Plastic food packaging

Plastic has become highly popular in food packaging because of its wide variety of applications and material types. At the same, time single-use plastic is widely discussed due to the huge amounts of plastic found in the ocean in some areas of the world.

The spectrum of plastic performance: Plastic packaging comes in a wide range of material types, each of which offers specific features regarding appearance, temperature range, appropriate food use, shelf life, barrier properties and environmental footprint. It can be used for hot and cold filling and for microwave reheating. Due to plastic’s good barrier properties against water, carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen, products in plastic packaging retain their flavour, aroma and nutritional value and are protected from external contamination. Lightweight plastic packaging also contributes to lighter truck loads, which helps reduce the energy used for transportation, lower shipping costs and reduce the amount of waste generated.

Recycling: At Plus Pack we support the idea about plastic recycling rates as high as possible. Recycling starts with the design of food packaging. Ideal for recycling are simple plastic materials like PE, PP and PET. Biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled together with petroleum-based plastic and is therefore not recommended to be used in connection with food packaging which ends up in household waste. Bio-based plastic on the other hand can be reused and recycled together with traditional plastic and is therefore investigated further.

 

Minimising food waste: If recycled correctly, though, plastic is a great packaging material that taps into one of the world’s fastest growing consumer trends: Less time for meal preparation means buying ready meals or food to go. This requires some kind of protective packaging. Plastic packaging has several benefits, and the most important job is to protect the food and extend the shelf life. This makes it a key player in minimising food waste.

To design food packaging that can be recycled, we are working after supporting the Design Manual, developed by the Forum for Circular Plastic Packaging under the Danish Plastic Federation.

Want to know more? Read below or download our Material Guide. 

PET

Polyethylene Terephthalate

PET is the most commonly used plastic in the world. The plastic material is primarily used for food packaging that requires glass-clear quality, e.g. fresh salads, fruits, cold meats, snacks, etc. PET is a very tough and flexible plastic material with high impact strength. Additionally, PET packaging is simple to transport and will not break. PET is fully recyclable and can be turned into a multitude of new uses.

PET is available in different types: APET (amorf PET), CPET (crystalline PET), DPET (direct-to-sheet) and rPET (recycled PET).

PP

Polypropylene

Polypropylene (PP) is one of the most widespread thermoplastics. It is a robust material with high resistance to chemical solvents, acids and alkalis. The material is colourless but can be dyed to any colour. PP is a very versatile material that is suitable as packaging for fresh meat and microwaveable ready-to-heat meals. PP can be recycled into new raw material for non-food purposes.

PP Chalk

Polypropylene with Chalk

PP Chalk is the environmentally friendly version of polypropylene (PP). The foil is co-extruded with a thin layer of PP on the surface to ensure food safety. The exterior of the material is matt and rough due to the chalk, whereas the interior is glossy and smooth due to the PP layer. It consists of minimum two layers. This way of producing a foil with natural minerals saves 40% CO2 in the production process compared to standard PP. The addition of natural minerals also makes the material easy to thermoform and process as well as making it more temperature stable. The chalk level can vary depending on the request.

Bio-based and biodegradable plastic

The confusion about bio-based plastic and biodegradable plastic is very common. Bio-based plastic means that the material is based on agricultural products, for example corn starch and sugar cane. On the other hand, traditional or fossil-based plastic is based on oil or gasses. Bio-based plastic has the same properties as conventional plastic, and bio-based plastic can actually be a combination of agricultural and fossil-based material.

Biodegradable plastic means that the product is designed to be composted – instead of being recycled. If biodegradable plastic is mixed with plastic that is designed to be recycled (fossil- or bio-based PET, PP and PE) then the recycling phase is destroyed.

The common vision in Europe is to focus on a circular economy by recycling as much plastic as possible. At Plus Pack we support this idea and that is why we focus on designing packaging that is to be recycled. This way we support a circular economy.

HIPS

High Impact Polystyrene

High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) is a plastic material that is easy to thermoform. HIPS is a softer material than regular polystyrene due to the addition of butadiene rubber. HIPS is suitable as packaging for dry and primarily cold foods, which will not be heated up in the packaging. The plastic material can be recycled into new raw material for non-food purposes.

OPS

Oriented Polystyrene

Oriented polystyrene (OPS) is produced by stretching the extruded polystyrene foil, which makes the material stronger – or in this case harder – and improves visibility through the material. It is a relatively inexpensive material that is suitable as packaging for dry and primarily cold foods, which will not be heated up in the packaging, e.g. bakery, deli and freezer applications. OPS can be recycled into new raw material for non-food purposes.