Plastic Materials used for Food Packaging

The most commonly used material for food packaging is plastic. It is successful mainly because of the versatility of its properties making it essential for protective food packaging. A plastic is a solid whose main component is macromolecules. Divided into three main groups: Thermoplastics, thermosets and elastomers plastic is highly suitable for machine use.

Characteristics of plastics

Plastics are stable, light, sterile, flexible and are considered the ideal material for food packaging.  The excellent barrier properties of plastics ensure that food contents stay fresh for long periods and retain their natural taste.

Materials plastic food packaging

The advantages of plastic:

safe and hygienic
numerous decoration possibilities
cost effective
machine-compatible production

What types of plastics are suitable for food packaging?

bio-based / resistant
  • Bio-PET – Polyethylene terephthalate
  • Bio-PE – Polyethylene
  • PTT – Polytrimethylene terephthalate
  • Bio-PA – Polyamides
bio-based / degradable
  • PLA – Polylactides
  • Starch blends
  • PHA – Polyhydroxyalkanoates
  • CA/CH – Cellulose acetate
  • TPS – Thermoplastic starch
  • PBS – Polybutylene succinate
  • PBAT – Polybutylene adipate terephthalate
fossil based / resistant
  • PE – Polyethylene
  • PET – Polyethylene terephthalate
  • PP – Polypropylene
  • PA – Polyamides
fossil-based / biodegradable
  • PBS – Polybutylene succinate
  • PBAT – Polybutylene adipate terephthalate
  • PCL – Polycaprolactone
For further information on the types of plastic, please refer to our glossary.

Our two most used plastics

Materials plastic food packaging

Polypropylene (PP)

PP belongs to the group of polyolefins and is a thermoplastic. It is produced by the polymerisation of propene. It is characterised above all by its heat resistance and hardness, but is also resistant to a large number of solvents and chemicals. According to the consumer advice centre, polypropylene has no plasticizers and is ideal for food packaging. However, as a plastic with very strong growth, it is also used in areas such as automobile industry, construction and the textile industry.


PET, a thermoplastic from the group of polyesters, is the only recycled plastic that meets the legal requirements for food suitability. One speaks of rPET if the plastic consists entirely or partly of recycled material – i.e. recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or used plastic. In contrast to plastics such as polypropylene, where common recycling processes result in quality losses, recycled PET can always be brought up to the standard of virgin material. rPET has an excellent ecological balance sheet and is therefore used in many of our applications.

Materials plastic food packaging
Materials plastic food packaging

Further options:
Post consumer / post industrial waste

Post consumer / post industrial waste
Plastic waste that is properly disposed of by the end user can be recycled. This material is then used to create new packaging, thus closing the material cycle. This is generally referred to as post-consumer recycling. Companies also recycle their plastic waste. Post-industrial recycling describes the process whereby surplus plastic waste is reused with new material in a new manufacturing process. This process is used at IIC AG and thus helps to avoid industrial waste.

Manufacturing Processes during Production


The term thermoforming refers to a process in which thermoplastic materials can be moulded into an appropriate shape. Flat semi-finished plastic products such as sheets and foils are first heated and then formed under the supply of vacuum and compressed air. After cooling, the plastic remains in the mould and can be removed.



With in-mould labelling, the product can be decorated during the injection moulding process. The appropriate label is added to the mould before the moulding process and bonds with the plastic during the process. The result is a highly decorated product in just one step.

Other materials

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Exhibition dates

24 - 26 September 2024
Fachpack, Nuremberg/Germany

12 - 13 February 2025

Packaging Innovations & Empack, Birmingham/UK


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