Packaging materials are integral to numerous industries. Perhaps the industry in which these materials play the most important role is the food industry. Food packaging contains and preserves food items, as well as communicates vital information to the consumers. For the longest time, glass and plastic containers were the main products used for packaging. As the years went by and as more innovations were introduced in the industry, alternatives to the traditional materials were also developed. One of the most popular packaging options nowadays is paper-based containers. This article covers the basics of all three - glass, plastic and paper - packaging materials.
Glass is one of the oldest packaging materials in history. It has been used to carry and preserve items for more or less 3000 years. This packaging material makes use of silicon dioxide, boric oxide and a variety of other compounds. In simpler terms, sand, soda ash, limestone and the like are used to manufacture glass. These compounds are subjected to high temperatures and are then allowed to solidify. The absence of crystallization gives the glass a transparent or translucent quality.
There is minimal reaction between glass and the environmental factors surrounding it. This is because of the inert state of the product, which is also the reason why it is an effective packaging material. Whatever is stored inside the glass container is sheltered from oxygen, moisture, organisms, insects and small animals, and harmful light.
The plastic packaging industry is one of the fastest-growing fields in commerce. There is a high demand for plastic-based packaging containers in businesses across the globe. The onset and subsequent boom of the online shopping industry is one of the reasons behind the material's increasing popularity. Since enterprises have to ship out their products to different parts of the world, they have to make sure that the item would remain in good condition up until the delivery to the customer's doorstep. The quest to reduce waste generated through fast food chains also contributes to the rising demand for plastics.
The production of plastic packaging involves the heating and cooling of chemicals. Basically, the chemical raw materials are melted, molded into the desired shape and size, and permitted to solidify to form the container. Because of the extreme heat and the nature of the raw materials, pollutants are released into the environment during the process. This can be very harmful to nature. However, the industry is currently improving production regulations. Additionally, eco-friendly innovations are being developed as well.
Plastic is a very popular packaging material because of its durability and convenience. Most people prefer plastic because it is not as fragile as glass or paper. It also weighs less than the previously discussed packaging material. The product is also an effective sealant for food items. On the other hand, the use of plastic has disadvantages as well. The flavor of the food can cling to the packaging and thus, become less tasteful. Compound transfer is also possible between the plastic packaging and the contained item.
Paper is the most environmentally-friendly packaging material. The most popular form of paper packaging is the corrugated cardboard which is used to make transport boxes.
In general, there are four processes involved in the production of paper packaging. These are the preparation, forming, coating and finishing stages. In the preparation level, chemical and mechanical wood pulp along with various other substances are mixed with water to form a semi-viscous solution. The water is then drained and the residue is collected. The forming stage involves the pressing and drying of the residue to form sheets. Next, the sheets are coated with chemicals to make them less water-absorbent. During this process, the paper is smoothed out as well. In the finishing stage, the paper is shaped and sized accordingly. From here, paper-based packaging containers are created.
Although paper does not provide protection from oxygen, moisture and micro-organisms, it is incredibly lightweight and cheap to produce. It also benefits the environment because the production process is not as damaging as that of plastic. However, paper packaging is not ideal for items that have a short shelf-life.