Plastics for Barrier Packaging
- January 2015
- 322 pages
- BCC Research
Use this report to:
- Review important background information on barrier packaging and the materials used to produce such packaging
- Learn about important facets of the barrier plastic packaging industry
- Receive information on the environmental, regulatory and public policy issues
- Identify packaging markets by barrier resin type
- The U.S. packaging barrier resin market reached 8.8 billion pounds in 2014. This market is expected to grow to about 9.8 billion pounds in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2%.
- The U.S. barrier resins market reached 8 billion pounds in 2014 and is expected to grow to 8.8 billion pounds in 2019, with a CAGR of 2%.
- The U.S. permeable films market reached 640 million pounds in 2014 and is expected to grow to 710 million pounds in 2019, with a CAGR of 2.1%.
Introduction & Scope
This report is an update of a BCC Research report on this subject by the same author, published in Jan. 2012. In this new update, we have reevaluated the entire subject and
introduced any new barrier packaging concepts and products that we found in the intervening period. We have updated and extended our market analyses, estimates
and forecasts for five additional years into the future, from base year 2014 to 2019.
STUDY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Packaging and plastics used in packaging are seen virtually everywhere in modern developed society. Most of the goods that the public buys in developed societies are
packaged, as are an increasing number in developing countries as well (one side effect from all this packaging has been a constant barrage of complaints from activists that
products are “overpackaged” and this excess packaging contributes to our big waste load). Many companies have reacted and continue to react to these complaints by
reducing or changing their packaging to make the final package less complex and/or using less packaging material.
Packaging has been around for centuries and probably was developed for a number of reasons. These include preservation and stability of products over time and the
protection of products from damage, dirt, moisture, etc. Early packaging was quite crude; for example, the casks and cases of salted meat carried on old sailing ships,
which often went to sea for extended lengths of time.
All packaging provides some sort of barrier; this is a primary reason for packaging products in the first place. Packaging protects products from infiltration (or, in some cases, exfiltration, the latter the passing of a material or materials out of the container) of contaminants, of flavor, color, odor, etc., as well as preserving the contents. Glass and metal containers have been used for packaging goods for many years and certainly qualify as barrier packages. As we discuss later, thick glass and metal qualify as “functional” barriers that stop just about everything from passing through them. Plastics, that is, polymers usually made from chemical and petrochemical raw materials, are everywhere around us, in a multitude of goods ranging from small children’s toys to automobile bodies and house siding.
Packaging examples are also legion, most visible in food and beverage products but also well known for consumer items such as the ubiquitous “clamshell” clear rigid thermoformed packaging for hardware and “jewel box” cassette cases (as well as the CDs and DVDs that are inside). Packaging is the single largest end use of plastic resins in the United States. For many years, packaging has consumed more than one-quarter of all the resins used in any year in the United States. In this study, we look at a very important segment of the packaging industry, that of plastic barrier packaging and the plastic resins that supply these barriers. That is, polymers that are used in packaging to provide a barrier to some unwanted intrusion in or out of the package. Barrier resins block the passage of several important substances, including oxygen, moisture, odors, flavors, light and others.
Different experts and observers use different terms to describe the use and function of plastics in barrier packaging, and most of these terms are somewhat arbitrary. They
also can be confusing. First and foremost, this study is devoted entirely to synthetic barrier plastics; that is, those primarily derived from petrochemical feedstocks. At the time of our last update in 2011, the last sentence in the last paragraph pretty well described the origin of virtually all the plastics used in packaging; that is, from petrochemical feedstocks. In the last few years, a lot of new research and development is ongoing to find new plastic feedstocks that do not come from crude oil or natural gas.
This is the bioplastics phenomenon, where both new and old companies are looking for ways to make common plastics from renewable biological sources, primarily from
vegetation of some kind, be it corn, castor beans, switchgrass or several other sources. The bioplastics business and technology is not within the scope of this study since we
focus on the produced plastics and their uses in producing barrier packaging. We will note in appropriate places later in the report examples of biological sources for plastic
Despite the interest and potential of biological sources for plastic resins, the resins that we focus on are themselves still synthetic, produced by chemical processes; the only
difference may be in the origin of the feedstock or feedstocks. In the bioplastics arena, we do briefly describe cellophane, the one natural barrier film still in some use, but do
not include it in our market estimates and forecasts since it is not synthetic and for years it has been considered an obsolete product with a declining market.
Among synthetic resins, many analysts attempt to differentiate between barrier resins and structural resins used in packaging. By defining some limits of gas permeability
that constitute barrier properties, resins are placed in one or the other category. BCC Research does not rigidly classify barrier packaging resins in this way, for not only is
“barrier” an arbitrary term, but different resins can perform both barrier and structural functions in some plastic packaging structures. All resins discussed and analyzed in
this report are considered to be barrier resins, even if their use may predominantly be structural in many or most of their packaging structures.
Thus, we do consider polyolefins (polyethylenes and polypropylene), polystyrene and other such strong support resins to primarily be structural; we call them secondary
barrier resins. This is to differentiate them from the primary barrier resins such as ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH) and polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC). The latter
are included in barrier structures strictly for their gas barrier properties. A good example of combination structure and barrier is the common polyethylene
terephthalate (PET) bottle used for years to package carbonated soft drinks (CSDs), water and other beverages. In this application, the primary structural resin, PET, has sufficient barrier against the primary pass-through material (e.g., the exfiltration of carbon dioxide “fizz” from the contained soda) to be a used in a simple monolayer plastic structure for many CSDs. However, it is really a relatively poor barrier resin and all CSDs lose “fizz” over time, with this degradation accelerated by exposure to heat; most of us have experienced opening a rather old plastic soda bottle and finding the contents flat. Many major soft drink bottlers now often put “use by” dates, or other means of identifying the package’s age, on CSD bottles.
To package a more demanding product such as beer, which can rapidly degrade from oxygen infiltration, a better barrier structure is needed and the plastic packaging
industry has been working for several years on this challenge; this was one of the most interesting developments around the turn of the century, discussed in our previous
updates and still of interest. Plastic, primarily PET-based, beer bottles have been a desired product for years, but at this time the “ideal” plastic beer bottle that can truly
preserve beer for the desired period of time is not yet a widespread commercial reality, especially in the U.S.
In many other cases, a multilayer structure (MLS), either laminated or coextruded, is needed to provide both strength and barrier. Some of these multilayer (ML) structures,
even for seemingly simple products like snack foods, are wonders to behold and now often have seven or more different plastic layers, each layer providing a different
structural, barrier or adhesive function.
The growth of plastic barrier packaging, in the sophisticated sense used in this report, has been significant since the discovery and development of the first synthetic
specialty barrier resin, polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC, Dow Chemical’s old Saran brand) in the 1950s and 1960s (Dow sold the household Saran Wrap to S.C. Johnson but
retains the trademark in the U.S. for its basic PVdC resin products). The commercialization of EVOH came a bit later, in the 1970s. As we said, these two resins are the backbone of high-barrier plastic packaging.
It was the development of coextrusion technology that enabled the efficient manufacture of ML plastic structures in a wide range of thicknesses, in a single pass through one machine. Coextrusion is just that, a process that extrudes more than one type of resin simultaneously through an extrusion die to form a MLS with discreet and independent layers bonded to each other. The development of coextrusion really caused barrier packaging growth to take off in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before then, ML structures were made by laminating two plastic layers together with heat or adhesives, a slower and intrinsically less efficient process. Lamination still is an important MLS method, especially for resin combinations that are difficult to coextrude.
Adding to the interest in this subject, the barrier packaging industry changes constantly. An ideal polymeric barrier does not exist, and probably never will, since each application has different requirements. In some cases, for example, in the packaging of meat, polyethylenes (PEs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), both films that are not good oxygen barriers, have been commonly used to package beef in supermarket meat displays for years, since they keep beef color red and inviting for the short time it is on display.
However, for long-term transport or storage of meat, a good oxygen barrier is needed to prevent spoilage. Newer packaging was required for “boxed beef,” packages of
commercial beef cuts (sirloins, round steak, etc.) that since 1967 have been produced at the processing plant and then shipped in refrigerated boxes for direct sale at the
supermarket. A common system in use today uses two film layers, a good barrier for shipment that is removed at the supermarket to expose a PE or PVC film that allows
oxygen to infiltrate and keep the beef red. Current barrier packaging plastics are good, but problems remain that restrict their use or hinder their growth in many applications. These include: High cost, almost always higher than the cost of a simple monolayer plastic package of, for example, polyethylene or polypropylene.
Susceptibility to contamination or degradation, especially by moisture: EVOH is the best example of this problem, since its hydroxyl groups give it good barrier qualities
but also make it susceptible to hydrolysis. As a result, EVOH only can be used as an inner layer in a MLS since its barrier properties degrade to virtual worthlessness when
EVOH is subjected to high humidity. Disposal or recycling problems: Most MLS, since they contain more than one type of plastic, cannot easily be commingled and recycled with, for example, straight high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or PET. Many ML containers must be classified and labeled with the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) recycling number “7” for “other.” Challenges from competing materials and processes, both old and proven materials like glass and metallization, and newer ones such as silicon and other oxide coatings that can provide a superior barrier.
Our goal is to describe the most common and popular barrier polymers and their applications, their technology, competing barrier materials and future trends. We estimate and forecast markets for barrier polymers of several kinds and in several different important markets such as food and healthcare packaging. The polymers and applications that we cover are described and briefly discussed below in the “Scope” section.
REASONS FOR DOING THE STUDY
As noted above, packaging constitutes the single largest end use of plastics in the United States. And more and more packaging is barrier packaging, which is taking on
increased importance each year as both producers and customers seek longer shelf life and better product integrity, flavor, potency, etc. BCC Research has maintained and updated this study to provide a comprehensive reference for those interested and/or involved in these products and who want an up-to-date review of the field and estimated markets. This cohort of people and organizations includes a wide and varied group of chemical and other companies that make and use barrier polymers, process technology and equipment designers and marketers, politicians of all stripes and the general public. We have collected, condensed and analyzed information from a large amount of literature and other reference materials to compile this report.
Many developments over the past generation or so in barrier packaging were done to develop even more sophisticated multilayer barrier packaging structures, needed to
solve the most difficult barrier packaging problems economically. These developments are a primary and continuing focus of this study. As this technology was developed,
four basic barrier materials were found and used widely: PVdC, nylon, EVOH and metallized films. Consumer demand for foods with longer shelf life, high-quality and
excellent flavor and freshness retention has led to even more sophisticated MLS that often are thinner than their less-efficient predecessors, but also usually more
sophisticated and complicated, usually with more (but usually thinner) layers. This has occurred because of the better choice of barriers and structural layers in the ML
structure. It often results in a thinner coextruded or molded film or rigid structure with more layers that can do a better job than a simpler and thicker one.
This report is intended to inform and assist those involved in several different U.S. industrial and commercial business sectors, primarily individuals with a primary
interest in packaging. These organizations and people include those involved in development, formulation, manufacture, sale and use of barrier polymer and polymer
processes; also those in ancillary businesses such as processing equipment as well as additives and other support chemicals and equipment. These include process and
product development experts, process and product designers, purchasing agents, construction and operating personnel, marketing staff and top management. BCC
Research believes that this report will be of great value to technical and business personnel in the following areas, among others:
- Marketing and management personnel in companies that produce, market and sell barrier polymers.
- Companies involved in the design and construction of process plants that manufacture barrier polymers and those who service these plants.
- Financial institutions that supply money for such facilities, including banks, merchant bankers, venture capitalists and others.
- Personnel in end-user packaging companies and industries, such as food, healthcare and consumer and household products.
- Personnel in government at many levels, primarily federal, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but also state and local health, environmental and other
regulators who must implement and enforce laws covering public health and safety, food quality, etc.
SCOPE AND FORMAT
This BCC Research study provides in-depth coverage of many of the most important technological, economic, political and environmental considerations in the U.S. barrier
packaging polymer industry. It primarily is a study of U.S. markets. But because of the increasingly global nature of polymer and packaging chemistry it touches on some
noteworthy international activities, primarily those having an impact on the U.S. market, such as imports/exports and foreign firms operating in this country.
We analyze and forecast market estimates for barrier packaging plastic resins in volume in pounds. Our base market estimate year is 2014, and we forecast market growth for a five-year period to 2019. All market figures are rounded to the nearest million pounds and all growth rates are compounded (signified as compound annual growth rates or CAGRs). Because of this rounding, some growth rates may not agree exactly with figures in the market tables; this is especially so with small volumes and their differences. All market volumes are at the manufacturer or producer level.