Tubex’s Monotube features an attractive seal made entirely of aluminium. (Image: etma)
10.03.2022 - By now, the tube is over 150 years old: In 1841, the American John Goffe Rand obtained the patent for this container, which at the time was still being made out of tin. At first glance, the basic concept has not changed much in the meantime. However, there are developments on today’s tube market that we should keep an eye on.
As is many other areas of the packaging industry, tubes are also trending towards paper packaging. For a container used mainly in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, switching to fully or partially paper-based solutions is, unsurprisingly, not a foregone conclusion.
Swiss manufacturer Permapack’s tube, designed for the Kneipp cosmetics brand, represents one possibility for integrating fibre-based materials in tube manufacturing. 71 percent of the container consists of paper and cellulose. Its plastic content is limited to the barrier layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), which is also used in beverage cartons, and to the tube’s cap, which consists of polypropylene (PP) or high density polyethylene (HDPE).
Permapack developed a paper-based tube for the cosmetics manufacturer Kneipp. (Image: etma)
These figures convinced the European Tube Manufacturers Association (etma) to grant the Swiss company the Tube of the Year award in the Sustainability category in October 2021. This award was shared with the French company Albéa, whose paper-based tube Vichy Capital Soleil for cosmetics was also in the running.
In addition to switching to renewable materials, the award winners also showed a pronounced preference for recycled raw materials. This was the case for the awards winner in the Aluminium category, for example: The Austrian manufacturer Tubex Wolfsberg prevailed here with its 5-millimetre sample tube “Monotube” consisting entirely of recycled aluminium, 95 percent of which are post-consumer recyclates (PCR) and the remaining five percent of which are post-industrial recyclates (PIR).
The tube itself is also entirely recyclable. This is because even the seal, which is usually made of plastic, has been replaced by an aluminium solution where users first break off an aluminium pin to open the tube and can then close it again after use with this same pin. Tubex Wolfsberg was also able to impress the jury with this solution at this year's WorldStar awards: The Austrian company won one of the coveted awards with its Monotube.
Thanks to its novel sealing mechanism, Tubex Wolfsberg’s Monotube does not use any plastics at all. (Image: Tubex Wolfsberg)
Monomaterial: the way to the future?
A third trend emerged at the etma Awards in the form of prototype award winner Hoffmann Neopac. The Swiss company has developed a monomaterial barrier tube made of HDPE with a contact layer suitable for pharmaceutical use. The tube’s mere two percent of non-HDPE content allows it, when combined with twist and hinged caps also made of HDPE, to be recycled along with rigid polyethylene (PE) packaging.
In addition, according to the company, up to 35 percent less plastic is used in the tube body during production compared to the standard product range, resulting in up to 47 percent lower CO2 emissions at the end of the tube’s service life. In addition to the etma Award, Hoffmann Neopac received the Pharma Pack Award 2021 for the product, as well as the RecyClass certificate from the EU and recognition from the US Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), among others.
Monomaterial tubes have long since made it into supermarkets and chemist’s. The German chemist’s chain dm first switched the packaging of its own-brand toothpaste Dontodent to PE in August 2021 – both for the body and lid and for the seal on the opening, which was previously made of aluminium. Procter & Gamble had also already switched to a monomaterial solution made of HDPE for toothpaste tubes at the beginning of 2021.
Hoffmann Neopac developed a tube with twist and hinged caps that can also be recycled. (Image: etma)
Supply bottlenecks still acute
It is evident that tubes are undergoing a radical change. However, it should also be mentioned that the European tube market is also affected by fluctuations in raw material and energy prices. “In particular, the prices for energy, lorry and container freight have positively exploded in recent months and are causing the industry great concern. Only the far-sighted inventory and production planning by tube manufacturers allowed us to maintain supply chain security and avoid out-of-stock situations for customers and retailers”, said etma President Mark Aegler in February 2022.
Overall, the European tube market was nevertheless stable in a turbulent year. According to an etma report, deliveries to the pharmaceutical industry and to markets for household products declined by six and eight percent, respectively, not least due to a pandemic-related reduction in the number of doctor's visits. On the other hand, deliveries to the cosmetics market and the food sector each increased by around four percent – this was also a consequence of the pandemic, as consumers generally prepared more food at home. Overall, deliveries increased by just under one percent and thus amounted to a total volume of just over 11.6 billion units.