Plastics are thought to be extremely versatile and ideal for a great range of consumer and industrial functions and applications. Plastics can be developed with virtually any combination of properties to adjust to almost any application one can think of. As a result of these many attractive properties, plastics are being increasingly used for electronics, construction, packaging, agriculture, healthcare, sports and energy.
There are six types of plastics which dominate the world market: Polyethylene (PE, high and low density), Polypropylene (PP), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Polystyrene (PS, and expanded EPS), Polyurethane (PUR) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). The durability of plastics is both their greatest advantage and their biggest consequence as it degrades very slowly. The increasing production of these polymers will result in even larger amounts of plastic waste in the environment. If left untreated, this waste will continue to leak and accumulate in the world’s oceans, where it may take hundreds of years to dissolve.
Most plastics are non-biodegradable, despite its low cost, versatility and durability. Plastic is an unlikely target for the bacteria which is why it is durable, making it non-biodegradable. The term non-biodegradable refers to the polymers that do not break down by the biological processes.i
Plastics can be tailored to fit the exact needs of a business or producer; therefore, it can be used for various types of packaging. Similarly, if designed correctly, plastic can be turned into a strong material, which makes it exceptionally good for packaging. It can be the lightest packaging material available based on the requirement. The lighter nature of packaging can also often mean that less physical waste is produced from it. Another very important characteristic of plastic is how easily it can be sterilized. This is an essential quality for packaging items in the medical industry, where the elimination of microbes is crucial.ii
Aseptic carton packaging is a specialized manufacturing process in which food, pharmaceutical, or other contents are sterilized separately from packaging. The contents are then inserted into the container in a sterile environment. This method uses extremely high temperatures to maintain the freshness of the contents while also ensuring that it’s not contaminated with microorganisms. iii
The main material in aseptic carton packaging is paperboard and just enough of it is used to make the package stable, without adding unnecessary weight. Paperboard is a renewable material, made from wood and it provides stability, strength, and smoothness to the printing surface. Layers of polyethylene, aluminum foil are also used in packaging which protect against moisture, oxygen, and light to maintain the nutritional value and flavors of the food in ambient temperatures. The cartons allow the product inside to stay fresh, without the need for any preservatives.
Usually 75% of the carton is made from paperboard, 20% of polyethylene and 5% of aluminum.iv Since these packages are primarily paper-based they are easily recyclable. The paperboard is recycled into paper products and the 25% remaining fraction (consisting of the polyethylene and the aluminum) can be recycled into panel boards, roof sheets and so on.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a highly recyclable plastic resin and a form of polyester. It is frequently used to package a range of products including beverages, peanut butter, bakery goods, frozen foods, salad dressings, cosmetics, and household cleaners. Prized for its strength, thermo-stability, and transparency, PET is a popular choice for packaging. PET is also inexpensive, lightweight, shatter-resistant, and recyclable. v
Although recycling is the most environmentally responsible and efficient re-use of resources, PET bottles and containers that find their way to the landfill pose no risk of harm or leaching. Since the polymer is inert, it is resistant to attack by micro-organisms, and won't biologically degrade. PET also takes up relatively little landfill space since it is easily crushed flat. PET is also a very energy-efficient packaging material. Although its raw materials are derived from crude oil and natural gas, it enjoys a very favorable sustainability profile in comparison to glass, aluminum and other container materials.vi
It is important to note that the term plastics is used as an umbrella term for a variety of materials, called synthetic polymers. The use of these materials has become increasingly widespread in the production of a variety of different goods. The use of plastics is mainly owed to tremendous economic benefits: it is easy, cheap and accessible, which is particularly important in regions of economic instability. However, the disadvantages are harrowing. Most of these plastics are single use, which means that half of all plastics are used only once, usually for a short-term purpose such as transport or packaging, and then discarded. In Pakistan, more than 3.3 million tonnes of plastic are discarded each year, most of which finds its way into landfills, dumps water bodies. vii
Pakistan also has the highest percentage of mismanaged plastic in South Asia. Combined, this waste could amount to as high as 16500 m, the height of two of the K2 mountains, the world’s second highest mountains in the world.
The packaging industry is a very important stakeholder in Pakistan’s plastic problem. Containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 80.1 million tons of generation in 2017 (29.9 percent of total generation).viii About 250 million tons of garbage in Pakistan primarily consists of plastic bags, PET bottles and food scraps. ix