Food Packaging Plastic Materials Overview, Types & Benefits (Infographic)
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials in the food packaging industry, and that is for good reasons.
According to ChemicalSafetyFacts, plastic is a surprisingly versatile material with elemental origins. Elements used in the production of plastics include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur.
Depending on the type of packaging that you need, you can choose plastic that is durable, transparent, bacteria-resistant, lightweight, high impact resistant, corrosion resistant, flexible, heat resistant, glossy, soft, etc. - more on that later.
These incredible amounts of features and versatility make plastic one of the most used and attractive packaging materials in the food packaging industry.
Types of Plastic Materials Used in the Food Packaging Plastic Industry:
There are various types of plastic materials used in food packaging; these include:
PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
This is the most used plastic in food packaging; it is identified by the Resin Identification Code 1. It is a lightweight plastic that is high impact resistant, chemically (acid) resistant, creep resistant, recyclable, and tough.
It is used in products such as water bottles, soft drink bottles, bakery trays, fruit juice containers, cookie trays, cooking oil bottles, butter containers, vegetable oil bottles, sports drinks, etc.
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
This is another popular choice in the food packaging industry; it is identified by the Resin Identification Code 2.
It is a super-strong, yet lightweight plastic; that’s why it can be used to produce a bottle or container that is lightweight, yet can carry a much bigger load - like a 2-ounce HDPE jug carrying a gallon of milk. Note that a gallon equals 128 ounces.
It is also impact resistant, weather resistant, heat resistant, mold resistant, rot resistant, and can also resist insects. Like other popular plastic resins, it can also be easily molded into any shape, hence making it easy to use in custom and flexible packaging solutions.
It is used in the production of products such as cereal box liners, milk bottles, milk jugs, vinegar bottles, water bottles, margarine tubs, ice cream containers, etc. It can be recycled.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
This is a popular food packaging plastic primarily made from chlorine, and it has the Resin Identification Code 3. It is odorless, solid, brittle, and also biologically and chemically resistant. Like PET, it is widely used in blister packaging.
It can be used in the production of packages such as food tubes, gum blister packs, breath mint blister packs, beverage tubes, food foils, cling wraps, etc. It can also be recycled.
LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
This is a translucent and the least expensive plastic used in the food packaging plastic industry. It has Resin Identification Code 4. It is thin, clear, flexible, chemically resistant, waterproof, tough, soft, transparent, and also tear-resistant.
It is used to produce squeezable food bottles, flexible lids, coffee can lids, fruit bags, frozen food packaging, grocery bags, etc. It can also be recycled.
This is a type of plastic that has a high melting point, hence its use in the production of food packaging plastic products that are used in heat environments such as the microwave. It has a Resin Identification Code of 5.
It is translucent, cheap, elastic, tough, chemically resistant, fatigue resistant, can be transparent or opaque, and has high insulation properties.
It is used to produce cream cheese containers, maple syrup containers, baby containers, salad dressing bottles, margarine tubs, yoghurt containers, chip bags, etc. It can be recycled.
This is a hard plastic material with little flexibility. It has Resin Identification Code 5. Like other plastics on this list, it is a thermoplastic - which means that it softens and melts when it is heated. It is an insulator, a rigid plastic, and also brittle. It is used as foams, films, rigid plastics, composites, etc.
It is used to produce plastic spoons, plastic cutlery, water station cups, egg cartons, bakery trays, etc. It is also recyclable.
Other or O
This refers to all other plastic resins besides the earlier mentioned 6 plastic resins. It is symbolized with a Resin Identification Code of 7. The other resins that fall into this category include acrylics, polycarbonate, polyamides, polylactic acid, etc., or even a combination of more than one type of resin.
These are used to produce water cooler jugs, multi-material packaging, juice bottles, clamshell containers, etc. It is also recyclable.
Benefits of Food Packaging Plastic Materials
From the description of the different plastic materials used in the food packaging plastic industry, you would have been able to pick up some of the reasons why plastic is so popular among food companies. The benefits include:
The importance of heat-resistant packaging cannot be over-emphasized for food products, and several plastic resins simply fit the role.
Products face a lot of impacts during movements from one location to another, hence the high need for impact-resistant packaging solutions which plastics such as PET, HDPE, and PET can easily provide.
Some products need to be continuously insulated - hence the need for the appropriate packaging materials that plastics such as Polystyrene, etc can provide.
Which manufacturer wouldn’t want a packaging solution that is tear-resistant? I doubt if the customer will even consider buying torn products. This is something that plastic materials such as LDPE also fit perfectly.
Plastic materials such as PP (Polypropylene), etc can be used to produce elastic packaging which is very essential in some food packaging products.
Plastic materials such as HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) can be used in the production of super-strong, yet super flexible and lightweight materials. This is incredibly useful for some food packaging products such as milk jugs, etc.
Plastic materials are recyclable. This includes PET, PP, HDPE, LDPE, PVC, PS, and other types of plastic resins. This ability to be recycled is a major point for those who desire sustainable packaging. Recycling is costly though and many plastic manufacturers don't prefer it.
Plastic materials such as HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) are resistant to rot. They are also resistant to insects and molds. These are highly sought-after features that combine to make HDPE plastic a preferred packaging material.
Plastic materials such as LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) are waterproof. This means that packaging products that are manufactured with LDPE will be preserved in the case of water spills or unexpected water-related accidents.