Legislative framework / 30.12.2022

Why is plastic the most used material in food packaging?

Why is plastic the most used material in food packaging?

PET thermoforms are very much present in our daily lives. Fresh meat and fish, sliced cold meat and refrigerated pizzas are put in market in this type of packaging, which already accounts for more than 20% of PET packaging. However, there are many consumers who do not know why certain types of food need to be packaged or what is achieved or avoided through the use of a container.

In 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a study on global food losses and food waste that was a real turning point in global awareness. The results of the study suggest that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally and this inevitably also means thathuge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain”.

The study found a significant difference between behavior patterns in the industrialized regions, where most losses are concentrated in the consumption stage, and in low-income countries, where food is lost during the early and middle stages of the food supply chain due, among others, to the lack or deficiency of packaging..

This is why the Spanish draft legislation on the prevention of food loss and food waste establishes as one of the key elements “the support for new technologies and innovation, such as those that increase the shelf life of food, especially regarding its packaging”. And yet, despite the crucial role that packaging plays in the fight against food waste, and despite the fact that plastics are generally the most used option by manufacturers due to their excellent properties, plastic is a material demonized by the media. and consumers, who seem to be unaware of the essential function of packaging, which is the food protection and the increase of the shelf life.

In order to make known and prove the excellent properties of plastics compared to other packaging materials, the Food Contact Regulatory Experts Panel (FREP), the European association of plastic converters (EuPC) and Polymer Comply Europe (PCE) have joined forces to develop an informative brochure focusing on the reasons of plastics in food packaging, which content is set out below:



Do I need packaging? If yes, what do I expect packaging to do?

Consumer & legal demands are met, simultaneously, rather than one at the expense of the other. This is relevant for packaging in general, but even more for food and drink packaging, with the so-called Food Contact Materials (FCM).

Plastics have been proven to be able to do the trick for food preservation: longer shelf life, fewer resources, protection against UV, moisture, odor, etc., all at the same time. No other materials could replace and be as functional as plastics.



Plastics materials represent the best solution to maintain the safety of the food in contact with them. Plastics are the most regulated packaging material available, giving assurance about their safe use.

Molds, bacteria, and viruses do not grow on plastic surfaces and do not permeate through them.

Plastic materials highly contribute to the hygienic handling and distribution of foodstuffs in complex supply chains.

Plastics materials:

– Prevent the growth of microorganisms in food providing barrier against oxygen and moisture; some types of plastics protect from UV-light, strongly decreasing spoilage rate and loss of nutrients.

– Intrinsically inert and stable.

Do not biodegradable (with the exception of some types purposely designed to biodegrade).

Properties of plastics are modulated & optimized through their composition.



Plastics are sustainable due to their high rate of recyclability, helping us to achieve a circular economy for food packaging. Plastics also help us to reduce the carbon-footprint due to their much lower weight than other materials. Layer structures (as it is the case of thermoformed PET/PE or PET/EVOH/PE containers) are lightweight and save material.

FCMs are often used in single used applications providing:

Packed individually.

– Content is atmosphere protected.

– Increase of the likelihood of consuming the food or the beverage before the expiry date.

– Plastic properties & material assemblies allow seal of the packaging and atmosphere control.

– Material types and assemblies are chosen carefully to suit the requirement of preservation, according to the nature of the food or beverage.

Risks & Hazard


Difference between risk and hazard:

Chemical used in FCM might be hazardous but

– If you are NOT EXPOSED to that hazard, there is not risk.

Something can be hazard but not dangerous so there is no risk.

Incorrect reports in the media about plastic packaging, making people feel and think it is dangerous while it is not the case at all. Examples:

– Low migration of printing inks or adhesives through the plastic packaging into the contents/ food Interaction between packaging and contents

or transfer of substances / chemicals from packaging into food is a natural process with ALL packaging materials. It cannot be completely prevented but it can be limited.

For more information about the brochure:

Please contact Federico Gorrini, Account Executive Regulatory Compliance at EuPC: