Companies in the food packaging industry are starting to recognize the name “XPP.” This 100% polypropylene rigid packaging solution is the ideal replacement for polystyrene (PS) in thermoformed & form-fill-seal (FFS) food packaging applications.

If you’re wondering what makes XPP so revolutionary, then you’re in luck. The C.A.P. Pack is back to answer these questions and more. In episode four of our podcast, we explain why finding a suitable PS replacement is so challenging, and how the discovery and development of XPP is an incredibly ideal solution to transition out of PS.

You can watch or listen to the podcast now on our website, or subscribe on Spotify, Apple, and Google. Here are a few segments that we cover:

Sneak Peek for Episode #4

Replacing Polystyrene - Needs and Challenges

PS has been a fantastic material for rigid form-fill-seal food packaging. It can be formed at reasonable temperatures, cools quickly, and serves as an ideal material to package and protect its content. When extruded with EVOH or our proprietary barrier material, RE-BA, it also provides barrier performance to preserve freshness and keep a reasonable shelf life. Beyond that, PS has desirable qualities like trimability, scorability, and snapability (which allows you to snap off a cup of yogurt from a multipack, for example).

Countless FFS production lines around the world were built specifically for processing PS rollstock. However, concerns over sustainability, recycling, and food safety have led companies to search for more environmentally-friendly packaging materials. 

While modern plastics like polypropylene (PP) are great alternatives, they have different characteristics than PS, and traditionally requires equipment & tooling designed for its unique processing characteristics. For manufacturers that have heavily invested in PS machinery for years, the vision has been to find a PS replacement that would work in their existing production lines without raising costs. 


Innovation Journey to XPP

The need to find a PS replacement started 15 years ago in the dairy/yogurt space, and took more than a decade to make significant progress. With polystyrene already such a remarkable  material, finding a replacement came with an extensive list of requirements:

  • Maintain all positive qualities and characteristics of PS
  • Drop-in compatibility for existing PS machinery
  • Environmentally friendly and easily recycled
  • Cost-neutral or cost-negative implementation

Finding a new material that checked every single box seemed as likely as finding a unicorn, but since it was a necessity, years of research and development went on continuously. 

Our major breakthrough came about four years ago. Jonathan recounts the moment ICPG realized we had found a brand new solution: “We were all gathered in the conference room doing trials on production lines. So we're running various structures, components, and different types of peripheral equipment in the controls. One of the engineers comes into the room and he lays some sheets out in front of us. We had been searching for the proverbial unicorn of plastics for 15 years. So we're sitting in the conference room, and the engineer brings it in, and he said, ‘This one feels different. There's something unique about it.’ And then we scored it across the web and he snapped it down the score line — and it snapped perfectly. And I said, ‘Did you just see what I saw? Did you see that unicorn trotting across the parking lot? Because I think he just showed up.’”

This material was 100% polypropylene, but acted far more like PS than PP. We quickly went to work experimenting on this “new polypropylene,” or XPP, and collecting data. Our unicorn was off to the races — and then the pandemic hit. Although this was a difficult time for everyone, it was an opportunity for us to take a step back and discover more about XPP’s properties, create the foundation for a portfolio of products, develop the data and continue to build from there.


Benefits of XPP

So why is XPP such a big deal? As a food packaging material, XPP is incredibly versatile. It’s suitable for a wide variety of applications, including form-fill-seal, hot fill, aseptic, modified atmosphere, and thermoformed packaging. It can withstand a wide range of temperatures and keeps consumer packaged goods more shelf-stable. As Mike puts it, “No other material available today takes you from the freezer to the microwave.”

Its performance as a barrier material is also exceptional. XPP has a 90% increase in Oxygen Transmission Rate (OTR) and Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR) compared to regular PP. When compared to polystyrene, XPP has 100% improvement in OTR and 150% in MVTR. This means extended shelf life, reduced food waste, and increased profits — an all-around win for consumers, retailers, and manufacturers.

XPP is also a major win for the environment. Since it has no additives or fillers, XPP is completely recyclable, even if it’s been colored or includes a barrier layer. By using XPP, we use less plastic for every package created, which also creates several other downstream sustainability advantages. Less plastic used in packaging means less weight that has to be transported — so it also reduces CO2 and other emissions as a result. Mike reminds us that, “We're talking about a market that has a tremendous amount of scale, so any small, even granular improvement adds up.”

Of course, the financial benefits can’t be overlooked, either. Manufacturers don’t want to pay more than they already do for packaging, and they definitely don’t want to pay millions in order to buy whole new production lines, or completely retrofit their existing machinery. XPP lets them keep their PS production equipment, increase their yield, and pay the same or less money per unit manufactured. 


The Future of XPP

XPP is just starting its journey, but this material is gaining notoriety in the CPG industry. Natalie hears industry leaders saying, “It's not polypropylene, it's XPP. It's really its own category for form-fill-seal applications, standing out from traditional polypropylenes.”

The increasing adoption of XPP in the CPG marketplace is a big win, but it’s only the beginning in our eyes. Eventually, we want to bring XPP to other industries too. One exciting area to move into is medical packaging to help bring the same sustainability benefits to this segment. XPP has great potential to make non-hazardous medical packaging vastly more recyclable, which can have a huge impact on sustainability.


Join the Conversation

What do you think about sustainability and recycling in the packaging industry? Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram and share your thoughts! And be sure to check out the podcast on Spotify, Apple, Google, or our website.


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