Recyclable Food Packaging Delivers Extreme Barrier

New XPP polypropylene is a drop-in replacement for out-of-favor polystyrene for a variety of processes from thermoform-fill-seal to retort.

May 19, 2021

6 Min Read
XPP green cups multipack

The introduction of a sustainable new option for food packaging always draws interest, but when it can replace a polymer that companies are eliminating for environmental reasons, the reception is even warmer.

Health and safety concerns from Proposition 65 regarding styrene have motivated some brands to replace polystyrene (PS), which has long been the default polymer choice for form-fill-seal thermoforming processing in food packaging applications. Another downside to PS is that the material is not commonly recyled. Thus a number of brands have made a commitment to transition food packaging solutions from PS by 2025 and in some cases as soon as 2022.

Replacing an out-of-favor material with a more sustainable solution is no easy task assuming the performance, barrier, and mechanical properties must be maintained without added costs or significant capital expenditures to replace existing systems and processes.

That’s why ICPG's XPP Enhanced Barrier Polypropylene was created as an optimized drop-in replacement in applications for yogurt multipacks and single-serve cups for creamers, pudding, condiments, dips, shelf-stable beverages, and more.

Our questions about this innovative new food packaging option are answered by Michael Moren, ICPG’s commercial director.

XPP Mike Moren PQ

Why is the timing good for XPP?
Moren: The global demand for more sustainable and recyclable packaging solutions, coupled with health and safety concerns as a result of Proposition 65 has put brand owners in search of a material replacement solution that satisfies these concerns and many have made commitments to do so by 2025. However, historically it has been a challenge to find a solution that allows them to achieve their goals, while maintaining all of the positive features of current packaging solutions — processing, barrier protection, compatibility with existing systems and processes, cost. Until now, solutions have been lacking in one key area or another which is why the status quo has maintained. With XPP we have developed the solution that fulfills all key concerns and requirements.

What are the key attributes?
Moren: This material offers enhancements to key performance attributes for FFS typically not observed in traditional PP solutions such as enhanced stiffness, “snapability” and controlled shrinkage. This more sustainable, recyclable PP solution eliminates Proposition 65 health and safety concerns for food packaging. This material also offers enhanced barrier protection over PP and PS without the use of specialty barrier materials or coatings.

XPP Cost Yield Graphic

Please note the sustainability advantages.

Moren: In its simplest form, XPP is a mono-material PP solution, and as a result, benefits from the many sustainable attributes of PP including less solid waste by weight, less CO2 equivalents by weight, and lower fuel consumption and fewer emissions when compared to packaging alternatives with a higher weight and density.

Beyond this there are enhanced features of XPP that provide additional sustainability benefits, such as the inherent barrier enhancements, which present opportunities for extended shelf-life potential. We know is key for the reduction of food waste.

In addition, as a mono-material PP solution, XPP improves ease of recycling compared to alternative barrier solutions such as high-impact polystyrene (HIPS)/polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). Finally, the enhanced stiffness of the material presents opportunities to down-gauge existing structures, resulting in reduced material usage, increased yield, higher efficiencies, and lighter-weight parts.

How is the barrier achieved?
Moren: This technology is proprietary, but we can say no traditional functional barrier materials, additives or coatings are used, which contributes to the simplification of the material and the ability for us to control cost for our customers. To meet high barrier specifications, we can incorporate ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) to enhance the barrier protection where needed.

XPP condiment cups

How much R&D was involved?
Moren: ICPG has been working on this development since 2019.

In what form is the material supplied?
Moren: XPP is supplied in extruded rollstock form for rigid thermoforming and FFS food packaging applications. The material can be supplied as a custom roll size, in gauges of 0.016-inch to 0.060-inch wide in widths from 15 to 37 inches.

Are machine changes required versus PS? 

Moren: All setting adjustments have been minor and have resulted in no loss of throughput nor any capital equipment modifications required to convert the line from PS to XPP.

What’s the cost premium?
Moren: It was very important to us that this solution wasn’t going to result in added cost for brand owners. Our case studies have shown that for many applications we can offer a cost savings in comparison to alternative PS or PET solutions in addition to all of the other sustainability and functional benefits.

The drop-in nature of the solution means that brand owners also save when it comes to capital expenditure for the replacement or significant modification to existing equipment required by alternatives. In addition, there is a significant material savings and yield improvement due to the reduced density of the material when compared to PS and PET.

XPP chocolate pudding cups

What’s the current level of interest?
Moren: We have seen a great deal of interest from companies that have been in search of a replacement solution for their current PS form-fill-seal food packaging. They are amazed that the material performs exactly as advertised and excited about the potential to revolutionize their product portfolio.

We even had someone say to us recently, “where have you been this whole time?!”, which gives you an idea of how arduous the search has been for a solution like this for years. We are here now and ready to take this solution to market and help our customers achieve their goals.

Are any companies using or testing it yet?
Moren: XPP is currently commercially available from ICPG. Specific information on customer applications is confidential, but I can say that we have successfully validated the material on FFS and thermoforming equipment that is typically utilized with PS.

In short, what should brands know about XPP? 
Moren: Brand owners should know that this solution is the answer to all their problems related to PS replacement and sustainability concerns for FFS food packaging. This truly is a full-package solution and our team is ready to provide the support needed to help you achieve your goals.

Final thoughts?
Moren: This an extremely versatile solution that can be used with a variety of packaging/sterilization processes including: aseptic, hot fill, retort, modified atmosphere packaging, high-pressure processing (HPP), form-fill-seal, and thermoforming; and is suitable for applications in a variety of markets including: applesauce, baby food, dairy products including yogurt and creamers, coffee and tea pods and capsules, shelf-stable beverages, single-serve fruit and vegetable cups, single-serve condiments, dips and sauces, pet food, snack-packs and on-the-go products.

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