Schaumburg, Ill. — Tethered caps will become the law of the land in less than two years in the European Union, but other parts are the globe are already adopting them as a perceived competitive advantage in their own markets.
Tethered caps, which stay attached to beverage containers while in use, already have become widely adopted in Europe even though European Commission regulations do not require implementation until July 3, 2024. That's when all beverage containers 3 liters and under are mandated to be equipped with closures that stay attached. The requirement is intended to not only cut down on litter but also increase plastic recycling.
The thinking goes that caps attached to bottles have more of a chance to make it through the recycling system than those that are not. It's the ultimate argument for 'caps on' in the caps-on, caps-off debate that's been floating around the plastic recycling industry for years.
Michael White, business development manager of beverage closures at Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., said brand owners in parts of the world outside Europe are adopting tethered caps as a market differentiator.
"We're actually seeing more interest outside of Europe than we are inside Europe on tethering, specifically in pockets of Southeast Asia," he said, as well as Africa, Australia and Fiji.
"Outside of Europe, it's traditionally the entrepreneurial brands that are trying to get a foot on the store shelf, get their foot in the door. Differentiate from the status quo. That's what we're finding," White said.
Beverage companies can send a message of sustainability and become a market differentiator through the use of tethered caps in markets where they are not legislated.
"We're a global company, so we have a global sales force that they are always looking for the next edge. We saw it as a means to penetrate other markets," White said during the recent Caps & Closures 2022 conference organized by Plastics News in Schaumburg.
"You also have the fact that it's something new, something different. So you can help differentiate the product, the brand can, on the store shelf," he said.
Europe already has seen significant adoption of tethered closures even as the deadline for adoption is more than a year half away. Converters are using one of two approaches to create tethered caps. They either mold specialized elements into caps to create tethers or use scoring equipment on caps. The plastic separates at the scores to create tethers once a cap is unscrewed.
Tethered caps also can feature a hinge design that flips the cap at the side or those connected with two thin pieces of plastic attached to both the cap and the ring.
Michael Uhrain is the business development manager, packaging, at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery North America Inc. He said it makes sense for global companies to implement tethered caps outside of Europe once they have established businesses practices for that market.
"I really think this is coming and it's going to be global," White said. "A lot of people assume that if you put the function on you have to add weight."
But he said tethered caps being made with his company's equipment actually weigh less than their traditional counterparts.
"That was nonnegotiable for the design criteria. We didn't want to add something for a design criteria, introduce something that adds weight," he said.
White said companies that are adopting tethered caps before they are legislated are "future proofing."
"So you think that the law might come, let's get on board earlier and we'll have something ready already."