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What topped readers’ interest in a year that saw new polymers developed, a brand’s phase out, bioplastics news, award-winning and patented packaging, trends noted and more?

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

December 14, 2017

10 Min Read
Top 10 plastics packaging developments of 2017

We live in interesting times when it comes to dynamic influences, developments and changes in plastics and packaging. These forces yield a rich and ongoing diversity of news, innovations, designs and material options that PlasticsToday reported throughout 2017 here at the Packaging Channel.

Which articles stood out and resonated best among the hundreds that were published these past months? We assessed website metrics to assemble a date-driven compilation of the best-read articles of the year to share with you the content that’s must-read with your peers and likely of keen interest to you as well.

We list the Top 10 in classic reverse order across three pages, starting with this feature from April that spotlighted four plastics packaging patents. Leading the quartet of innovations was this patent from Graham Packaging Co. (York, PA), that involves a new design to address the need for a plastic, wide-mouth, blowmolded (PET) container for packaging a variety of viscous and other food products that’s also stackable. The novel base structure enables the container to be used in hot-fill, pasteurization and retort processes. Read about it and the other fascinating foursome here.

#9 Longtime PlasticsToday contributor Clare Goldsberry said it was inevitable: Plastic bags are now outlawed in the People’s Republic of California. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written about California’s war against plastic over the past 25 years,” she wrote. “The Plastics Industry Association (formerly SPI) used to form the front line in California to hold off this type of legislation. I used to go to Sacramento to cover the efforts of the plastics industry in California to stem the tide of legislation against plastic bags, but alas it’s done.”

Goldsberry also mixes in related news and comment including this from Wall Street Journal reporter by Allysia Finley: “California’s bag ban is a classic marriage of economic protectionism and government paternalism, dressed up in environmental virtue. As with so many other progressive policies, the ban is likely to have unintended consequences.”

For more, read In California, bring your own bag is now the law.

Go west to explore packaging, plastics and more February 6-8, 2018, during WestPack that’s co-located with PLASTEC West in Anaheim, CA. For more information, visit the WestPack website.

If you expected red-hot interest in bioplastics to show up on the list, you were correct. Hitting the charts at #8 was this August report chronicling moves into bioplastics by DuPont (Wilmington, DE), which sees a clear route to helping the planet through the use of high-performance biomaterials for packaging and other end-use products including textiles and engineered plastics. That’s no small task, yet one the company has both embraced and achieved notable milestones. For example, the company’s breakthrough Bio-PDO compound turns a formerly chemical process into an eco-efficient biological one. In March, the company’s continued commitment to R&D in innovative biomaterial solutions earned it “Bio-based Materials Company of the Year” recognition by research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Its stated goal: A commitment to innovative biomaterials that aims to revolutionize the materials’ landscape, specifically in packaging. DuPont’s Michael Saltzberg, PhD, who is global business director of Biomaterials at DuPont Industrial Biosciences, details its plans to do this in DuPont accelerating in bioplastics for packaging and more.

Halfway through the year we took the industry’s pulse with a half-time, half-portion preview of this report in Top 5 plastic packaging developments of 2017 that drew enough interest to make this year-end final list at #7. Without giving too much away ahead of the remainder of this list, the Top 5 noted features on flexible packaging, a new plastic alloy, the decision to phase out a certain utilitarian foamed polymer at a major restaurant chain and of course the best-read article at halftime of 2017.

It comes as no surprise that packaging’s largest segment, for food and beverages, led to the inclusion of our #6 feature from May. Driven by the proposition that plastics and packaging are nearly synonymous and that developments and trends in the one directly affect the other, contributor Goldsberry notes that packaging of all types from food and beverage to consumer goods to durables makes use of plastics because of its durability, consumer friendliness, sustainability and recyclability into myriad new products. Her insightful overview assembles a well-rounded number of resources including market reports, industry authorities, consumer trends and personal experiences in The megatrends that are reshaping food and beverage packaging that proved a must-read to many.

Next: The next half of the list starts with winning packages and a breakthrough solution to a 60-year old chemistry problem.

Readers appreciate the focus that PlasticsToday provides that includes the many awards programs across the packaging business managed by industry associations and other organizations. We further condense results that are often broad-based contests into those most appropriate within plastics packaging. Such was the case for #5, our June report on the Institute of Packaging Professional’s annual peer-reviewed AmeriStar Award winners. We cherry-picked five winners for readers’ consideration including the “fully loaded” Farmhouse Culture Kraut stand-up pouch from ProAmpac (Cincinnati). Kraut needs to off-gas, and in this redesign ProAmpac provided a one-way leak-resistant degassing valve on a flexible, reclosable stand-up pouch. A press-to-close zipper eliminates a secondary container. The pouches are also laser-scored for a clean and easy opening. A window on the back of the package lets consumers see the product before purchasing it.

Other winners included dressings for Snapsil packaging, grab-and-go portioned rPET cups of dips, an integrated bottle and holographic and injection-molded tubes of hair conditioner. You can view the selection in an image-driven slideshow of 5 award-worthy plastic packages.

#4 A chemistry problem that has challenged scientists for decades is that polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), which account for two-thirds of the world's plastics, have different chemical structures. That means that they cannot be repurposed together, at least not efficiently, a fact that has existed for the 60 years these two materials have been commercialized.

That could change with a discovery out of a lab run by Geoffrey Coates, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University. Coats and his group of polymer researchers have collaborated with researchers from the University of Minnesota to develop a multiblock polymer that, when added in small measure to a mix of the two otherwise incompatible materials, create a new and mechanically tough polymer.

For more about this breakthrough, read Breakthrough additive combines PP and PE into a tough new polymer.

#3 Ocean debris appears to be a blight upon the plastics industry, but providing some big picture context to that problem can be illuminating. That's the case with this timely feature from April that offers this challenge: Flexible packaging shows up in thousands of applications in our daily lives, but a lot of that packaging also shows up floating in our oceans and rivers.

What can the industry do to improve flexible packaging’s image?

Put that into context, which is what Diego Donoso, President, Packaging & Specialty Plastics Division, at Dow Chemical Co., did during a presentation at the recent SustPack 2017 event in Scottsdale, AZ. Flexible packaging is “inherently more sustainable and uses less energy” than many other forms of packaging, noted Donoso. “However, the same qualities that make it desirable become a challenge when looking at end-of-life recycling.”

One of those is its lightweightedness that means it floats, and is thus much more visible that other types of trash that are heavy and sink. “This affects the reputation of all of us," he says, and offers four recommendations that are necessary for flexible packaging to gain a better reputation. Those and more can be found in Flexible packaging is more sustainable than people realize

Next: The #2 and #1 most-read stories of the year

Go west to explore packaging, plastics and more February 6-8, 2018, during WestPack that’s co-located with PLASTEC West in Anaheim, CA. For more information, visit the WestPack website.

What characterizes the Top 2 most-read articles of the year is that both hit on hot buttons, one for a controversial and highly-charged industry issue and the other for a highly-driven segment of the market that has been expanding by leaps and bounds for years.(Graphic Designed by Freepik)

#2 Certain plastics have been targeted by special interest groups to be eliminated, or synonymously, “phased out,” using often vocal and sometimes misguided motivations. A case in point is this counterpoint response from contributor Goldsberry, which also illustrates the value of an enlightening Op-Ed piece in the hands of a knowledgeable writer. She was prompted by the decision of McDonald’s Corp. (Oak Brook, IL) to exit expanded polystyrene for its packaging.

“I guess somewhere along the line McDonald’s must have started using EPS for drink cups and containers because of their environmental friendliness and because EPS is now recyclable. EPS is, after all, a good choice for packaging, drink cups and other uses. But not according to our friends at As You Sow (Oakland, CA), “an environmental activist group that spends its time and considerable financial resources persuading shareholders of large corporations that plastic packaging should be eliminated, and holding their feet to the fire with threats of bad publicity if they do not cooperate.”

“McDonald’s has caved to the group, promising to phase out “harmful [EPS] foam packaging globally,” according to vote results announced at its annual meeting on May 24. The vote (31% of shareholders were in favor) “far exceeds the average voting result of 20% for social and environmental issue proposals.”

The full article, in which she both reminisces with previous related interviews and shares appropriate facts, can be read here.

Go west to explore packaging, plastics and more February 6-8, 2018, during WestPack that’s co-located with PLASTEC West in Anaheim, CA. For more information, visit the WestPack website.

Which leads us to the #1 most-read article of 2017 at www.PlasticsToday.com/packaging, a report on a market that is estimated to surpass $250 billion by 2024, according to a research report by Global Market Insights, Inc. (GMI, Ocean View, DE).

That market is for flexible packaging.

GMI notes that improved barrier properties, technological advancement in thin elastic material along with reduced wastage are key trending factors driving the flexible packaging market growth. Superior sealing, heat insulation and barrier against moisture makes the product more attractive for end user industry. Flexible packaging shares a major portion in the packaging industry size, shift in consumer preference towards convenient packing and ease to store & transport properties supported the product growth.

Food and beverages flexible packaging market generated more than $85 billion revenue in 2015. Changing lifestyle and eating habits along with increase in consumer affordability leading to the industry growth in this segment. Rising preference for packaged & processed food owing to its extended shelf life properties and prevention from contamination will create notable opportunities for flexible packaging market growth.

The article goes on to note advancements in ecommerce, healthcare and other markets and discloses popular flex-pack formats, particularly stand-up pouches, which are estimated to be valued over $75 billion by 2024. High barrier against moisture & oxygen, low material consumption and low costs are the factors positively influencing the product demand. Pillow pouches will witness over 4% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) to 2024. Rising demand from dairy products due to better sealing, ease in transportation and cost-effective properties has favored industry growth in this segment.

Read more in Flexible Packaging Market projected to exceed $250 billion by 2024

PlasticsToday appreciated your readership in 2017 and we look forward to bringing you more useful, must-read information on plastics packaging in 2018.

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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