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PIRA, Brussels 2005  Flexible Packaging 2005
PIRA 5th International Conference
19th-20th October 2005, Brussels Belgium



Plastics are a miracle and plastics films are an even greater miracle.

Plastics have been a success story, for their unique features. Plastics truly are “miracle materials”, with the almost infinite combinations of various molecules creating these multiple polymers, in the true heart of matter.

Why the success of plastics in packaging, and everywhere?

Plastics have many properties, often equivalent, or inferior, to those of traditional packaging materials, but the combination of these average properties generally gives a unique synergy, their very value for many applications. One of the most striking features of plastics is to be, at the same time, flexible glass and transparent metal.

Plastics are light, generally lighter than other packaging materials. Even when they are heavier, than wood, paper or board, their higher mechanical strength allows using less plastic. Plastics are generally less bulky than the materials they replaced, film versus paper and board, plastic bottles versus glass bottles.

The miracle of plastics films in packaging is like an "invisible bubble”, thin and light. The most extraordinary package probably is the 300 grams of stretch film, putting together a pallet of hundreds of kilos and costing less than 2 dollars.

Plastics are the ideal ecological package.

Plastics can be made into a great variety of package shapes, by their main processes, bottle blow molding, extrusion of film and sheet, thermoforming of thin wall containers, molding of containers and closures, and many other processes of lesser quantitative importance.

Most plastics are good barriers to water and moisture, an obvious advantage over paper and board that have to be treated.  Barrier plastics, materials and processes permit to greatly improve the oxygen, gas and flavor barrier of the plastics they are associated with, however never achieving the complete barrier provided by heavier glass and metal.

Plastics can be most easily associated with traditional materials, boosting the overall performances to fit almost all packaging needs.

The major trend is the final replacement of traditional materials, up to aluminum, steel (in closures and in cans), and glass, by the irresistible push of plastics. More and more, plastics are becoming the one and only packaging material.

Film definitions

There often are long, and pointless, discussions about the various definitions contained in the terms of  “films” versus “sheet”, and the not completely consistent dividing lines between flexible, semi rigid, or semi flexible, and rigid.

In common use, films are planar forms of plastics that may be thick enough to be self-supporting, but thin enough to be flexed, folded or creased without cracking.

The dividing line between film and sheet is sometimes given as:

  • 2 to 200 µm, flexible
  • 200 to 400 µm, semi rigid, or semi flexible
  • Over 400 µm, rigid.

However, in practice, a number of flexible materials are just in-between, like PA, nylon, and PVC. It is increasingly admitted that most thermoformed containers, at least the shallow trays, are in the flexible category.

The thickness criterion defines films as of 250 µm, or 0.25 mm, or 10 mils (of an inch), or less, down to 2-4 µm. Sometimes the film definition goes up to 300 µm, or 0.30 mm, or 12 mils.


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