Trendspotting: Plastic packaging in transition

Over the course of that long, strange trip of a year that was 2016, PlasticsToday reported on a plethora of trends in plastics packaging. Everything from alternatives to metal cans to 100% recyclable, single-use coffee pods made headlines. As the year wraps up, we rounded up the most innovative technologies that are sure to be a hit in the marketplace in 2017.

Milacron Klear CanThe Klear Can developed by Milacron (Cincinnati, OH) is similar to many polypropylene (PP) plastic containers with double seam EZO can ends found in stores today. Although it behaves like a can, it is recyclable. The base is plastic and the rim represents a very low percentage of the package; so low, in fact, that it is microwavable. The product is over 98% plastic after the can is opened. The PP Klear Can scores a 5 for recyclability.

Based on barrier layer percentage, the Klear Can provides more than two years’ shelf life and is also cost competitive with metal cans. It uses the same filling, seaming and retorting machinery as metal cans, so minimal downstream investment is needed. In addition, the Klear Can allows manufacturers the flexibility to mold cans at the filling site (i.e., via “through-the-wall” supply operations), which offers operational efficiencies.

Milacron + KortecAnother Milacron co-injection technology gaining attention are systems embedded with Kortec technology, which are now being used in the production of 100% recyclable single-use coffee pods. The single-use coffee pod market has grown rapidly over the past decade, and Milacron’s technologies ensure that the newly designed pods are able to enter the recycling stream rather than the landfill.

The innovative technology has elevated Milacron to being a top producer of 100% recyclable, single-use coffee pods.

Moving on, health is still a major concern. Protective packaging benefits consumer health by safeguarding the food from external influences. In the beverages sector, there is a trend toward adding health-promoting substances to drinks that need special protection. Examples include fruit juices with high vitamin contents and sports and fitness drinks containing dietary supplements.

KHS Plasmax GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) has developed Plasmax technology, which keeps drinks fresh in bottles for a long time. In a low-pressure plasma process, a roughly 50-nm layer of pure silicon oxide, i.e. glass, is deposited on the inner wall of a PET bottle. Consequently, the drink has a longer shelf life, is protected from external influences and vitamins and additives are prevented from escaping.

Plasmax

Compared with rival multi-layer bottles, Plasmax technology is slightly more elaborate, but the cost of materials at about one cent per bottle is significantly lower. The main benefit of the Plasmax process is that the bottle can be fully recycled.

Another trend to look for in the beverages sector is healthy drinks containing chunks, such as chunks of aloe vera in milk and fruit smoothies. Not only is it vital for the matching bottle geometries, but also for bottling technologies capable of cleanly and precisely metering solid particles.

As one of several specialist machine manufacturers in this area, Krones AG (Neutraubling, Germany) is offering under its Dosaflex label special metering systems for lumpy products in sizes up to 3 x 3 x 3 mm with a metering accuracy of ±0.3%. And on the subject of milk and yogurt drinks, there is a distinct trend here to an expanding product spectrum.

Since dairy-based drinks have a limited shelf life, Holland Colors NV (Apeldoorn, Netherlands) presented at K 2016 its new Holcomer III solid additive that permits the production of PET mono-layer packaging solutions for UHT milk. It yields 100% protection from UV radiation and up to 99% protection from visible light. The obvious advantage of this solution is its mono-layer structure, which lends itself better to recycling than the multi-layer equivalent.

Lightweight packaging is also a continuing trend, with several advances coming to the fore in the last few years. The concepts and cost savings are spread across the board: Omission of package outers, flexible rather than rigid or semi-rigid packages, new designs and wall-thickness reduction.

To optimize the bottle base, Creative Packaging Solutions Ltd. (Balcova-Izmir, Turkey) has developed its Mint-Tec process: Following creation of the preform, a ram extends into it—without touching the neck—and gives the base its desired shape.

In the film products arena, there is also a trend toward thinner and more functional solutions. Functionality can be achieved with suitable additives, although most commonly it is done with multi-layering. The demand for more and more layers has culminated in so-called nano-layer arrangements of 33 layers and more. Today, three- and five-layer films are standard, partly because less-expensive materials can be used for the middle layer.

A process for making injection molded packaging even thinner and lighter is injection compression molding (ICM), which is gaining attention in the industry. This process differs from typical injection molding in that shrinkage is compensated for without injecting added material in the holding-pressure phase. Instead, the ICM process uses a compression cycle. This increases savings of material up to 20%.

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