IPA's Phil Pease reports on the continued growth of IBC markets in Europe and the technical issues that regulators will be getting to grips with next year
Demand for intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) continues to grow steadily across the UK, European and international markets with sales of new, remanufactured and reconditioned containers on the rise. According to Phil Pease, CEO of the Industrial Packaging Association (IPA), recent statistics show the European market growing from around 1.4m units in 2006 to just under 4.0m units in 2018. This growth is across all key markets, which cover chemicals, dangerous goods, foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.
While there has been some conversion to IBC use from both the plastics and steel drum markets, it is believed that a substantial part of the growth is not from market share but overall market growth. IBCs are able to hold a larger capacity when compared with kegs and drums, and a general increase in raw material productivity has led to more raw materials being transported, contributing to the rise.
Never prone to resting on their laurels, IBC manufacturers continue to drive the popularity of their products through research and development. NCG-Mauser recently launched its SM-PCR series IBCs. These IBC bottles are produced using Mauser’s multi-layer technology where the inner layer is virgin polymer but used with post-consumer recyclate (PCR) used for the outer layer, ensuring product safety and environmental efficiency in one package. Werit, a leader in industrial packaging, now has a unique range of “mini-me” 300-litre IBCs that are available on wooden or plastics bases, complementing its already existing 600-litre, 800-litre and 1000-litre products. Werit’s IBCs also have a pressure management discharge system, which allows product discharge through the vale without removing the lid, thus minimising the risk of contamination.
Continuous development of IBCs and IBC technology is a driving force within the industry and with new developments comes new opportunities, not only for suppliers but for consumers as well, Pease says.
Regulations and safety standards are constantly being reviewed and improved upon by international alliances of trade organisations such as the International Confederation of Plastics Packaging Manufacturers (ICPP), the International Confederation of Container Reconditioners (ICCR) and their representation at the UN Committee of Experts. The 53rd session of UN Sub-committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods will take place in Geneva next summer and is set to reflect the current interest in IBCs, with a number of proposals from Belgium. Some of these proposals include inner receptacle marking, routine maintenance requirements and marking of dates. Other proposals on IBCs include an ICPP proposal to clarify reference to the stacking mark and a proposal from the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council (DGAC) on multiple marking of IBCs where more than one design type conformance is covered.
There is currently a lot of media attention on single-use, retail packaging waste reaching the ocean. One of the important aspects that is being focused on is the capability for repeated reuse on a global scale. Both drums and IBCs transport products on international journeys before being cleaned, inspected and tested to ensure safe reuse with minimal energy consumption and proven sustainability, an important step in an effort to reduce the global carbon footprint. The ability sets the industrial packaging sector in a different class of environmental efficiency compared to retail packaging and it is important that is recognised in any environmental legislation being developed.