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Françoise Pardos, Pardos Marketing, February 2006


Continuing competition of packaging materials:

Plastics making inroads into traditional materials
Non plastics materials fighting back
New plastics entering packaging
Competition between plastics

Plastics making inroads into traditional materials

Plastics continue to replace metals in packaging.

The main story at the moment is the forthcoming replacement of steel and aluminum cans by PET bottles, for beer and carbonated soft drinks. Other metal packages are fast replaced by plastics, like in paint cans, shoe polish, steel drums and casks, small tubes for toothpaste and the like. 


Plastics continue to replace glass in packaging.

The largest market under development is the huge beer small bottle market worldwide. Now, most major beer makers have at least tried some plastics bottles.

Within five years, glass is to continue only for high value alcoholic drinks, wine and spirits, baby foods, (for some time, not for long), perfume. Small glass jars resist well in the new successful markets of cooking sauces, savory, exotic, ethnic sauces. Glass enhances the quality image, but hot-fill PET is soon to compete.


Plastics continue to replace paper and board in packaging.

The largest volume example is that of bricks replaced by plastic bottles or film pouches.

Non plastic materials fighting back

The resistance of non-plastics rests on higher-value products and on a few new design and concepts, neither on economical or ecological grounds. There are a number of very successful innovations, in metals, paper and board, even cellophane making a comeback, not to mention the development of non plastic barriers like the silicon and aluminum oxides, key development in barriers, for transparency, microwaveability, environment.


Food cans stay strong for premium products.
Trend of lithography on 3-piece cans, using pre-printed body and ends.
Many new can designs, rounded design, for diversification of standard cans.
Easy open new systems, like that of EasyPeel from Impress Metal Packaging.


It seems strange that both the glass manufacturers and the wine bottles have totally overlooked a potentially promising market, that of small individual glass bottles, 20 or 25 cl, for individual single use and no need to re-close and risk spoiling the wine. Such innovation, strangely neglected, would boost demand for packaging of good average drinking wine, in line with the single portions of cooked dishes. All the suppliers to airlines are successful, but few experiments have been made with the general public.

Paper and board

Bricks are fighting back the trend to more plastic bottles. After decades of development, from milk, to fruit juices, to soups, bricks tend to become a very standard, less appealing package. Diversification started in the last five years, with rectangular and square sections, tapered shapes, with caps, screw or other,  easier to open, to pour, to close back, of many sizes, smaller single portions.

Manufacturers of corrugated board crates have agreed on an international standard box, selected by the European and the American (The Fibre Box Association) manufacturers. All corrugated board producers now offer standard size, of 600 x 400 and 400 x 300 mm, called CF1 and CF2, Common Footprint, stackable, with a clip system also standardized.

New wax paper for candy and chocolate wrap, replacing OPP, easier to open, but OPP still is 95 % of chocolate bars.

Strong development of carton trays coated with PET and other plastics. For instance, the packaging of butter went from vegetable parchment wrap in 1960, to plastic dish of molded or thermoformed PP, in 1980, to carton/aluminium, or carton metallized PP. Now, there is high barrier carton, developed by Stora Enso for butter sold at Carrefour, to convey the traditional look.

The Tampere University of Technology is embarked with Stora Enso and UPM Kymmene, in a R &D project on barrier-coated paper and board products. there are four fields of research, high barrier coating, packages for frozen foods, biodegradable coating and intelligent packs, all based on paper and board.  There is a new concept of barrier carton, from many suppliers, Wipack, Napiag, Enso, for trays.

Development of folding carton boxes, plastic coated, doing away with the inside pouch, for frozen foods and dry groceries.

New laminates of kraft paper and metallized PP, replace the standard metallized OPP, for old fashioned look, United Biscuit, Vico.

Cushion packaging for transit protection, partly replacing PS foam by layers and piled-up corners of corrugated cardboard, to provide the required block compression strength. Or entirely new products/concepts, like Exabal, patented by Agripack in France, made of beads of extruded corn, popcorn actually, to protect all sorts of products.

Molded pulp trays are gaining ground for egg packing against EEPS and thermoformed transparent PVC. Pulp appearance has been greatly improved, estimated at 300 000 tons in Western Europe.

More generally new techniques to form paper and board from cellulose fibers, reducing water and heat requirements of the paper process, (LMG Rotopack), making finished articles in one stage.

Cellophane might have a comeback. A new process by Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, allows cellulose film to be produced by a blowing technique, more economical.

Cork, fast losing ground for closures, may find a new life when associated with silicones to enhance its properties, launched in France by Saint-Gobain Cortex.

New plastics entering packaging

The most interesting developments, but there are many, are:

The new barrier processes for the development of PET bottles, barrier. The purpose is to keep carbon dioxide gas in soft drink small containers, and to prevent oxygen from entering beer containers too soon before the end of shelf-life. These developments, such as the plasma coating of PET bottles, appear very promising, and likely to enter the last frontier kept by metal and glass for small containers of beer and carbonated soft drinks. Forecasts are very optimistic there, up to one million additional tons of PET, just for beer bottles, by 2005.

And there is not only the beer potential and the hoped-for shift of PET bottles for soft drinks, a marketing issue, but carbonated water is starting with PET, Perrier, and PET for milk. Five of Europe’s largest dairies, Parmalat, Nestlé, Campina Melkunie, Friesland Coberco and Garanarol, are now using PET.

In all these cases, PET bottles are seen as a key tool to reposition the products, and help marketing.

Other major developments are expected in barriers, for films, for rigid packages, and for bottles, with nano composites, tiny clay particles, not more than 2-5 % of the nylon or other plastics, considerably enhancing barrier and other properties, a key growth area.

New faster processes to thermoform PP cups, at last permitting to make it economically worthwhile to shift from thin wall injection molding, still dominant, to PP thermoforming, in direct competition with PS. Also the expandable PP, having entered packaging applications is now developing for food packaging.

Huhtamaki Van Leer launched Coralfoam, a foamed lip PP soup cup for the British company New Covent Garden Soup Company

There is the new promising development of the COC, cyclic olefin copolymers from Ticona, Topas, very promising for packaging, as particularly good moisture barriers. COC could thus be an alternative to the very popular PVDC coated PVC for pharmaceutical blisters.

Re-start of the interest for true degradable polymers, with large commercial-sized plants of polylactides, PLA. Cargill Dow Polymers has launched NatureWorks PLA, with a 140 000 ton plant in Nebraska. Huhtamaki Van Leer acquired Packaging Resources Inc., PRI, in 1999, to develop the EarthShell concept for its Polarcup subsidiary.

Yet, the biodegradable trend is an uphill battle, as shown by the lack of success of the Autobar /Danone yogurt cup of PLA in Germany in early 2000.

Competition between plastics


Developing film solutions against rigid solutions.
Film is hailed as the cleverest solution to packaging.
Possible trend for use of plastic pouches for milk, against bricks and bottles, a renewal, back to origins.
Flexible pouches and bag-in-box replacing rigid containers, casks, drums, for semi bulk catering market.
Plastic labels of PVC originally, now PE, PET, OPP.
Search for new materials/solutions to replace PVC in medical and pharmaceutical packaging.
OPP for candy wrap competed by coex PE.
Shrink sleeves, from standard PVC, to PE, OPP, PET, for environment and for a single material pack.
PVDC barrier stagnant, and fast growth for substituting EVOH, and PVOH, and other new barriers.

Rigid cups, trays and dishes, molded or thermoformed:

From the original standard PS and PVC, partial shifts to PP, PET (APET and CPET) OPS, SBD.
Development of chalk and polymer (PP and PEHD), 50-50 blends for thermoformed or blow molded containers
New PP or PET foams for thin-wall containers for fresh ready salads and vegetables, reputedly more economical than APET thermoformable films.


The general substitution trend went from PVC to PET, PP, PC, PAN, PEN, PEN/PET to come.
PEHD used to be for non-food bottles, then entered milk and fruit juices, to be competed now by PET.
New applications for PET bottles, for carbonated water (Perrier), soon beer and small soft drinks.
New developments in coex barrier bottles, plasma coated for barrier PET, like the Actis of Sidel.
Potential for PP, PC and PAN, more expensive but of interest for hot fill applications, still held by glass.

Other plastic packaging:

For instance, PS foam continuing for transport cushioning, but growing use of other solutions, bubble films, void filling air sacks, PE and PP foams for higher performance.

Forecasts of plastics inter competition

At the moment, the winning plastics are PP and PET. PP is the most versatile, because of its many advantages, lightest, sealable, chemically simple, almost free of processing additives, adaptable to all types of packages, film, thin-wall rigid containers, bottles, closures, resisting to above 100°C. PET is going to be dramatically boosted by the new barrier on bottles.

To summarize, in the continuing competition between plastics for packaging, within the next ten years:

Winning materials will be PET, PP and PELLD.
Losing or stagnant materials will be PVC, PELD, and PEHD, the plastics that were the first success story.


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