Flexible packaging, one of the pioneering applications for plastics, continues to lead the way in modern packaging innovation, delivering unprecedented convenience, functionality, cost and sustainability, according to three experts featured in the fifth Fireside Chat webinar sponsored by M. Holland Company and Plastics News.

The global market for flexible packaging continues to grow and is expected to reach $248 billion by 2020, making it by far the largest single end use for plastic resin. This growth is driven by a variety of factors, including conversion from rigid packaging to flexible packaging to reduce plastic usage and transportation costs, the development of high-performance films that increase shelf life, consumer demands for greater convenience, and increasing demands for environmentally-friendly packaging.

Rudy Bourgeois, Vice President of Film Development at M. Holland Company, led the panel discussion with Dan Falla, Technical Services Specialist at NOVA Chemical, and Joel Longstreth, Marketing Manager at Brentwood Plastics Inc., to discuss key factors driving the market for flexible packaging.

TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS

Among the technological advances driving the growth of flexible packaging was the introduction of metallocene PE resins over the past two-and-a-half decades. Metallocenes impart greater toughness and puncture resistance to plastic film, which allows for downgauging.

The panel noted that such advances have permitted up to a 50-percent reduction in resin usage in some applications.
“Metallocene is used in just about every application within the flexible packaging industry,” Bourgeouis stated.

Multi-layer extrusion technology was cited as another significant advancement driving the growth of flexible packaging. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of co-extrusion lines,” Falla said. By layering multiple layers of film with different functional attributes, flexible packaging manufacturers have been able to create packaging with unique features, such as the ability to extend the shelf life of food, or to absorb moisture and odors.

According to the Natural Resources and Defense Council, up to 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. Flexible packaging significantly reduces this waste, which is a benefit to both consumers and businesses. Take the “cucumber stat:” Falla explained how the shelf life of cucumbers can be extended to up to two weeks when wrapped in polyethylene shrink wrap. There are numerous instances and statistics that support flexible packaging’s impact on food waste, including:

  • Bananas last 36 days in perforated polyethylene bags versus 5 days unpackaged.
  • The shelf life of beef is extended from four days to up to 30 days when vacuum packed in oxygen barrier film.
  • Food waste is reduced from 11 percent to 0.8 percent when bread is packaged in biaxially oriented polypropylene film.
  • Packaging grapes in perforated bags leads to a 20 percent reduction in in-store waste.

Co-extrusion technology also can reduce overall material usage, with some packages reduced in weight by 33 percent.

DOWNGAUGING AND SUSTAINABILITY

Downgauging not only yields cost advantages, but it also responds to growing consumer concerns about plastic waste and the environment. All three experts agreed that downgauging would continue to play a fundamental role in the market.

One drawback to downgauging is that some consumers may feel underwhelmed by the final package. Longstreth pointed out that consumers often perceive a stiffer, or thicker package as wrapping a higher quality product. It’s up to the broader industry to better educate consumers about the benefits of downgauging, and managing consumer expectations and perceptions, he added.

Flexible packaging offers a number of additional sustainability advantages: lower carbon footprint, reduced energy use, and less waste when disposed than most other packaging options. Bourgeois noted the success of stand-up pouches and predicts that we are only beginning to see the impact of that design. “Going to an all-similar material is going to be the next generation of stand-up pouches so that they can be 100 percent recyclable,” Bourgeois predicted.

To hear more exciting advancements surrounding the flexible packaging sector, see the recording of this fireside discussion here.

The next and final episode in our Fireside Chat series titled “Disruptors & New Opportunities from Medical Device Tech Advancements” airs on Wednesday, October 25 at 1 p.m. CT. To register, click here.


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