The next chapter is closed

2 June 2020

In packaging, the hardest-working element are the closures. Protecting the contents from the outside, the outside from the contents and the structural integrity of the packaging is a tricky job.It also needs ease-of-use to allow people to access the goods – it’s a hard life for our caps. It is also a manufacturing sector that has been experiencing major growth, a trajectory curve that is set to continue in the short and medium-term. With extra demands like environmental efficacy being demanded by the market, Matthew Rogerson looks at its challenges, plus an example of innovation that is powering the sector firmly into the 21st century.

According to GlobalData’s latest forecasts, the caps and closures sector is set for decent growth over the next few years, with 2% forecast across the sector, and a move from a market of 1.820 trillion caps of all shapes and sizes in 2020, to 1.856 trillion in 2021. The majority volume of this market is split between five types of cap or closure. Plastic screw tops cover nearly half of the entire market with 746 billion units; metal crown closures form 257 billion, plastic prize-off closures come in at 227 billion, plastic film closures record at 139 billion and there are 126 billion metal screw-off caps. The remainder of the market is projected in considerably smaller, or negligible, volumes. Those five cap types account for essentially 1.5 trillion of total production, and the ones most of us will daily come into contact with as consumers – whether it’s the cap we take off for our drinks, peel off from food, tins and jars, or the twist closure to access toothpaste, creams or cleaning products. They have a hugely important function to fulfil. No matter what type of product the caps protect they need to be able to secure it, prevent any degradation and allow recurring opening and closing or reuse – and without sacrificing the quality of the goods. That is a tall order – every product has different items it is trying to prevent from sullying goods.

Achilles heel

Closures guard the opening, normally the weakest part of the package. With a bottle, most of the packaging is relatively tough and strong. Caps and closures have to not only seal the product in, and keep externalities out, but be strong enough to cover the structural weakness inherent to openings.

In today’s highly connected consumer world – in addition to one that is planet conscious – those closures also increasingly have to be biodegradable,  compostable and recyclable – and materials that conform to those characteristics are also, unfortunately, in high demand.

A recent example of this can be found in South Africa, where local business Woodland Dairy has used a closure that is partly made from bio-based material to go with its package. It is formed of 80% renewable material.

One of the largest milk producers in South Africa, Woodlands Dairy has become the first in that country to introduce a package with a bio-based closure for extended shelf life (ESL) milk. The company claims the move was driven by research showing consumers wanted packaging that was more in line with the planet’s greater good – sustainability was a top priority. Developed in conjunction with Nampak, the new product closure has been launched as a sign of the company’s commitment to the environment.

Marisa Maccaferri, marketing manager for Woodlands Dairy said, at its launch, “Besides all the initiatives at our mega plant in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape, we were the first in South Africa to move to bio-based packaging materials on most of our UHT products. The new ESL pack closures are partly made from plastics derived from plant-based material. Plant-based or bio-based materials are made from renewable resources that can be sustainably planted and harvested, such as sugarcane. “Our cartons,” she continued, “are also greener, and made from more than 80% plant-based raw materials, which ensures that the whole pack is now 100% recyclable. We truly believe in reducing our impact on the environment, and these new closures and packs will ultimately help us do just that.”

Ecology and quality together

Maccaferri also confirmed that this renewed focus on sustainable packaging did not come at the expense of quality product: “We use the Pure-Lac Ultra Pasteurisation system to reduce the microbial count beyond normal pasteurisation methods without any chemical treatment, loss of nutrients or compromises on the great milk taste. Nutrients in milk are sensitive to light, which is why the paperboard carton of our ESL milk is the ideal way to preserve the goodness of milk. All of these quality measures help us extend the shelf life of our fresh milk to 35 days from date of manufacture.”

According to Maccaferri, consumers are increasingly becoming eco-conscious and demand recyclability, sustainability and eco-friendliness from the brands they buy. “Most plastics still use non-renewable, petroleum-based resources such as oil as a key ingredient,” she said, “which has a negative impact on the environment. Packs made from renewable materials are the obvious choice as it’s both eco-friendly and sustainable.” The roll- out of the new packaging will begin in the Eastern Cape, with other provinces following suit.

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