Plastics for Barrier Packaging

Plastics for Barrier Packaging

  • November 2017 •
  • 315 pages •
  • Report ID: 96632 •
  • Format: PDF
• The U.S. packaging barrier resin market should reach 9.4 billion pounds in 2017 and 10.6 billion pounds in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.5% through 2017-2022.
• The U.S. barrier resins market should reach 8.5 billion pounds in 2017 and 9.6 billion pounds in 2022, with a CAGR of 2.5%.
• The U.S. permeable films market should reach 700 million pounds in 2017 and 784 million pounds in 2022, with a CAGR of 2.3%.

Chapter 1: Introduction
This report is an update of a BCC Research report on this subject by the same author, published in January 2015. 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 2017 to 2022.

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 of 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 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, and more. 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 passing of a material or materials out of the container) of contaminants, of flavor, color, odor, and more 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, or polymers, usually made from chemical, petrochemical, and increasingly biological 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-user of plastic resins in the U.S. For many years, packaging has consumed more than one-quarter of all the resins used in any year in the U.S.

In this study, we look at a very important segment of the packaging industry, that of plastic barrier packaging and the plastic resins which 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 and 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 updates in 2011 and 2014, 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. Starting some years ago and increasing with each year, 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, of several other origins. 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 resins.

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 be primarily 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), which 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 properties against the primary passthrough material (for example, 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.

A better barrier structure is needed to package a more demanding product such as beer, which can rapidly degrade from oxygen infiltration. The plastic packaging industry has been working for several years on this challenge; this was one 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 wide-spread commercial reality, especially in the U.S.

In many other cases, a multilayer (ML) structure (MLS), either laminated or coextruded, is needed to provide both strength and barrier. Some of these 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 the basic PVdC resin products.) The commercialization of ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH) came a bit later, in the 1970s. As we said, these two resins are the backbone of high-barrier plastic packaging. We also estimate markets for other resins like polyamides (nylons) that we also consider to be barrier resins.

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 is still 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, PVC, a film that is not a good oxygen barrier, has been commonly used to package beef in supermarket meat displays for years since it keeps 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 steaks, and more) 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 PVC or other 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 MLSs, since they contain more than one type of plastic, cannot easily be commingled and recycled with, for example, straight 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, the 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 This Study
As noted above, packaging constitutes the single largest end use of plastics in the U.S, 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, and more.

BCC Research has maintained and updated this study to provide a comprehensive reference for those interested 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 metalized 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 evolvement 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.

Intended Audience 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 the 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 to 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 FDA), but also state and local health, environmental, and other regulators who must implement and enforce laws covering public health and safety, food quality, and more.

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 is primarily a study of U.S. markets. However, 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 and pounds. Our base market estimate year is 2017, and we forecast market growth for a five-year period to 2022. All market estimates are rounded to the nearest million pounds and all growth rates are compounded and 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.