Packaging drives plastics growth in Asia

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SHANGHAI (April 23, 2:50 p.m. ET) — The most eye-catching displays at Chinaplas 2012 were typically high-tech, eco-friendly and mobile. At Bayer MaterialScience AG’s booth, two small robots danced on a stage six times a day.

Behind the flashy displays, however, in quieter parts of the booths, a trend with a lower-profile could be found — packaging.

China’s packaging market is booming. The country is the largest market for packaging in Asia and, from 2011 to 2016, the packaging market in China is expected to grow significantly faster than its Asian neighbors. In 2011, China’s total packaging market reached $90 trillion. This number is expected to expand by 9.8 percent annually for the next few years.

“Globalization has lead to very long supply chains,” said Torsten Penkuhn, the senior vice president responsible for oil and petroleum products at BASF. “So many people are moving to large cities, where they have totally different consumption patterns and packaging needs.”

What they need is packaging that is safe for consumers, protects the product and, increasingly, is sustainable. BASF featured two materials, Ultramid and Ecovio, that can be used on the inside lining of packages to prevent mineral oil residues from touching food.

The oils are found on cardboard packaging that is made of recycled paper. “Even if the food is sitting in a box made of virgin materials, the oil can seep from the box sitting next to it,” explained Penkuhn.

In 2011, plastics both rigid and flexible accounted for 33 percent of the packaging material used in China. By 2016, BASF expects the use of plastics will increase to 38 percent of that market.

A number of other materials makers and machine makers are offering packaging solutions in anticipation of that growth. Husky showed a new high-performance packaging system while Arburg featured a hybrid machine with a plasticizing cylinder and barrier screws designed to print both the inside and outside of the cups.

“The packaging sector is important for us, because the manufacture of high-end packaging items in large volumes demands high-tech machines that are linked by short cycle times and high productivity,” said Max Man, the managing director of Arburg’s subsidiaries in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, in a statement.

Materials makers were also focusing on the industry. ExxonMobil featured packaging films at its Chinaplas booth and Borouge showed off its Borstar polyethylene blown film, together with Borclear polypropylene blown film, both used in flexible packaging.

“Food safety is driven by regulatory issues and, really, you and me,” said Lloyd Lowe, packaging industry manager at BASF Asia Pacific. “This is an integral part of the packaging market.”