In Italy, where wine is king, glass' reign as a material of packaging choice since the dawn of alcoholic drinks could be threatened by PET.
With many technical hurdles overcome, PET is starting to become the new norm for wine packaging in Europe and elsewhere, according to Venice, Italy-based blow molding specialist Sipa SpA. At its K 2022 booth, the company showed off a large bottle of spumante, with the sparkling wine packaged in a warmer, curved PET container then the harder, colder glass bottle typically seen.
"It's transparent and there's no breakage," said Sipa Area Sales Manager Yasar Yildiz of the bottle he held, called La Spumante. "PET has designs on glass and is making progress. Now we're looking at other applications where we can expand into PET, and the next steps in the process."
The company was at K 2022 touting its newest innovation, a four-station injection stretch blow molding machine with a rotational servo motor that can cut energy consumption as much as 500 kilograms by weight. The lower energy consumption on new blow molding equipment has also meant a dramatic reduction in costs than for glass in an age where energy prices are high and supply levels are perilously low, especially in Europe.
Sipa is highly invested in PET, managing all aspects of the bottle-making processes from injection molded preforms to blow molded bottles to mold making, of which the company is one of the largest global producers. Among its developments at K 2022 was a mold changing station that dropped the time to change a mold to 2.5 hours, Yildiz said.
The lower usage of energy in PET vs. glass has brought inroads in the use of PET for many applications, added Marco Brusadin, Sipa packaging development manager. Glass in particular has a difficult time: A great deal more energy is expended to produce a glass bottle than does a blow molded PET alternative. Transport of lighter-weight PET bottles also is much less costly in fuel usage than that of glass bottles, he added.
With energy prices high and supply low, there is also an economic incentive to consider PET, Brusadin said.
"These days, it's all about carbon footprint," Brusadin said. "Glass is much heavier and its LCA [life cycle assessment] is much higher than plastics. Customers want to keep costs as low as possible."
All of which are making European wine producers and retailers take note of PET as a potential alternative to glass. PET wine bottle are growing in popularity in Italy and are also making inroads in Germany and France, among other locations, Brusadin said. The biggest surprise was that the first request that Sipa received for the development of a PET wine bottle came from Sweden, he said.
The trend line of PET replacement started in Europe with packaged jars, especially for jams and tomato sauce, he added. It is making incursions into the market for vinegar and olive oil, areas that the U.S. market is also seeing. And perfume fragrances also are migrating to PET, even though glass may convey more elegance and sophistication.
Iconic brand Louis Vuitton has launched perfume in plastic bottles, Brusadin said. A key draw is the advent of e-commerce and the sending of perfume by those means. "It's not the eco-friendly system that is drawing cosmetics but e-commerce," he said. "It is the weight of the box and the possibility of broken glass that is a problem in transport."
To that end, Sipa is developing injection stretch blow molding machines with higher clamping force that can make bottles with sharp corners necessitated by many cosmetics producers, Yildiz said. Newer machines are producing bottles as small at 7.5 grams, he said.
The company is developing new solutions that also meet customer demands for recycling content in PET bottles. Among those is a 2019 agreement with recycling company Erema that involves increasing the use of recycled flake to melt and inject into a preform for food contact applications. The system, called Xtreme Renew, has been expanded to new applications for bottle-to-bottle recycling needs.