A brief introduction to packaging

In many areas plastics have become indispensable nowadays. Plastics are used in a wide variety of applications and can be individually adapted to the requirements and needs of a certain product. There are tailor-made solutions everywhere, where plastic makes life easier for us. With regard to the impact on the environment, one has to ask oneself whether we want this simplification at all? Can’t we go without plastics in some points or even live without it completely?

With the production of bakelite around 1950, which is regarded as the first “plastic”, apart from resins and similar materials, the production of plastics has strongly increased. In the next graph you can see a comparison of the worldwide production and the European production in million metric tons from 1950 to 2017. As you can see there,  the worldwide demand for plastics and therefore the production is constantly increasing which shows the importance of this material.

If you have data from other continents from this period, we would be very pleased about a message.

Production volume in million metric tons worldwide and in Europe, 1950 – 2017

What is the share of packaging?

Whether in electronics, medicine, mobility, construction or packaging, plastics are used everywhere and above all, packaging requires a large share of the total quantity of plastic produced.The next chart shows the plastics production per industry sector in megatons. Packaging weighs 146 million tonnes, or 35.9% of the total.

Plastic production per industrial sector in megatons in 2017

This is the largest field of application for plastics. The reason for this is that plastics have certain properties suitable for packaging. They have a lower weight than e.g wood or aluminium, are less expensive in production and price per weight, require little volume as packaging material e.g. thin protective films and are also used as barrier material, e.g. to protect and maintain the odour of smelling foods or to keep rapidly spoiling foods fresh for a longer time. In addition, the name, logo, ingredients, content etc. can be printed directly on the packaging films and thus can be directly combined with the protective layer. The multi-functional use of films is described in more detail in the article “potato chips packaging”. The down side of plastic packaging is that it unfortunately often ends up in the environment and pollutes it. Questionable packaging or fake at all?

Unfortunately, the handling of plastics in society is unfortunately still very thoughtless. Particularly people in emerging countries have other priorities in everyday life than the proper collection and recycling of plastics. Whereas the collection and recycling of plastics is part of everyday life in highly developed countries, the challenges here are different: There are examples where packaging probably has a protective function but in many cases its use is very questionable e.g. sweets that are often packaged in several layers, or fruits and vegetables that are individually shrink-wrapped in foil. The authenticity of some of the pictures found on the Internet must be questioned. Anyway, we will take a closer look and question the meaning of these examples. 

Do you know plastic packaging applications which make no sense? Send us a picture, link, or leave us a comment.

In the following articles, some packaging examples will be discussed in more detail and the advantages and disadvantages will be highlighted:

  • Do you buy your water in PET or glass bottles?
  • Why do I need so much food packaging?
  • multilayer filmchocolate bar packaging
  • Life Cycle Assesment (LCA) of plastic bags

Hopefully we were able to give you some new inputs. Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and join the hubbub.

Peter & Herwig

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