At Coda Plastics, we always have one eye on the latest trends and innovations in the wider plastic manufacturing and packaging industries. We thought we would do a short round up of some of the ideas that are bubbling away and likely to shape the future of plastic packaging production.
Demand for Recyclables
The biggest impact on the industry in the UK has come from a mix of consumer demand for recycled and recyclable packaging, and government persuasion in the form of the Plastic Tax on packaging made solely from oil-based plastics. The industry has responded to these twin pressures with innovation across the board.
Think of it as the Pringles Tube Problem. Packaging that is composed of multiple materials glued together is difficult to disassemble and recycle. The old Pringles tube had a steel base, aluminium foil-lined cardboard tube, metal tear off inner seal and plastic lid. It was a recycler’s nightmare. The development team at brand owner Kellogg’s took 5 years to design a replacement that could be tossed into household kerbside recycling boxes.
The holy grail of simple recycling is monomaterial packaging and we observe the whole industry gradually shifting in this direction. Colgate recently removed aluminium from their toothpaste tubes, launching a tube that is 100% HDPE (a fully recyclable plastic) and, commendably, they shared the technology with other manufacturers so they could also produce recyclable squeezy tubes.
Cutting Edge Technology
There have been a couple of innovations in plastic technology in recent years that really have the potential to shake up the industry if they prove to be scalable and are adopted on a large scale.
VolCat for Textiles
There was a big announcement and lots of press about IBM’s VolCat device when it debuted in 2019. The seeming miracle machine took in any old dirty plastic that was combined with other materials and used a “volatile catalyst” (hence the name) to unthread the PET plastic from its contaminants and separate it into pure pellets of PET that could be used for manufacture.
News of the VolCat technology then went quiet for a while, but late last year there were some stories in the trade and business press that the former CEO sportswear manufacturer Under Armour was heading up a new firm aiming to use the VolCat technology to meet increasing demand for recycled PET in textiles.
Bacteria That Can Break Down Waste Plastic
Committed readers of this blog may recall that we wrote about the catchily-named bacterium Ideonella-Sakaiensis 201-F6 in a post about plasticophagic organisms back in 2016. We revisited the story in 2018 when scientists revealed that they had isolated the enzyme that the bacterium uses to break down the plastic. And there have been further developments since. The Guardian reported in September 2023 that
“...a French company named Carbios has been running an operation that uses a bacterial enzyme to process about 250kg of PET plastic waste every day, breaking it down into its precursor molecules, which can then be made directly into new plastic.”
Carbios has plans to open a plant that can process 150 tonnes per day in 2025. And with demand for Post Consumer Recycled plastics on the rise, it seems likely that other companies will follow the French innovator’s’ lead.
AI Packaging Trends
Artificial Intelligence has swept into the public consciousness in the last year or so and its influence is everywhere. In the packaging industry, machine learning technology is being used to improve packaging, production and distribution. For instance, in companies with huge shipping portfolios, AI could be programmed on packing data and real package damage reports to produce guidelines for safer packaging of products. It has been reported that Amazon is already doing this.
At Coda Plastics Ltd, we consider plastic to be a fantastic resource material. We already recycle our own waste plastics and work with Post Consumer Recycled plastics to save our clients from paying the Plastic Tax. If you would like your product developed and manufactured by a company with a responsible approach to plastics recycling, please get in touch. You can call us on +44 1692 501 020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.