufacturers. Therefore varied processing methods for recovery in enviromental and economic terms are needed. Recycled plastic products are used to create new products. In development of new products, companies who are offering ever-lighter and easier to recycle packaging will have a competitive edge. The reason is the growing demand from consumers and legislators for less waste, greater material savings and more environmental protection. At the same time, less material helps to preserve valuable resources and reduce transport costs. Consequently the industry is reducing packaging weight by using thinner and thinner films and thin-walled plastics containers. Protecting the environment is also becoming increasingly established for printing films - in addition to solvent-based printing inks, water-based ones are now becoming more common. The recovered energy can be used for heating or electricity production. Given the growing impact of energy costs, this is a major economic factor.
Innovation is a major factor in success. Companies in the plastics packaging industry which use their expertise to develop user-friendly new products for the market will enjoy a strategic advantage over their rivals. If they also concentrate on market niches, their long-term commercial potential will be even better.
The plastics packaging industry in Western Europe is using its extensive expertise for opening new markets, both in the packaging sector and in similar areas. This means that skill in medical packaging or chemical applications can be used to develop products that go beyond simple packaging, for example, for the computing, aviation and automotive industries.
In addition to traditional packaging, the coffee industry is now demanding packaging without an aluminium layer. Packaging manufacturers have been asked to develop a film with the same barrier properties as films that contain aluminium, which preserve the aroma of coffee for over a year. Another example is beer in flexible plastic bottles sold in football stadia.
The 20th century has been described as the century of plastics. In view of the current developments, in this century plastics will also shape the future.
As an innovative industry, the manufacturers of plastic packaging are looking also at new raw materials: Bio-Plastic.
The Plastics industry supports innovation that offers society and the plastics value chain a range of additional opportunities:
- enlargement of the raw material basis, at the right quality and price, will improve competition;
- use of existing processing technologies;
- new business fields, including niche products;
- additional benefits for the function of a product through biodegradability where this attribute can be put into practice;
- sales promotion for certain products like bio-food packed in compostable packaging.
Bio-based plastics are derived from renewable resources. Biomass is understood as a material of biological origin excluding material embedded in geological formation or transformed in to fossil. It excludes peat, oil, lignite and coal.
Two main arguments are often used to promote the use of renewable raw materials to manufacture plastics products:
1.) Strategic: Reduced use of fossil resources, especially crude oil. The current use of fossil resources is split into
- 87% for heating and transport
- 9 % chemicals and other use
- 4% as feedstock to make plastics
Bio-based plastics today have a share of less than 1% of the total plastics market. Although the rising price of crude oil will further encourage feedstock substitution, the overall effect will still be small even at high replacement rates.
2.)Ecological: Use of renewable raw materials for the production of energy but also as raw material for industrial products such as bio-based plastics is seen as a contribution to climate protection if greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2, are reduced.
Renewable raw materials can contribute to reach the targets of the Kyoto-protocol by direct generation of energy or when converted to industrial products (including bio-based plastics) with energy recovery after use, but the contribution will remain rather small in the foreseeable future.
The European plastics converting industry welcomes and supports all innovations and developments which enable plastics products to meet the functional performance requirements of the respective applications while offering biodegradability / compostability as additional features which may be beneficial in specific cases.
Decisions in favor of bio-based and biodegradable plastics must be based on sound scientific criteria and a life cycle approach. It must not lead to discrimination against traditional plastics. If the bio-based plastics do not provide the benefits sought, support on principle grounds would impede competitiveness and interfere with innovation within the whole plastics chain.
EuPC's mission is to create a good trading environment for Plastics Converters in Europe.