“Plastic packaging” is an umbrella term that covers all containment packaging or storage units made from polymer resins, or plastics. Plastic packaging is very popular. In fact, more than 53% of packaged goods are packaged in plastic. It enjoys this widespread usage for a number of reasons.
Quick links to Plastic Packaging Information
Advantages for Plastic Packaging
For one, plastics have quite a range; They can be transparent, translucent or opaque and they may be produced in any color. This means plastic packaging can serve diverse applications. Notably, clear plastic packaging is perfect for product display and identification. Another reason that plastic packaging is so popular is the fact that it is quite inexpensive to produce. Also, generally speaking, plastics are durable and lightweight. Depending on their properties and how they formed, they may also be textured or smooth and rigid or flexible. Additionally, they may have virtually any length and width. While plastic packaging can be used in essentially every industry, some of the industries in which it is most heavily used include: healthcare, retail and consumer goods, food and beverage, sporting goods, electronics, entertainment and cosmetics.
Plastic Packaging Processes
Two examples of very common plastic packaging are blister packs and clamshells. To produce plastic packaging such as these, manufacturers use processes including thermoforming, vacuum forming, pressure forming, plastic injection molding and blown film extrusion.
- Thermoforming Plastic
- Thermoforming is a process that makes plastic forms through heating, stretching and cooling. It begins with the heating of plastic sheets inside either an infrared heater, an electric heater or a natural gas heater. Once they are heated, they then are carefully transferred to the form station, where they are stamped or pressed against a mold. At this point, the thermoforming process splits into two, continuing either as vacuum forming or pressure forming.
- Vacuum Plastic
- During vacuum forming, a vacuum suctions out all the air in between the mold and the plastic so that they stick firmly to one another. During pressure forming, pressurized air forces the plastic into the mold, where, once again, the plastic adheres to the mold. Either way, once this is done, the thermoforming process continues with the cooling step. Once the plastic cools, it becomes rigid. While these methods are quite similar, pressure packaging is considered more strongly adhered and more reliable than vacuum packaging. However, the removal of air during the vacuum forming process reduces the likelihood of contamination, a fact that can both increase the shelf-life of some food products and create a more sterile environment for medical applications.
- Plastic Injection Molding
- Plastic injection molding, which can be performed using thermoplastics, thermosetting polymers or elastomers, is a process in which molten plastic material is injected into a cool mold. Once the plastic has taken on the mold’s shape and has cooled, it can be ejected. Finally, during blown film extrusion, a tube of molten polymer is fed through a die and then inflated several times its original size, in order to create a film bubble. This method is used to create shrink wrap.
Types Plastic Packaging
Plastic packaging procedures can be divided into three major groups: primary packaging, secondary packaging and transit packaging.
- Primary Packaging
- Engaged when a manufacturer plans to send an item directly to a consumer or consumer market. Items wrapped in primary packaging are encased in the closest layer of plastic packaging to themselves only. Primary packaging is applied to retail items, fruit, electronics, cosmetics, OTC medicine, etc.
- Secondary Packaging
- Refers to the packaging of larger quantities of goods in boxes or cases for delivery and transit packaging. In other words, secondary packaging refers to the second layer of packaging outside primary packaging. Secondary packaging is important for holding primary packaged items together and preventing theft and/or tampering.
- Transit Packaging
- Finally, transit packaging is when bulk products or groups of products are packaged together in large loads for loading, unloading and transport. Transit packaging, also known as tertiary packaging, is also used in warehouse storage.
In addition to the categories above, plastic packaging types can be divided into several groups. One such group is consumer packaging, which is a term some people use to identify plastic packaging that is sent directly to a consumer or household. Similarly, some people assign the terms “distribution package” or “transport package” to plastic shipping containers used to ship, handle and/or store products and primary packages. This term refers to packages that would likely be wrapped during secondary packaging. Other plastic packaging is categorized by industry or application. Examples include: pharmaceutical packaging, bulk chemical packaging, retail food packaging and medical device packaging.