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Flexible Packaging materials: let’s explain

Using flexible packaging nowadays is becoming a real trend.

Probably large part of its success lies in its technology and in  its materials: paper, aluminium, plastic film, often cleverly combined with each other.  

It is precisely by composing the advantages of the different materials that flexible packaging is able to store and preserve the products in the best way, avoiding breakages in a lightweight solution. 

On the other hand, flexible packaging efficiently saves on energy and materials - joined together in very thin layers - thus making it more sustainable and economical than other types of packaging. But which materials are used in flexible packaging? What are their advantages and, above all, how do you choose the most suitable material for a product? At first sight it looks like a complicated decision: it takes a bit of experience and knowledge of the materials. We should consider several requirements: the primary goal, protection and preservation of the product, but also the sustainability, practicality and aesthetics of the package. Today we will try to give you a little help and see in more detail which materials are used in Packstyle flexible packaging!


Picture: Wolfgang Hasselmann/Unsplash

Aluminum is one of the most successful materials in packaging. In fact, it has been used for this purpose for over a hundred years: in France at the beginning of the twentieth century, aluminum foil was used to preserve chocolate, butter, cheese and tobacco. In 1959 the worldwide production of aluminum boomed due to a particular invention: the aluminum can (the first ever was used for beer). Today, very thin aluminum foils are used in flexible packaging - up to 6 micrometers, that is the tenth part of a hair - alone or combined with other materials. 

In fact, aluminum has particular advantages when it comes to packaging. It provides a perfect barrier from external agents that could ruin the product: oxygen or air, humidity, light, various microorganisms and external odours. On the other hand, it is neutral to the taste, so it does not alter the content - if we think of a food product - rather it prevents the loss of aromas. Aluminum is also a very light material. Although all these advantages, however, the production of aluminum requires an important expenditure of energy. This is why it is always convenient to recycle it (aluminum is 100% recyclable): the energy used in recycling is in fact only 5% of that used to produce it.

The challenge for flexible packaging is to allow recycling even when combined with other materials. In flexible packaging, aluminum is in fact used alone or in combination with other materials, such as paper. The idea is simple: combine the properties of different materials in order to have the maximum benefits of packaging with the minimum use of material. The goal is to have always packaging suitable for use, more sustainable and cheaper. As we will see, aluminum in flexible packaging is particularly suitable when packaging light-sensitive products, such as coffee for example.


Picture: JJ Ying/Unsplash

In China about two thousand years ago, paper was already used to wrap food: a sort of ancestor of today's flexible packaging! Actually paper became the material we know today - made with cellulose - only in the nineteenth century. In 1844, the first commercial paper bag factory was opened in Bristol, England. If then in the seventies and eighties we see a decline in its use for packaging - because of the plastic boom - today we are witnessing the opposite trend. Environmental sustainability is a shared value and the designers are looking for less impactful materials: from this point of view, paper is one of the materials with less environmental impact. Obviously the paper used in flexible packaging is a much more "technological" than ordinary paper. It is in fact combined with other materials - such as aluminum or plastic films - to increase its ability to preserve and protect products. 

For example, the Packstyle packaging in recyclable paper (standard UNI 11743: 2019) is made up of a multilayer material composed of paper and PE, that is polyethylene: one of the most common plastics. A EVOH barrier, which is an excellent plastic resin for preserving products is added to this. 

These types of materials are recyclable with other paper waste and so this flexible packaging is an extremely sustainable solution. In fact, paper recycling is one of the most used and tested both in terms of technology and organisation by the single States and in terms of citizens' habits. As we will see, in flexible packaging paper is not suitable for liquid products that could ruin the printing.


Imagen: Emily Bernal/Unsplash

Films are multilayer foils composed of different types of plastics, they are very popular materials in flexible packaging. Plastic is the latest addition in terms of packaging materials: the first plastic packages were in fact introduced in 1947 and were used for deodorant. 

We should not forget that plastic is not a single material, but a range of materials that can also be very different from each other. In flexible packaging, plastic materials are processed into very thin sheets - films or foils - with the intention of using as less material as possible: less material means less energy to produce the packaging and less residue to dispose of. At the same time the material must guarantee lightness and protective capacity for the product. 

Plastic resins such as EVOH (ethylene vinyl alcohol) are used because they guarantee an excellent resistance to damage and to external agents - such as oxygen and carbon dioxide - which could ruin some types of product. The only weakness is that humidity weakens this action. For this the resin is combined with other plastic materials such as PE or PET. 

Flexible film packaging can be more or less recyclable: Packstyle's recyclable film consists of an EVOH barrier and only one type of plastic material (PE), which is why it can be recycled and can thus fully become part of the second life of plastic.

As we will see, the film allows you to create a window in the flexible package to show its contents, it has a protective capacity equal to aluminum but not it is suitable for light sensitive products.

Flexible packaging: which materials for which products?

Now that we know the materials of flexible packaging a little better, we put ourselves in the shoes of a company or a craftsman who is looking for the most suitable material for their product. Which one to choose? Here are some of our tips!

  • Coffee, tea and herbal teas: the most suitable packaging is the aluminum or aluminum foil bag. In fact, aluminum protects the contents from light and humidity. For coffee, we also suggest a degassing valve that allows the gases developed by the coffee to escape from the bag (avoiding it from bursting) and at the same time not allowing oxygen to enter and damage the contents.
  • Inflorescences and spices: the use of aluminum and aluminum foil is recommended to protect the inflorescences from the action of light which tends to yellowing. If instead you want to show the content then all film materials can be customised with a transparent window.
  • Liquids: film materials, recyclable or not, or aluminum are recommended. The materials with the paper could be damaged if wetted by the liquid in case of use in several doses.
  • Food and pet food: all Packstyle packaging materials are suitable for contact with any type of food and allow for prolonged storage at room temperature or refrigerated. Films are the most suitable for vacuum, while the modified atmosphere can be used with all materials.
  • Cheese and derivative: all Packstyle packaging materials are suitable for the conservation of dairy products. Film materials allow better vacuum storage than aluminum or paper. The various type of film, once opened, are not crumpled and keep their aesthetic appeal.
  • Pasta, biscuits, candies, chocolates, sweets: all types of materials are suitable for contact and storage of these products. Adding a zip to close the package after the first use helps to keep the product fresh as just packaged.
  • Objects and jewelery: all materials can be used; the film materials allow you to create a window to see through, the aluminum enhances the graphic aspect, the recyclable materials have greater sustainability.
  • Cosmetics and detergents: the most suitable materials to use are certainly film or aluminum. These materials allow you to use the product in multiple doses thanks to the addition of the zip while always maintaining the graphic effect of the envelope unaltered (the paper materials could get wet and ruin the effect of the print).
  • Drugs and supplements: the most suitable material is aluminum or paper/aluminum if the product is dry. These materials protect the product from light, oxygen and humidity and ensure its shelf life for a prolonged time.

Are you ready to choose the right flexible packaging for your products?

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