Food Packaging Materials

The Ultimate Guide to Food Packaging Materials

Processed food is the backbone of the modern world. Whenever you are in a grocery store, you will see tonnes of food items separated from your touch only by a layer of food packaging material.

While most people don’t play much importance to food packaging materials and see it only as an item that requires disposal, food packaging materials play a very important role in the human food chain.

The history of food packaging materials is far-reaching, more than what you might have guessed. In this article, we will take the discussion of food packaging materials a bit further.

You will learn about the different types of food packaging materials that are available nowadays, along with the pros and cons of each.

We will also glimpse what the future holds for the field of food packaging materials. Last but not the least, we will give you some pointers on how to reduce food packaging costs.

Food Packaging And Its Types

Food Packaging And Its TypesFood packaging is the backbone of the modern human food chain. Obviously, except for a very minute fraction of people, no one has the luxury to walk up to a farm and eat the fresh harvest.

The way it goes is that even food, once harvested from plant and animal sources, goes through multiple stages of processing and ends up on the shelf in packaged forms.

Even organic or freshly harvested food items that you find in special sections of grocery stores come in some sort of packaging, such as paper bags, trays, or nets.

The evolution of food packaging in the last century has been astounding. There are multiple types of food packaging for preserving food integrity at every level.

For more details about what is food packaging and its different types, you can read our article on the topic.

What are the Different Types of Materials Used for Food Packaging?

There is a wide variety of materials that are used as food packaging materials. Every material comes with its own benefits and shortcomings. Here are all the food packaging materials you will possibly encounter:

Plastics

PlasticsPlastic packaging is one of the most common types of packaging out there. It is widely applied for packaging of dry as well as wet foods.

Plastics are one of the cheapest packaging materials out there. There are many different forms of plastic packaging available for use, such as:

Polyethylene

Polyethylene is the single most widely used packaging material in the world. Its physical and chemical properties makes this material adaptable to almost every food item that you can imagine.

There are many different subtypes of polyethylene packaging. These include PET, HDPE, and LDPE. Among these, PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is the one you use almost every day, in the form of soft drinks bottles, milk bottles, and more.

In fact, the introduction of PET bottles was the driving factor towards the replacement of glass in the packaging of beverages. Glass jars and bottles were heavy and brittle, making shipping difficult and risky.

Glass bottled water solutions, juices, or syrups had the chance of food waste due to glass shattering, leading to product wastes. Plastic bottles eliminate all of these concerns, so food manufacturing companies have replaced glass with PET containers extensively.

Polyvinyl Chloride

Polyvinyl chloride, better known by its abbreviation PVC, is another commonly used plastic packaging material. You might have seen it in packaging of medicines such as tablet blisters, cling films, water bottle sleeves, adhesives tape, and more.

Advantages
    • Cheapest food packaging materials
    • Can handle both dry and wet food products
    • They are resistant to factors such as moisture.
    • Plastics provide the option of direct labeling.
    • It is a flexible packaging material.
Disadvantages
  • Very harmful to the environment.
  • Most plastic packaging reacts badly with hot food items.
  • It is one of the most non-recyclable materials.

Metals

MetalsWhile not metals are certainly one of the best food packaging materials out there. This is mostly because of their rigid and long-lasting nature that provides superior protection to the food products.

Metal food packaging can be seen in metal boxes, metal containers, metal cans, and other shapes.

Just like plastics, there are many different metals used in food packaging industry. These include:

Tin

Tin is the first metal that was used in food packaging as early as 1810. Due to corrosion, pure tin can corrode when it comes in direct contact with the food item. This is why it is often coated with protective layers.

Aluminum

While Tin started the trend of metal packaging, Aluminum is what drives it the most in today’s world. Aluminum foils are commonly used in households as a form of food preservation.

Laminated aluminum cans for beverages and containers in restaurants are just as commonly used. The best thing about aluminum cans is that they can be entirely recycled.

Steel

While steel isn’t one of the popular types of packaging materials like aluminum or tin, it still has a lot of applications. For instance, containers, caps, and metal cans are often made using a steel sheet.

Advantages

  • It provides the option of a rigid packaging.
  • Provides protection in transportation as well as on the shelf.
  • Provides protection against pests.
  • Provides protection against moisture.
  • Provides protection against air contamination.
  • It can handle all types of food items, whether dry or wet.
  • It is one of the most recyclable materials.

Disadvantages

  • It is a very expensive packaging method.
  • Without proper protection layers, the metal used can corrosion.
  • It is a non-flexible packaging material, except for aluminum foil.
  • It can react to certain materials, such as acidic foods.

Glass

GlassGlass is one of the oldest packaging materials which actually led to the beginning of the process of food packaging. As a matter of fact, archaeologists have found glass bottles even near the tombs of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

It is also one of the most inert food contact materials, and it can be used to pack anything regardless of whether it is dry, wet, or even acidic.

It is mostly used in the shape of glass containers and bottles in primary packaging. From juices to oils to syrups, you will find glass bottles extensively used for liquids.

Advantages

  • Highly corrosion-resistant and food-safe materials.
  • Glass containers are very aesthetically pleasing.
  • Transparent packaging can be created to reveal the contents of the containers.
  • Since it is non-corrosive and inert to acids, it can be used to preserve food for the long term.
  • It is very hygienic and the safest packing material for human health.

Disadvantages

  • Glass is highly brittle. Glass containers and bottles can break on the slightest impact.
  • Glass packaging is heavy and expensive as compared to other alternatives like plastics.

Wood Derivatives

Wood in food packaging- the thought might sound absurd and surprising to you. You are right, wood isn’t directly used as a food packaging material. However, there are many derivatives of wood that are very commonly used in the process.

Two of the wood-derived products that are the backbone of the modern food packaging process are:

Cardboard

Regardless of what primary packaging or secondary packaging method one uses, the tertiary packaging is always done with corrugated cardboard boxes and folding cartons.

End users do not get to see or interact with this packaging much because it is removed by retail outlets already when storing products on the shelf.

Paper and Paper Board

Paper and Paper BoardPaper packaging and paper boards are used as primary and secondary packaging materials by food manufacturers. While it is a common choice in direct contact materials for dry food, it is obviously never used for wet foods.

While paper is a weak packaging material, paper boards have high strength. Boxes, trays, and cartons are often created using paper boards. There are many different types of paper boards, such as white boards, chipboard, fibreboard, and solid board.

Advantages

  • Wood derivatives are one of the low cost food packaging materials.
  • Wood derivatives are very lightweight materials.
  • Due to the cost, light weight, and rigidity of cardboard, it is irreplaceable as a tertiary packaging material.
  • These materials can be printed to contain any information that the manufacturer wants to provide.
  • Corrugated boxes and paper based material are recyclable, and recycled paper is commonly used in packaging.

Disadvantages

  • It is limited to the packaging of dry food items only.
  • While cardboard box is a rigid packaging, paper packaging is very weak and can tear off easily.

Ceramics

Ceramic food packaging introduces a way to cut toxic materials from the food packaging process. Ceramics are made using minerals found in the soil such as clay and quartz. Being an all-natural process, ceramic packing is cheaper than metal and glass packaging.

Advantages

  • Non-corrosive and nontoxic food packaging material.
  • It works for packaging both dry and wet food products.
  • It preserves food quality due to its non-corrosive nature.
  • It prevents food contamination.
  • It is one of the most aesthetically pleasing food packages.
  • It is a biodegradable packaging method since it uses the raw material that comes from the soil itself.

Disadvantages

  • They are entirely food safe.
  • Ceramics are brittle and can break easily just like glass.
  • They are more expensive compared to plastic packaging and wood derivatives.
  • In the case of ceramics, the size of the packaging is very limited.

Cellulose

Many people confuse cellulose as being a type of plastic packaging. However, in reality, cellulose is actually a plant-based product, making it one of the few organic materials in packaging.

You might have seen the application of cellulose in food packaging in the form of cellophane sheets and shrink wrap. While it looks like plastic, it is a completely biodegradable material.

Advantages

  • It is a sustainable and plant-based product making it a very green option.
  • It is very biodegradable, with biodegradation occurring in a matter of a few months.
  • Cellulose can even degrade in compost without requiring any industrial process for the same.
  • It is moisture and heat-resistant food contact material.

Disadvantages

  • Cellulose packaging is weak and does not offer any protection against impacts.
  • Cellulose contact materials cannot be used for products that have a very long shelf life.

What Does the Future Hold for Food Packaging Materials?

The current trend in the food packaging industry is to move towards lightweight and cheaper materials that do not compromise strength.

Additionally, there are innovations happening to make packaging that can increase the shelf life of the food product. One of these innovations is the introduction of antioxidants in the materials for packaging food.

Why sustainable food packaging is getting more and more crucial for the industry and the environment?

One of the most important driving factors is the shift towards sustainability. Food manufacturers are looking for other packaging materials that are green and environmentally friendly.

It is because plastic packaging, the most common food contact material right now, is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. It has a very negative environmental impact since it can be used only in landfills.

How to choose the Right Food Packaging Material?

Food manufacturing and processing companies often debate over which raw materials to use for food safety. There are many different options with different properties, and deciding on the right one can be challenging.

Here are some factors that you should consider when deciding between the various types of materials:

  • Barrier properties
  • Food safety
  • Sustainability
  • Carbon footprint
  • Costs
  • Ease of use for consumers
  • Fully recyclable
  • Shelf life

Different Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Costs

Packaging food is a significant portion of the food manufacturing process. Therefore, manufacturing companies are always searching for more and more ways that can reduce the cost of packaging options.

Here are some of these ways:

Automated Food Packaging Solutions

Automated Food Packaging SolutionsUsing the wrong way to pack your food can create a bottleneck in food processing, leading to cost buildup. To meet the growing demand and high-speed production, using automated packaging options is a must.

To stay on the leading edge of the competition, food manufacturing units widely rely on Pwrpack’s automated packaging robots. From pick and place to pallets automation, these solutions can be deployed across the entire line of production.

They not only ensure the most supreme food quality but also enables us to save costs of labor and downtimes.

Optimizing Packaged Size

Making sure that you are using the right amount for packaging can reduce a lot of costs. In packaging, a standard size template is implemented across the entire assembly line.

Therefore, it is crucial that the template is the perfect fit for the food item. Even a little extra packaging material for a single food product can mean huge added costs when you consider the large quantities of the entire supply chain.

Implementing Latest Innovations

As we mentioned earlier, more and more innovations are happening in the packaging industry to make the process cheaper while improving the product quality.

You should implement these implementations if you want your process to follow the present trends. Using the latest materials or equipment can end up reducing the entire packaging cost.

Recycling

RecyclingRecycled products are not just helpful for the environment, it is also helpful for people who want to save manufacturing costs.

Replacing other materials with food safe recycled materials can be a cheaper and greener option. Not only that, the end consumers can further recycle them for best utilization.

Minimize waste in the packaging process

Smart use of material

Endnotes

Due to the extensive application of food packaging, there is the availability of many materials for the same. From cheap plastic containers to rugged metal cans, the range is vast and endless.

Combining the right food material with the proper packing technique such as Pwrpack automation options can become the reason that makes consumers pick out your product from the shelf.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about packaging options for food items:

What are the most commonly used materials for packaging?

Plastics are the most common types of packaging materials out there. They are widely used for both dry food items and beverages. While very popular, these are not environmentally friendly food packaging options.

Can PVC be used for food packaging?

Yes, PVC is a very popular food packaging option nowadays. It is a cheap, light weight, and easy-to-transport packaging option, making it usable for packaging many food products in designs such as clamshell packaging and trays.