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

Stay tuned and sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Plastics, plastics… …everywhere plastics!

If you look around at home, you will probably find a lot of objects made of plastic. Well, this can have positive or negative aspects.

Some of the products take advantage of the properties of plastics such as low density and thus low weight, strengths from elastic to highly rigid, chemical resistance, or low electrical conductivity (insulator), some of them are not produced in a sustainable way and can even influence our health.

Stranded plastic waste mistakenly used as food by birds

In many media, in politics and also partly from many environmental organisations a large concern about the problem of plastic garbage in the environment aroe over the last years.

Well, who wouldn’t stand up and complain about the garbage and all the discarded plastic products that are carelessly thrown away and influence the environment and the species living in it?

I am sure you have heard these stories before, dying birds with their stomach full of plastic or the stranded whale that has swallowed several plastic bags. 90% of the pollution in the world seas come from ten rivers only. Eight of them are in Asia and two in Africa.

Stories about micro-plastics in the food chain rightly led to increased attention to plastic handling, and as already mentioned, various organisations, governments or groups are now launching initiatives, giving tips, creating laws and, above all, discussing how to handle plastics.

Many political projects communicated to the public have a onesided focus on the facts or even have nothing or very little to do with the scientific basis or simple facts. However,especially politicians tend to promote misleading, easy answers to complex questions. People can be won over too easily if you emphasise the downsides and promise a general ban of plastics. However, this view misses the big picture.

There is a need for a more detailed examination which is not so easy for the layman to grasp at first glance. Precise observations and comparisons of individual plastic products and applications show that their environmental impact is less significant than the same products made of other materials.

We would like to show you examples in more detail in the following articles. Some general examples would be:

  • Plastics in mobility for lightweight construction for air or road traffic: heavier vehicles would require more fuel or energy
  • Plastic-free hospitals: Naaah, this would be very questionable from a hygienic point of view and a constant cleaning of used utensils with chemicals would be even more questionable.

That’s why we feed this blog with some examples where it is more eco-friendly to use plastic. Of course with a certain awareness of how to deal with the created litter.

Because one thing is for sure: “There is no plan(et) B”, and we are responsible to handle the resources carefully and keep the impact on nature as small as possible.

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

Peter & Herwig

Stay tuned and sign up for our monthly newsletter.