Aluminum packaging was first introduced in the late 1950’s. Over the last 60 years the metal packaging market has skyrocketed and now encompasses over $100 billion in yearly production with a projection of reaching $136 billion by 2020 . Metal cans and containers are one of most consumed forms of packaging in many industries and are becoming more common in others, like food and cosmetics.Since their widespread use metal containers have been continually improved to meet higher standards and new requirements, like longer shelf life for perishables. One improvement for metal containers used with perishables is the introduction of plastic bags and films. These films and bags help the containers remain sealed from air and contamination. In the last few years plastic packaging has started to be replaced by biodegradable alternatives. These biodegradable films and bags have shown huge improvements in recent years and positive trends in use for the future .
History of Biodegradable Films
The idea of using naturally occurring polymers to create biodegrading containers was first seriously discussed in the 1980’s . Since then over 200,000 patents have been filed in the U.S. alone relating to biodegradable packaging . During the 1980’s and 1990’s biodegradable packaging was rarely used because they had major flaws. Companies struggled with making them breathable enough/too breathable, long lasting, and meeting many more basic requirements . Since then biodegradable packaging has seen huge improvements and increased usage has followed suit.
Biodegradable packaging methods have become very common for perishable goods. Biodegradable and edible films are used for packaging with all kinds of produce, from Plums to Broccoli . They have even more recently been used to prevent microbial growth on raw meat. Another, often less discussed use for biodegradable films is for cosmetics and other products that must be sealed from contract with air. Products like these are often packaged in tin and aluminum containers that are then sealed with biodegradable alternatives to plastic. This technique has begun to be implemented more often and is expected to increase in the future.
Even with increased usage of biodegradable packaging it was only equal to about 1% of the total plastic packaging produced during 2016. Annually 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced, so there are nearly 4 million tonnes of biodegradable packaging produced in the same time frame . This is a small amount when compared to plastic production, but it has only been around and used for less than 25 years.
Over the next 10 years it is expected that biodegradable packaging will continue to become more common. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has predicted that biodegradable packaging production will equal up to 2.5% of the total plastic production by 2020. This would be equal to an increase of 6 million tonnes of biodegradable packaging, nearly doubling from 2016. This is a huge increase for only a 4 year span . As the amount of biodegradable packaging and biopolymers increases there is expected to be a comparable increase in their use within markets that typically utilize plastic packaging. This is true for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and perishable products. The increasing trend in the use of aluminum containers can be expected to go hand in hand with the increase in biodegradable films and bags. Over the next few years it is likely that an even larger portion of the market share will utilize a combination of reusable metal containers in conjunction with biodegradable packaging.
Along with an increased usage of biodegradable packaging there has been an increased amount of research in the same field. Over the last 20 years the amount of papers published regarding food packaging has increased over seven times . One of the main focuses of this research is Active Packaging. These are packages that have additional functions beyond passive containment of food. A few recent breakthroughs in the field include adding antioxidants into biopolymers to remove oxygen in packaging and adding essential oils to packaging to act as antimicrobial agents . These are just a few of the many technologies being researched and are expected to appear on the market in the upcoming years.
Overall, there are very positive trends for both metal and biodegradable packaging. As biodegradable packaging improves it may become the superior choice in comparison to plastic. This is a great way to help protect the environment and improve food and health safety.
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