Delaware-US based Solenis, which also produces additives for paper manufacturing, has been involved in business with Indian paper mills for the past several decades. However, in the recent times, Solenis has signed two significant deals, which have enabled it access and capabilities to look at India’s paper-based packaging market and leverage the burgeoning awareness towards sustainable and recyclable packaging in the country.
Deal one, in March 2018, Solenis completed the acquisition of Antwerp, Belgium-based Topchim, which specialises in ecological coatings for paper, cardboard, and packaging converting industries. Deal two, in May 2018, Solenis joined hands with BASF by combining paper and water chemicals businesses This deal includes the transfer of BASF’s production site in Ankaleshwar, Gujarat. The transaction is expected to close by the first quarter of 2019.
As a result, Solenis has now planned to strengthen its position in the Indian market. In that sense, the top brass at Solenis visited India to interact with paper mills, packaging converters and brand owners in India.
WhatPackaging? spoke to Larry Hutchison, Global market development manager, Solenis; Nandu Dhekne, Vice President, Asia Pacific, Solenis; and Eric Jonsson, Global Business Development barrier technologies, Solenis along with Suhas Kulkarni, Regional Business Director for Solenis in India.
Talking about food safety and packaging, Hutchison highlighted that there are two types of paper and board applications for food packaging in India. One is paper-based flexible packaging that is used for quick-serve wrappers, burger clams, and french fries bags and second is paper cups for beverages and box board for various food applications.
Hutchison said, “We provide a lot of processing aids for the paper producers that help the process of papermaking to run better and also impart functional properties to the paperboard and some of the key things that we do there around food safety are around control of microbiological contaminants and as well as the barrier space.”
Jonsson spoke about the issue of food safety and barrier coatings for paper cup application. India is a nascent market, which is seeing a transformation in the way of plastic cups for hot and cold beverages are being replaced by paper cups. However, as Jonsson said, these paper cups are coated with extruded polyethylene, which defeats the objective of making these cups 100% recyclable.
According to Jonsson, 2.6 million tonnes of paper is used for cups applications worldwide of which 5% is consumed in India. “All these cups are coated with polyethylene (PE). Around 250 billion cups are consumed every year and right now they're all extruded with PE to prevent liquid penetration. These are not recyclable due to PE content.”
Jonsson showcased paper cups manufactured in India with Solenis barrier coatings instead of PE coating. He also showcased the paperboard produced by recycling PE-coated paper cups and the ones manufactured using Solenis barrier coatings.
“The difference is that you can reuse the recycled paperboard produced from barrier coated paperboard whereas the paperboard produced from PE-coated cups will have pieces of PE intertwined with the paper fibres making it impossible to process and convert into packaging applications,” explained Jonsson.
Solenis is engaged in various stages of papermaking and is perhaps the largest paper chemical supplier to India. This, according to Kulkarni, is the distinct competitive advantage for the company as it looks to forward integrate with barrier coatings, which can be integrated at the paper making stage or can be done offline at the converter’s end.
Hutchison added, “There's another environmental advantage here. The board maker produces the board which has to be transported by road to a converter where it is laminated and then it may get made into cups there or maybe it will need to be transported once again to the cup maker. So we can cut out at least one or two steps in that process because this barrier coating can be applied on a board making machine. Therefore, from a transport standpoint and a pollution standpoint, you save costs and considerable air pollution can be eliminated.”
Dhekne made a significant point. “The idea is also to create value for the discarded paper cup so that it is picked up from the garbage and sent back to the paper mills, which will pay for the fibres inside it. That’s because now they can use these fibres to make paper again. So, the circular economy is set in motion. But that’s not possible unless you get rid of PE coating from the cup.”
Solenis’ mission is to make paper-based packaging 100% recyclable especially the single-use items with short-term usage such as quick service wraps.
Hutchison said, “Plastic is a great invention. However, its use should be restricted to items which are intended at long-term use like Tupper Ware containers and in cases where alternatives are not available. For many foods and beverage packaging applications, the use of packaging is less than 10 minutes and the plastic used in packaging will remain in the ecosystem for 500 years.”
Besides paper cups, another food packaging application, where Solenis aims to build traction is grease resistance acquired using paraffin and fluorine, which causes contamination of food. Solenis also supplies bio-wax which is a recyclable and compostable alternative for paraffin-treated paper and board along with grease-barrier coatings.
However, this transformation needs a two-way push from government and brand owners, Hutchison agreed. “The tendency in most manufacturing operations is to focus on one part of the process. And while that's understandable, it's not the right way. We really have to look at product lifecycle and total cost and not just my little narrow part of the world. And this is where brand owners the governments have key roles to play. The brand owners like McDonald's and PepsiCo need to approach this plastic pollution problem taking into consideration the total product lifecycle. That's going to be a major driver.”