The present and challenges of PET packaging for drinks

The technologies developed for the packaging of liquids with PET have enabled a great expansion of this material. Conquering new markets and producing sustainable packaging are the challenges this segment faces.

It can be said that compared to other beverage packaging materials, glass and aluminum, PET plastic has great advantages: it is resistant to breakage and internal pressure (it enables the packaging of drinks with a high gas content), it has low permeability, it is light, and in terms of aesthetics level has better gloss and transparency.

For PET containers, the traditional soft drink market is already mature and developing with the trend towards more natural and lighter drinks. New drinks (non-carbonated and finely carbonated flavored waters) are participating in this market, especially among young people.

Likewise, the traditional market of natural mineral waters is also developing towards waters with special properties (rich in certain minerals, low in sodium, hydrating for sports use, with antioxidants, with vitamins, etc.).

The development and expansion of packaging options with PET plastic was possible thanks to technical advances, such as injection and blow molding processes, which allowed the material to incorporate other properties that made it suitable for beverages with other characteristics.

The most frequently used innovations are:

– Tanks for hot filling

This technology is used to blow PET containers for filling beverages at high temperatures (85/90ºC).

The tanks are blown under special conditions that result in high resistance to the filling temperature.

It is also necessary to work on the design of the containers to avoid their deformation when the product returns to room temperature.

– Protective packaging

Using different technologies, the basic goal is to ensure that the packaging has a barrier that prevents the entry and exit of gases (mainly oxygen) that spoil the packaged product.

This results in a longer product life on the market.

The most developed are:

– Multi-layer containers
It consists of a container for injection and blowing with at least two layers of PET (inner and outer) and a layer in the middle that acts as a barrier.

– Coated containers
It consists of coating the inner walls of the container during the blowing process with a product that acts as a barrier.

– Oxygen absorber
This modern technology has developed PET raw materials with an additive that has the property of absorbing oxygen. Instead of preventing the entry of oxygen as in the case of barrier packaging, with this technology, the oxygen that enters the packaging is absorbed by the packaging itself, which prevents the packaged product from spoiling.

These technologies have been successfully developed in other countries, especially in Europe and the United States. In Argentina, there is almost no development work, only a little progress has been made in PET containers for hot filling. This is because our market is small and has not had sustainable growth or general conditions favorable to investments in technology aimed at medium-term development.

Looking to the future
New business opportunities are found in the use of PET packaging in beverages that currently use packaging from other materials (wines, liqueurs, beer, natural juices, milk, tea), and in the development of new products in which PET packaging has comparative advantages. , such as new healthy drinks.

There is a trend of personalized healthy drinks that strive to meet the needs and tastes of each consumer. Larger containers (disposable of 5, 6 and 8 liters) and returnable containers of 12 and 20 liters also recorded growth. In the latter, Pet today has a low participation and significant growth potential.

All this leads to a greater diversification of the market, the emergence of new brands, different designs and formats that require constant updating of PET packaging with new trends.

Development possibilities depend in each case on various factors:

– Changes in cultural habits and evolution of demand (wine, alcoholic beverages, milk, tea).

– Commercial strategy of leading companies, evolution of demand in relation to the technological investments involved (beer).

– Development of demand in relation to the involved technological investments (natural juices).

In all cases, development opportunities in countries like Argentina will depend on the evolution of consumption and purchasing power.

Actions for the care of the environment

The main contributions that the PET packaging industry can make to the environment are related to the reduction of the amount of material used for the production of containers, their recycling after consumption and energy savings in processing.

In the first case, the entire industry is constantly working on the development of lighter containers, and as a result, in recent years, there has been a significant reduction in the mass of PET packaging (estimated at more than 15%).

Post-consumer recycling is also an ongoing concern of the industry and a modern PET (bottle to bottle) recycling facility is currently under construction which will allow the recycled material to be reused in bottle blowing.

Regarding energy saving, efforts are mainly focused on the development of new technologies in PET crystallization and drying processes, such as the use of infrared energy (IRD).

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