‘Poly-feration’ of PE and PP innovations in packaging: ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil packagingAt NPE2018 in May it became quickly apparent that major polymer suppliers and other companies were mobilizing with developments and products related to polyethylene and polypropylene packaging. In this second interview with a leading company  in the polylefin market, PlasticsToday draws on the insights and expertise of Andy West, Polypropylene Marketing Manager, ExxonMobil (Houston).

How would you characterize the state of the industry for PE and PP polymers for packaging?

West: There is no doubt that the packaging market is very competitive. The global population is rising rapidly and there is a growing middle-class, especially in the developing world, which will only increase the pressure on limited resources. The need to do more with less has never been greater and that is why ExxonMobil’s ongoing technology innovation in PE and PP polymers is crucial in helping to achieve this.  New polymer technologies enable customers to create differentiated packaging solutions that meet evolving trends that include:

  • Thinner, lightweight, durable packaging solutions that use less material and energy, reduce waste of packaged goods and packaging material and offer opportunities for recycling.
  • Food and beverage packaging solutions that can extend shelf-life, reduce spoilage and protect food longer, compared to alternatives such as aluminum, glass and paper.

Over the years we have introduced several new polymer portfolios to meet changing needs.  Two very good examples of that are our newest polyethylene portfolio, Exceed XP performance polymers introduced in 2016, and the Achieve Advanced Polypropylene portfolio introduced this year.

ExxonMobil Exceed woman in kitchenWhy does it seem that polyolefins in packaging are gaining momentum?

West: Polyolefins are gaining momentum because new products are offering significant benefits compared to more traditional packaging materials like polystyrene and PET, especially in meeting the evolving trends mentioned prior. In particular, these new product technologies, like Exceed XP and Achieve Advanced PP, are very good at helping customers accomplish their sustainability goals such as reducing material use, packaging and product waste, as well as creating packaging that can be recycled, while enhancing packaging performance.

We have picked up on the movement in polyolefins as replacements for PS and PET for containers and packaging that you mention also. Please elaborate on that trend.

West: Yes, there is a lot of interest in polyolefins replacing PS and PET because they provide customers with opportunities to create differentiated packaging solutions. For example, ExxonMobil and Thanh Phu Co. Ltd. (Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam), a leading Vietnamese manufacturer of flexible packaging, collaborated recently to push the boundaries for a 100% PE solution to address the market’s demand for a more recyclable solution for laminated packaging.

Recycling of laminated packaging has been a long-standing challenge for the packaging industry because of the mix of materials that make up its structure. The cost and effort required to separate the polyolefin layer from its laminates, like polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyamide (PA), ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) or oriented polypropylene (OPP), is a complex issue for packaging recycling companies.

ExxonMobil pasta bag laminationThe ability to replace conventional laminated packaging with packaging that can be recycled allows the industry to take a significant step towards developing solutions with more of the benefits that consumers are demanding.

The collaboration with Thanh Phu has resulted in a solution for a laminated flexible package that can be recycled in the same collection stream as PE by using our Exceed XP, Exceed and Enable performance polymers and proprietary film conversion technology from Thanh Phu.Flexible films with outstanding mechanical properties and superior optics, such as high gloss and transparency, with good thickness variation control are possible with these polymers, compared to conventional polyethylene films.

This collaboration has resulted in a true synergy between material science and conversion technology innovation. The cradle-to-grave cycle has been changed into a more responsible cradle-to-cradle concept. This provides opportunities for a full PE alternative to conventional laminated solutions without compromising performance, while maintaining an attractive cost-efficiency ratio.

What are the main challenges in polyolefin markets or for customers?

West: The main challenges facing customers are the drive to create new and innovative solutions that responds to all the market drivers of improved performance and lower cost, while meeting evolving sustainability challenges. Solutions need to deliver benefits across the value chain from raw material supplier to the final consumer and, in doing so, help create new markets for everyone.  This can only be achieved by taking an innovative approach, developing new polymer technologies and by working in close collaboration across the value chain that includes polymer suppliers, converters, packaging companies, brand owners and trade associations.  It is only then that we start to see truly innovative packaging solutions that meet today’s market drivers.

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