By Shell Polymers on Oct 10, 2020
Polyethylene (PE), one of the most common plastics produced globally, is often used to create plastic packaging due to its ability to be both durable and pliable. Both high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) are regularly used to create protective packaging such as films, grocery bags, wrappers, and bottles.
Regardless of the end-use or industry, PE packaging plays an important role in keeping consumer supplies safe and free of potentially harmful contaminants at all stages of the supply chain.
Protecting Food and Beverages from Contaminants
PE packaging helps keep food free of contaminants in all stages of transportation — from farm to table. Plastic packaging has been known to extend the shelf life of perishable foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats, which helps to reduce food waste. One way this is achieved is through modified atmosphere packaging, which helps the container provide a reduced-oxygen air mixture that better preserves food. 1Additional benefits of using polyethylene packaging for food and beverages include its puncture resistance, sterility, light-weighting capability, and versatility for a wide range of package sizes or types.
One main type of polyethylene plastic commonly used for food packaging are multilayer films, which are commonly created by LLDPE polymers undergoing blown and cast processes. The second form includes bottles and other containers created with HDPE polymers via blow molding and thermoforming processes.2
When it comes to protecting food from contamination, the polymer product used depends on the shelf life of the item and how it will be stored:3
- Food products with a short shelf life, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, are commonly packaged with PE film bags.
- Meat and fish products with a short shelf life are typically laid on plastic trays and wrapped with PE film. The high tensile strength of LLDPE makes it the preferred choice for thinner films such as shrink/stretch film.
For beverages, glass was previously used more commonly, such as with glass milk bottles, but the material preference has since shifted to HDPE, as is used in juice bottles, soups, and other liquid containers.
Enhancing Sterilization in Personal Care and Wellness
During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers prioritized self-sufficient personal hygiene activities, such as hand sanitizing and hand washing, and sought large quantities of polyethylene- packaged personal care products. This shift leads consumers to purchasing bulk-sized packaging for at-home personal care and buying more sealed hygiene products including gloves, masks, and hand wipes.
Sanitary Packaging Applications
PE packaging is present in several forms of personal care and wellness products, often used to ensure sterile packaging. While luxury personal care products used to be packaged in glass and ceramic, the industry began using resins to create unique shapes and colors that were attractive to consumers, effective at reducing spills, and impervious to contamination.4
HDPE is commonly used to create vessels for personal care items such as shampoo, cosmetics, dish soaps and laundry detergents. Polyethylene film is used in sanitary packaging for a variety of over-the-counter personal care and wellness products including bandages and wipes, or for single-use products such as take-home liquid medicine syringes.
Maintaining Hygienic Standards in Medical Applications
PE is a vital component of healthcare in various stages of the patient experience. Additionally, PE has a higher compatibility rating with most chemicals and is resistant to strong acids and bases, as well as gentle oxidants and reducing agents. More specifically, HDPE is also resistant to many organic substances, such as bacteria and fungi. As the trend from monolayer to multilayer film continues, the hygienic properties of multi-layer properties film allows it to have a biological layer or agents that prevent germs and other contaminants from penetrating the surface.
From durable and easy-to-clean furniture in the waiting room, to the flexible packaging protecting the doctor’s medical devices, PE products allow healthcare workers and patients to work and reside in a sterile and safe environment.
Ensuring A Sanitary Healthcare Environment
Furniture made from polyethylene offers several sanitary advantages, including being constructed without crevices for debris or contaminants to collect. They’re also chemically resistant to body oils and cleaning solutions, reducing the risk of infection and promoting longevity.5
Polyethylene products allow health practitioners to use medical tools and devices that consistently meet strict sanitation standards. For example, PE film packaging helps guard reusable healthcare items from damage and contamination, and is commonly used in products such as sterile syringes, bottles, vials, bags, and pouches.6
Flexible packaging, such as shrink wrap, stretch film, and plastic bags, are often purchased in large quantities by healthcare providers as secondary or tertiary packaging options to sterilization wrap.7 This type of packaging is often made of polyethylene and recycled afterwards.
Reducing Risk of Contamination in Over-the-Counter Applications
While plastics such as polyethylene play a critical role in healthcare environments, consumers equally benefit from plastic in over-the-counter treatments. Many everyday personal items purchased in the pharmacy section such as saline bottles, medicine bottles, and single-use bandages. HDPE is also commonly used to make bottles for household cleaning supplies because of its ability to withstand harsh chemicals.
As consumers continue to shift their hygiene habits and sanitation expectations, polyethylene and polyethylene manufacturers will play an important role in the packaging of consumables, personal care products, and healthcare environments by adding durability and reliable sterilization.