top of page


Plastics Packaging all around us

Roles of packaging

  • Transport

  • Protection and conservation of the environment and of the packed good

  • To minimise environmental impact, packaging design needs to be optimised

  • Reduce waste/spillage 

  • Hygiene

  • Help and inform the user

  • Convenience/ergonomy

  • Attract​

Applications of packaging

The main applications of packaging are:

  • Food contact

  • Cosmetic

  • Personal and health care

  • Cleaning/detergent

  • Medical/pharmaceutical

  • Retail

  • Industry

Evolution and innovation of plastic packaging

Research and development is a key success factor for the plastic packaging evolution, that is, from the material and technology used to the enhancement of the ergonomy.

Recent developments have led to weight reduction while properties remain equal, significantly contributing to material resource saving and energy efficiency. To give an example, a 500 mL plastic bottle weighed 24g in 1990 and 9,5g in 2013, which marks decrease in weight of 14,5g per bottle representing a 60% weight reduction in 25 years.

Peel and (re-)seal packaging, modified atmosphere packaging or materials with specific barrier properties are increasingly developed for food application in particular to improve the preservation of the packed food.

Intelligent packaging also comprises new products developed and inform the consumer that specific conditions have been met (e.g. the cold chain has or hasn’t been broken). The industry is constantly innovating and developing new type of polymers and bio-based polymers.

Converting technologies

The main processes to convert plastic into a packaging are:

  • (Co-)extrusion: for films and sheets

  • Lamination: for multimaterial multilayer films

  • Thermoforming: for trays

  • Extrusion Blow moulding: for hollow bodies like flasks

  • Injection (-stretch-)blow moulding: for preforms and bottles

  • Injection

Plastic Industry - Yearly turnover (production value) in M€

The yearly production value of the plastic converting industry is comparable to overall GDP growth. The plastic packaging sector is doing less well than the plastic industry in general. In 2012 it went through a temporary implosion

Employment in the Plastics Industry

Source: Eurostat, June 2016

Industry Company Size

Source: Eurostat, June 2016

The plastic converting industry is mainly run by SMEs, 89% of the companies employ less than 50 employees. The average size of companies converting plastics into packaging is bigger than the average plastic converting company.

Plastic packaging represents 19% of all packaging material by weight.

Recycling of plastic packaging:

At the end of their life the packaging are discarded.

Depending on the country, different schemes exist to collect the discarded packagings. It can be a deposit system where the consumer has to return his packaging, a kerbside system for the collection of a specific selection of type of packaging, a container collection system.

The collected packaging will be sorted and send to recyclers to be turned into a new source of raw material.


At European level the packaging and packaging waste directive (94/62/EC) imposes recycling target per material, for plastics the target is 22,5 % as of 31/12/2008. It means at least 22,5% of the plastic packaging put on the European market must be recycled back into plastic. This target is currently being reviewed and will be increased for 2020 and 2025. Each Member State can set higher targets in place in its own territory.

Recycling rate of plastic packaging

The most recycled plastic packaging is PET: About 1,6 Mt of PET bottles were collected in 2013 and 1,7 Mt in 2014, of which 500 kt are going back to packaging. The major market for rPET is bottle to bottle (25.3% in 2011, 29,8% in 2014) followed by textile applications which share is decreasing (39.3% in 2011, 26,4% in 2014).


The recycling of PVC (of which packaging is 4,8%) passed from 150 kt in 2007 to more than 500 kt in 2015, it is expected to reach 800 kt in 2020.


Recycling plastic packaging is always better than landfilling it or to burning it even for with an energy recovery purpose. Although it must be noted that multilayer or multimaterial packaging are more difficult to recycle and that a balance between the environment benefit and the cost has to be taken into consideration and that energy recovery still has an advantage if recycling is not feasible.

Use of recycled plastic in packaging:

The use of (post-consumer) recycled plastics is increasing for each type of plastic and each application. The recycled plastic is added to virgin plastics.

Recycled plastic can be used in packaging, but some applications will see their utilisation limited, for among other reasons technicity and strict performance criteria.

For instance thin films due to their thickness will have less probability to contain recycled materials, although the use of recycled plastics in films is increasing too especially in bags. In contrary bottles or sheets for thermoforming can contain more recycled plastic. The average recycled content of PET bottles is 11,7%.

The price of recycled plastic versus virgin plastic is also a limiting factor, but marketing reason may overrule it as an article containing recycled plastics gives a better image to the brand owner.

bottom of page