Q: What are Food Grade Plastics ?

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires that plastics used in food packaging be of greater purity than plastics used for non-food packaging. This is commonly referred to as food grade plastic. Plastics used to package pharmaceuticals are held to an even higher standard than food grade.

Food grade plastic does not contain dyes or recycled plastic deemed harmful to humans. However, this does not mean that food grade plastic cannot contain recycled plastic. The FDA has detailed regulations concerning recycled plastics in food packaging.

Another aspect of food grade plastic is matching the appropriate type of plastic to the food in question. Foods that are highly acidic or that contain alcohol or fats can leach plastic additives from the packaging or container into the food. As a result, you should only use plastic containers that are FDA approved for the particular type of food the plastic will come into contact with.

Finally, a plastic container can no longer be considered food grade if it has been used to store non-food items like chemicals, paint, or detergent.

Q: What are the common materials of plastics?

  1. PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is a clear, tough polymer with exceptional gas and moisture barrier properties. PET's ability to contain carbon dioxide (carbonation) makes it ideal for use in soft drink bottles. Examples: Soft drink bottles, detergent bottles
  2. HDPE (high density polyethylene) is used in milk, juice and water containers in order to take advantage of its excellent protective barrier properties. Its chemical resistance properties also make it well suited for items such as containers for household chemicals and detergents. Most five gallon food buckets are made from HDPE. Examples: Milk bottles, shopping bags.
  3. Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) provides excellent clarity, puncture resistance and cling. As a film, vinyl can breathe just the right amount, making it ideal for packaging fresh meats that require oxygen to ensure a bright red surface while maintaining an acceptable shelf life. Examples: Plastic food wrap, shrink wrap, garden hoses, shoe soles
  4. LDPE (low density polyethylene) offers clarity and flexibility. It is used to make bottles that require flexibility. To take advantage of its strength and toughness in film form, it is used to produce grocery bags and garbage bags, shrink and stretch film, and coating for milk cartons. Examples: Squeeze bottles, dry cleaning bags
  5. PP (polypropylene) has high tensile strength, making it ideal for use in caps and lids that have to hold tightly on to threaded openings. Because of its high melting point, polypropylene can be hot-filled with products designed to cool in bottles, including ketchup and syrup. It is also used for products that need to be incubated, such as yogurt. Many Tupperware and Rubbermaid food storage containers are made from PP. Examples: Bottle caps, take-out food containers, drinking straws
  6. PS (polystyrene), in its crystalline form, is a colourless plastic that can be clear and hard. It can also be foamed to provide exceptional insulation properties. Foamed or expanded polystyrene (EPS) is used for products such as meat trays, egg cartons and coffee cups. It is also used for packaging and protecting appliances, electronics and other sensitive products. Examples: Plastic foam, packing beads, coat hangers
  7. Other plastics include plastics made from other types of resin or from several resins mixed together. These usually cannot be recycled. Another important type of plastic is polycarbonate, a clear shatter-resistant material used in restaurant food storage containers and recently in the Rubbermaid Stain Shield line of home food storage containers.

Q: What are the environmental and economic benefits of plastics?

Plastics aren't just durable, convenient, and inexpensive to manufacture; innovative new plastic packaging is actually more energy-efficient than other alternatives and helps users reduce, not increase, their carbon footprints. Replacing the plastic packaging that is in use today, according to one European study, would use four times as much material from other sources, like paper or aluminium. The key reason why: Plastic is lightweight. Your typical plastic milk jug, according to studies, is about 90 percent lighter than its equivalent glass container and about 30 percent lighter than a paper carton. Less packaging means less waste and less energy spent on transport - and packaging is hardly the only application for plastic.

Plastic products require 70 percent less energy to manufacture than paper products and, because they're so much lighter, less energy to transport. It takes seven trucks to deliver the same number of paper bags that would fit in one truck if the bags were plastic, the American Chemistry Council says.

And the MOST IMPORTANT fact is- plastics are recyclable.

Instead of banning plastic, governments should increase recycling efforts.

Q: What if there were no plastics?

A study in Germany showed that 400 percent more material by weight would be needed to make packaging if there were no plastics, and the volume of packaging would more than double1. Another European study showed that if plastic packaging did not exist, the annual extra burden required to replace the packaging function would consume an additional 14.2 million tons of oil (equal to a line of super tanker ships over 14 miles long) and produce an additional 47.3 million tons of CO2 (equal to the annual output of over 12 million automobiles)2. While all packaging continues to be optimized, the basic message of the efficiency of plastic packaging to deliver a product as expected and at low cost is still true. (References- 1 "Packaging without Plastics: Ecological and Economic Consequences from a Packaging Material Market Without Plastics," The Society for Research into the Packaging Market (Germany), 1992. 2 The Contribution of Plastics Products to Resource Efficiency, Gesellschaft fur umfassende Analysen, 2005 (Plastics Europe)

Q: Why are plastics preferred in Pharmaceutical packaging?

Pharmaceuticals need reliable and speedy packaging solutions that deliver a combination of product protection, quality, tamper evidence, patient comfort and security needs. Constant innovations in the pharmaceuticals such as prefilled syringes, blow fill seal vials, powder applications and others also have a direct impact on the packaging.

Plastic bottles sustain the largest share of pharmaceutical demand based on low cost, versatility, availability, and ongoing quality and design improvements.

Child-resistant, senior-friendly and dispensing closures; compliance-enhanced prescription containers; high visibility labels; and tamper-evident accessories are some more features which make plastics the most preferred choice for pharmaceutical packaging.

Q: What are the advantages of plastic over paper as a packaging material?

Less plastic is required than paper in most applications due to its lighter weight. In addition, plastic has greater ability for light weighting than paper. Plastic has made the greatest gains in primary packaging but remains much less significant than paper and paperboard in secondary packaging and shipping containers. Plastic packaging growth by volume is expected to outpace that of paper packaging through 2014 in nearly all competitive markets and is forecast to expand 2.3% pa through 2014. Advances for plastic will be the result of its competitive cost and performance advantages, including light weight, moisture resistance, enhanced barrier properties and puncture resistance.