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Light weight, big opportunity

The rigid plastics packaging market is currently valued at USD170 billion (Canadean 2014) with a heavy presence across the food, personal care, home care and drinks markets. Packaging Today spoke with experts across the supply chain to delve deeper into what the future holds.

According to Clint Filipowicz, SC Johnson’s senior director – regional manufacturing operations Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), rigid plastics are one of the main "win areas" where a brand-owner can be more sustainable without sacrificing quality or lean manufacturing.

"We’re working to increase post-consumer recycled content across our product packaging, decrease packaging overall, and offset virgin material use through partnerships and packaging advances," he says.

"An example of recent efforts has been a redesign of Mr Muscle Cleaner packaging implemented in multiple countries around the globe. It targets our goal of decreasing packaging overall. By selecting a new, lighter-weight trigger spray bottle and harmonising bottles across markets, the company is saving more than 900,000 pounds of resin on bottles annually. The bottles will be about 9% lighter, which also reduces shipping weight. Currently the market for general cleaning products is about 4 billion containers a year (Canadean). If just 20% of those bottles were refilled rather than discarded, it could save millions of pounds of plastics."

Smart Twist
The Smart Twist cleaning system is a reusable sprayer that employs concentrated refills. Consumers just fill the sprayer’s water chamber with tap water and twist to switch between cleaners.

Choosing to use the Smart Twist cleaning system and its cartridges helps minimise waste going to landfills. Compared with a standard spray bottle, the cartridges:

– Require 63% less plastics

– Avoid transporting 18.7 to 22.7oz of water, depending on the formula The cartridges also can be recycled in most community recycling programmes.

Last year, Nampak achieved two world firsts – improving the multi award winning Infini bottle through two major developments. Firstly, the company created the lightest 4 pint plastics milk bottle ever made – weighing in at just 32g; and secondly the team developed a version of the bottle containing 30% recycled high density polyethylene (rHDPE) – double that of any other bottle on the market. More than 7 million Infini bottles have now been sold through major retailers including M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons.

Lightweighting and sustainability
Nampak is very active in lightweighting and driving sustainable development. The Dairy Roadmap sets a target for 50% rHDPE in 2015, but the Nampak team is currently testing bottles with this level of recycled content now – a year in advance. The company spent four years developing the Infini bottle, and this is only just the beginning of what it is hoping to achieve.

By 2017, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive will require 57% of plastics to be recovered and recycled. There will also be a number of industry-led initiatives continuing to impact the sector. One example for the milk industry is the Dairy Roadmap – Nampak is one of the Roadmap’s taskforce members and has successfully delivered on commitments including the incorporation of 10% rHDPE in milk bottles by 2010. Nampak is on track to incorporate up to 30% rHDPE by 2015 and up to 50% rHDPE by 2020.

"As mentioned above, the growing markets in India and China offer great opportunities for packaging manufacturers and converters. Nampak also sees an opportunity for the Infini bottle to translate into other sectors, such as the detergent market," concludes Clint Filipowicz.

In today’s environmentally conscious world there is an increasing focus on ‘sustainable’ packaging, with manufacturers and consumers seeking packs that are perceived to have minimal impact on the environment, says Katherine Fleet, sustainability manager at the RPC Group.

"Plastics packaging has generally had a poor reputation as a sustainable packaging material, yet it is lightweight and low carbon" she says. "It helps prevent food waste by protecting produce from ‘plot to plate’ and extending shelf life. Plastics is also very recyclable.

"This last point is important since for many consumers, sustainability is predominantly about recycling or the incorporation of recycled material."

While consumers understand that PET drinks bottles and HDPE milk bottles can be recycled, there has been less awareness of the fact that all other types of plastics can be recycled as well – and indeed are needed for useful second-life applications. An example of this is Regain Polymers and RPC creating a new plastics paint container from a used margarine tub.

"The paint container currently contains 25% post-consumer recycled material (PCR) and we are working to increase that percentage," explains Fleet. "But one of the things that will prevent us achieving this is a lack of good quality PCR plastics.

"At the same time, we have to realise that there is more to a ‘sustainable’ pack than its recyclability. A pack has to be completely fit for purpose, otherwise any so-called sustainable benefits count for nothing. For example, if a pack contains recycled material but the food it contains goes off in a couple of days, it is of little use, particularly since on average ten times more energy goes into the production of food and goods than into their packaging, and in the EU food accounts for five times more waste than packaging.

"Nor is the ‘no packaging’ option always the best solution for the environment – 27% more fruit is wasted when it is sold loose compared with pre-packed in plastics trays.

"We should therefore always seek to incorporate sustainability into a pack, but it does not have to be the sole reason for its existence," she continues. "For example, Heinz Beanz uses plastics packaging for its single portion Snap Pot and Fridge Pack jar. Both offer effective portion control and long ambient shelf life, which help to minimise food waste; their lighter weight reduces supply chain effects, for example in fuel for transport, which can have a positive effect on carbon reduction. Yet for the consumer the primary appeal of these packs is their convenience.

"Lightweighting of packaging makes an important contribution to reducing material usage and the impact of transportation," says Fleet. "At RPC we have produced the first 5 litre jerry can to weigh just 130g and the first 20 litre large container that weighs only 700g. Yet the most important aspect of both these packs is that they remain fully functional, robust and reliable for whatever products they have to hold – a fact underlined by their UN certification for the carriage of hazardous goods.

Ralf Weidenhammer, CEO of the Weidenhammer Packaging Group, told Packaging Today: "One of the major trends we see particularly in the market for food products is towards customised convenience packaging solutions. Today, consumers want packaging solutions that perfectly fit into their own personal lifestyles. It could be a special lid that makes it easier to dose out the content, a microwave-safe package, or practically anything else that facilitates fast and easy preparation and consumption."

He continues: "From a technological perspective, we have a strong focus on developing new high barrier packaging solutions that particularly protect oxygen-sensitive foods such as milk powder. In the plastics sector, we launched PermaSafe, the first plastics container to offer the canned food industry the advantages of plastics packaging for perishable products, including sterilised and pasteurised foods. This plastics packaging is as robust as a conventional metal can, but is much easier to handle, lighter, and sometimes more cost effective.

PermaSafe also offers a variety of new options in terms of packaging shape and design. The new injection-moulded plastics packaging ensures high stability and excellent barrier properties, which means guaranteed hygiene and longer shelf life for sensitive products. in-mould labelling (IML) technology offers practically unlimited design options along with a variety of shapes and packaging formats – from round to oval and rectangular shapes, allowing us to deliver highly individualised brand appearance at the point of sale," says Weidenhammer.

He continues: "In plastics packaging we use PE or PP as the standard material, as both types can easily be recycled. We produce most of our plastics packaging by in-mould labelling, which offers additional benefits with regard to recycling: in IML the manufacture and decoration are combined in a single operation. Labels are applied during the injection process and usually made of the same plastics substance as the packages, so there is no need to separate materials for recycling. Adhesives are unnecessary because the two components are melted together during processing.

"We always closely monitor potential legislative initiatives, especially if they aren’t uniform from country to country – BPA for instance, which will be prohibited in France but not in most other European countries. At the moment we don’t see any such initiatives that could affect our product groups or require new product innovations.