The packaging is a tool that protects and contains our goods and it should, first of all, provide convenience for the consumer, facilitate storage, increase self-life, protect the environment and be compatible with consumer trends.To date packaging materials have been to a large extent based on non-biodegradable materials, they consist a variety of petroleum-derived plastic polymers, metal and glass. The only widely used biodegradable packaging materials is paper and board (which are based on cellulose, the most abundant and renewable polymer worldwide). These materials and polymers are used in various combinations to prepare materials with unique properties that efficiently ensure the safety and quality of products through handling and storage to consumer use.
a)Petroleum derivatives (plastic caps and bottles, polyethylene packages-bags for food and garment packaging, films for wrapping purposes, shrink films for multiple items packaging, PVC –polyvinyl chloride-packages such as films/tubing for wrapping consumer items).
Plastics tend to be lighter in weight, they augment shelf life and they are nontoxic.
Furthermore, they improve safety and convenience for the consumer as being unbreakable and easy to hold.
On the other point of view plastic packages can t tolerate high temperatures, they also increase waste.Plastics do not dissolve so they are a major contributor to environmental pollution.
b)Metal (tin plates and cans), can withstand high temperatures and they present high storage convenience as well as long self-life, moreover, they are easy to use and unbreakable.
On the contrary, cans are found to be difficult to open, they are not reclosable and their content is neither fresh nor healthy(too many preservatives). Furthermore, tin plates and can have no modern image to the consumer their shape and design is not original.
c)Glass (for refreshments and edible oils)has a long self-life it is also refillable which reduces costs. It was commonly used before plastic polymers come into use. They are considered as storage inconvenient due to their high breakability, their content as well isn’t fresh and they create much waste (unless they are recycled).Glass is quite expensive to produce too comparing to other packaging materials.
d)Paper containers (carton boxes, paper carrier bags, paper board boxes, and pulp molds out of newsprint and corrugated paper).Paper containers have replaced glass containers in the food industry. They efficiently ensure storage convenience and ease to use their content, they are also nontoxic as well as unbreakable. Paper containers are the most abundantly used biodegradable packaging materials, they are preferred by the packaging industry because they are low cost and light-weighted. Carton boxes can get original shapes and designs which makes them more appealing to the consumer. The paper though as well as most biodegradable packaging materials can be found ineffective and insensitive to atmospheric conditions like humidity and extreme temperatures and they could deteriorate the quality of the product they contain.
- Reasons that current packaging materials are used The packaging industry is influenced today by numerous factors such as technology, consumer trends as well as political and legislative changes.
Many products require specific conditions to sustain their freshness(food industry)and overall quality during storage until they reach the final consumer. The packaging industry, trying to satisfy the need of consumers for safe and quality products and by considering the costs of production has came up with all the current used packaging materials. Consumer trends and preferences are equally considered before deciding what to produce.
On the contrary, existing legislation deters producers of using packaging materials which may impair product overall quality and are low cost.Furthermore, technology breakthroughs are very important. Glass an inadequate, from many aspects, packaging material is replaced nowadays (with few exceptions)with aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Technology, can reduce the costs of production and satisfy consumers’ needs.
Biodegradable materials as packaging are interesting from a sustainable point of view. They are low cost, easy to manufacture as well as environment-friendly. The demand for biodegradable packaging materials is increasing rapidly and consumer trends affect overall demand. The growing concern for environmental issues is influencing the choice of packaging materials so manufacturers tend to use more biodegradable materials.
3.The environmental impact of currently used packaging materials Currently, used materials are found related to:
a. Aluminum for incinerations is the major contributor to the greenhouse effect as well as plastic packaging due to its high thermal value. Cardboard and glass represent the least contribution to the greenhouse effect and especially for cardboard contributions are negative due to the recovery of energy contents in the material.
b.Acidification occurs due to waste incineration of PVC(polyvinyl chloride), and the manufacturing of EPS(expanded polystyrene). If these two types of plastic materials are recycled, their contribution to acidification can be reduced by more than 50%. The lowest contributions to this phenomenon come from cardboard and glass.
c.Eutrophication.The major contributions for eutrophication come from HDPE(high density polyethylene),LPDE(low density polyethylene),PS(polystyrene)and PVC(polyvinyl chloride),from EPS(expanded polystyrene),and aluminum.A larger contribution is seen for some of these plastics (PS, PVC)*if the material is recycled than led to the incineration. The lowest contributions come from cardboard and glass.
Aluminum that is not recycled us the major contributor to photochemical ozone formation.
Furthermore, manufacturing of packaging materials causes fossil recource consumption.
The largest consumption of natural gas and crude oil is seen in relation to plastic materials led to incineration after use. The largest consumption of natural gas is seen for EPS*, PS,*LDPE*, HDPE *for incineration.
Cardboard and glass manufacturing makes only minimal use of the 2 resources.
Coal consumptions are highly related to incineration of plastic materials such as HDPE, LDPE, PS, and PET* as well as cardboard.
Finally, packaging materials are found responsible for polluting the environment. Some materials can t get recycled which leads to the concentration of waste.Earth and water supplies can get contaminated which may be threatening every species living on our planet.
4.Alternative packaging materials pros and cons
Major efforts are under way to identify alternative nonfood uses of agricultural crops for the production of packaging materials based on polymers from agricultural sources.Such alternative biobased packaging materials like starch have started reaching the market only recently.
Starch, which is the polysaccharide of cereals, legumes, and tumbers is a biodegradable and widely available raw material suitable for a variety of industrial uses. As a packaging material, starch alone doesn’t have the appropriate mechanical properties (high % elongation, tensile and flexural strength ), unless it is blended with other materials or if it is chemically modified.It is cheaper than plastic alternatives and has been used in several methods for preparing plastics.Overcoming the inadequacy of starch to overcome of starch to show adequate elongation and flexural strength while achieving full biodegradability in blends can be accomplished by the addition of biodegradable plasticizers such as glycerol.
Halogens Packaging Steel in cooperation with Stork Food and Dairy Systems last year introduced a new flexible food can named Le Care. It is introduced to enhance the quality and the image of canned food and to improve the economics of cans in the steel packaging area. The new can is flexible and it has a thinner body of 0.12mm, it provides added convenience and its square shape offers very good decoration opportunities. Furthermore, it saves 20%in space and allows a weight reduction of 15%compared to current cans.
Import and PPG (Australia) developed a coated PET bottle with a shelf-life at least 20 weeks.The coating provides barrier properties to gas, prevents the absorption of foreign substances during the life cycle of the bottle.
They are oxygen absorbers aiming at preventing oxidation of oils and fat discoloration which may lead to loss of flavor.Moreover, they prevent the loss of nutritional components if they are used for food packaging.
They communicate with their environment through color-changing indicators or electronic tags.They have indicators that monitor storage conditions (time-temperature), the integrity of the package(leakage indicators)or microbiological quality and they can have physical reactions as well.
The barrier properties (gases, humidity, light)of the packaging materials are vital for the quality and self-life of many retailed and wholesaled products. Many of the materials based on biodegradable sources exhibit good barrier properties towards oxygen and carbon dioxide ,however moisture barrier properties of several of the biobased material products must be improved in order for them to compete with synthetic packaging materials. Furthermore, other alternatives such as Intelligent Packages and Active Packages are very expensive to produce and they are depended on the pace of developments of material sciences, electronics, and biotechnology. They have also low tolerance to high temperatures.From a socio-economic point of view, biodegradable packaging materials are the most in fulfilling consumers’ needs, they are the least costly and they have minor negative impacts on the environment. Refillable Reusable Materials are also the environment and cost-friendly.
Hopefully, the growing concern of consumers for product safety and quality will support the usage of biodegradable packaging materials as well as new developments.
Chandra,R.and Rustig ,R.(1998) “Biodegradable Polymers”
Johansson Publishing Minessota
Coombs , J.and Hall,K. “Non-Food Agro and Industrial Research Information”
C.P.L Publishing Services,Newbury U.K (2000)
European Comission.P G 12 ,D 6 Luxembourg.Office for official publications of the European Union, Belgium (I S B N 92-828-6116-3)
Hurme ,E. “Active and Smart Packaging”(2000)
Morgans Publishing U.K
Mangans,C. “The Green Chemical and Polymers Chain”(1998)
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