Here is the American Chemistry Council’s Steve Russell talking with Plastics News about plastics recycling, marine debris and waste to energy technologies.
Many people may think of packaging only for a few moments when tearing open a new toy or mp3 player. However, packaging serves many masters: marketers, consumers, regulators, logistics engineers, recyclers, and more.
The adaptability of plastic packaging allows it to meet a variety of needs. As packaging moves from design phase through recovery/disposal, the varying types of plastics and their unique properties enable many of the choices made along the way: color, weight, size, shape, utility, printing, protection and so on.
Take a look below at the popular plastic polymers (resins) used in packaging, some benefits of plastic packaging, and some key points about food safety. And travel back in time to review major milestones in plastic packaging...
Plastic resins (polymers) for packaging
Many consumers already are familiar with the numbers and arrows on plastic packaging. These identification codes indicate the type of polymer (sometimes called plastic resin) the packaging is made from. While the resin code has its origins primarily in recycling, it also serves as sort of a primer for recognizing the most common plastics used in packaging: 1) polyethylene terephthalate, 2) high density polyethylene, 3) polyvinyl chloride, 4) low density polyethylene, 5) polypropylene, 6) polystyrene and 7) other. The resins often are identified by their acronyms: 1) PET, 2) HDPE, 3) PVC, 4) LDPE, 5) PP, 6) PS and 7) other.
The specific properties of each resin make them more or less suitable for different kinds of packaging (and other) applications. » view a chart of plastic resin identification codes
To be useful, packaging must safely protect and deliver a product from the manufacturer to the consumer. Packaging must meet regulatory requirements—for example, pharmaceutical and drug packaging is tightly regulated; so is any packaging in contact with food. Packaging must protect the contents from damage and leaking. And it must meet expectations regarding aesthetics, merchandising, cost, ease of use, ease of opening and resealing, weight, fuel savings, greenhouse gas emissions, and so on. The right plastic packaging can deliver on these expectations, whether protecting fragile medical equipment or fresh foods. » learn more about innovations in plastic packaging
Plastics help bring home more product with less packaging. Plastic packaging in general is lightweight and strong—different plastics can be molded, extruded, cast and blown into seemingly limitless shapes and films or foams. This resourcefulness often delivers while using minimal resources, creating less waste, consuming fewer resources and creating fewer CO2 emissions than alternative materials. Plastics make packaging more efficient, which ultimately conserves resources.
Modern plastic food packaging—such as heat-sealed plastic pouches and wraps—helps keep food fresh and protects it from contamination. Packaging experts estimate that each pound of plastic packaging can reduce food waste by up to 1.7 pounds. » learn more
From airtight wraps to shelf stable containers, plastic packaging plays a key role in delivering a safe food supply, from farm to table and is a material of choice for freezing foods for longer term storage. Plastics have also driven innovations in packaging design. For example, modified atmosphere packaging helps preserve food freshness by capturing a reduced-oxygen air mixture in a plastic package. This technique can extend a product’s shelf life by slowing the growth of bacteria.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the safety of food-contact packaging, including plastics used in contact with food. Many plastics, such as polystyrene and polyethylene, have been used in food packaging for decades. All food-contact packaging materials must pass FDA’s stringent approval process—the agency must find them safe for use in a specific packaging application—before they can be put on the market.
Like everything in this world, questions arise around plastic packaging safety, sometimes based on real issues...and sometimes not. To help answer these and other questions, here are resources on plastic packaging and food safety, styrene and plastic foodservice packaging, bisphenol A (BPA) used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic packaging and plastic bags and film.
And here’s a site dedicated to busting some of the myths about plastics, including packaging.
Plastic packaging timeline
From cling wrap to Tupperware® to the latest easy-dipping ketchup packets, plastics have played an integral role in smart packaging solutions that help do more with less. » check out this timeline of plastics innovations in packaging