Industry discusses the need to go toluene-free
Arjun Dewan, editorial contributor, reports on the proceedings of the International Packaging Conclave held on the sidelines of PackPlus 2018 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi on 27 July
22 Aug 2018 | By PrintWeek India
One of the reasons why English newspapers sell across the country while regional language papers are localised is because of the universal acceptance of English. The same can be said about garments, food, entertainment and even professional choices. Whatever choice gives you the access to a bigger opportunity, that choice will command a premium.
This hypothesis holds true in the case of ink used for printing food packages, as it was evident during the daylong International Packaging Conclave held on the sidelines of PackPlus 2018 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi on 27 July.
With Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) working on the new regulations, the topic of the conclave this year was ‘Safe packaging: new regulatory landscape’, which saw participation from regulatory bodies, packaging converters and print buyers, such as FSSAI, Nestle, GSK, Huhtamaki PPL, Parksons Packaging, DuPont Nutrition, General Mills, Henkel adhesives, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Siegwerk.
New regulations by July 2019
The new regulations on printing ink for food packaging material are expected to be in place by July 2019. This was announced by Kumar Anil, advisor, standards, FSSAI, during the conclave.
Anil said a mandatory six-month period is given after publishing and before regulation comes into force. The regulations can only come into force from either 1 July or 1 January. “We would be able to publish the regulations by August this year, so the date of implementation effective would be 1 July 2019,” he said.
FSSAI is in process of drafting a regulation which will bring printing inks for food under the scope of the regulatory framework for food packaging. They were not regulated till now.
The regulation will refer to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) standards for printing inks for food packaging, where there is a list of chemicals which should not be used in printing inks. This new regulation will be beneficial for many, from brand owners to printers to consumers, and even from the regulatory point of view.
The BIS has an Alert Panel on Printing Inks which works on improving the IS 15495. This Alert Panel decided and recommended to include Toluene and few more chemicals into the exclusion list (which in a way means Toluene will be banned to be used as solvent). However, this recommendation of Alert Panel has still to undergo review in Sectional committee and some other reviews, post which only the official statement on toluene will be released.
This is informed by Partha Pratim Sanyal, independent consultant and convener at BIS panel on packaging inks during the conclave.
Ashish Pradhan, chief executive officer, Siegwerk India, said, “It is a big step forward by the regulatory body and will certainly push the industry to move towards healthy and safe packaging.”
In India, 90% of flexible market manufacturers use toluene. So, a ban on the use of toluene in the new draft will affect the business of many and might take a lot of time to get implemented.
This widespread use of toluene actually acts as a barrier for Indian packaging converters going global, because ensuring a toluene-free product, with zero cross-contamination is a challenge that only a select few can overcome.
“Globally, toluene has earned disrepute for its bad toxicology nature and is classified CMR category 2 (suspected of damaging the unborn child). The residual toluene in packaging impacts the organoleptic properties of the product leading to food quality and safety issues,” Pradhan added. “All major industry players already have toluene-free inks, hence solutions are available, and there is no reason to describe this as a challenge for the industry. It may take anywhere between six months to a year to implement this regulation.”
According to Pradhan, the unfavourable toxicology properties of toluene is the reason why global brand owners like General Mills, Nestle, Ferrero, Perfetti and Wrigley’s have already joined this movement of going toluene-free by either restricting or even completely banning the use of toluene in ink formulations intended for food packaging material of their products. Many countries have banned toluene, including China, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“Siegwerk India is the first and the only printing ink manufacturing company in India to manufacture Swiss- and Nestle-compliant toluene-free inks in a completely toluene-free environment,” Pradhan said. “Siegwerk’s Bhiwandi site is now toluene-free and does not use toluene at its manufacturing facility.”
Rise of safety concerns
For an average consumer, packaging is a physical barrier, meant to protect food from physical contaminants like dirt, water, and insects. Few are aware that the very packing material can be a source of contamination and ill-health. Few consumers are aware that the chemicals present in the package have the potential to cause serious damage.
This is why there is a need for mandatory regulation on what kind of substrate or what kind of ink is used in the package.
In his presentation titled ‘Role of regulations for safe packaging’, EU expert Jorg-Peter Langhammer touched upon the concept of NIAS or non-intentionally added substances, which can affect food safety. Langhammer clarified that the standards in Europe follow stricter norms and have both a negative as well as a positive list. The positive list is the one where the use of certain products is endorsed over others.
The BIS has been lobbying for harmonisation of standards in India, including in the areas of food printing. PP Sanyal of BIS, in his presentation, explained the details of the recommended standards for printing inks for food packaging. “This new regulation will be beneficial for many, from brand owners to printers to consumers, and even from the regulatory point of view. BIS has recommended a ban on the use of toluene in inks used in food packaging,” he said.
Meanwhile, AC Mishra, joint director, Standards, FSSAI, spoke about how food and packaging represent the first and third largest industries in the world, with petroleum at number two. Standards related to food safety are being aligned to global standards and this is also true for IS 15495, the standard that relates to food safety, including ink used for food packing.
The panel titled ‘Changing regulations: industry perspective’ saw the participation of Barun Banerjee from Nestle India, Saikat Acharya of GSK India, Sunil Bhagwat of Huhtamaki PPL, Ranhan Sinha of Parksons Packaging and Jasvir Singh from DuPont Nutrition and Health. The session was chaired by Ashish Pradhan of Siegwerk India.
The unanimous consensus amongst the industry experts was for the need to have harmonised standards and how this ensures a level playing field for ambitious and quality conscious packaging firms in India.
Banerjee shared his experience of transitioning to toluene-free printing and said while initially, the change led to a spike in packaging cost of 12-15%, this stabilised to low single digits in time and opened far greater markets for Nestle India. He said Nestle India chose to move to a toluene-free environment even though the law did not mandate this because of its desire to offer international quality products. Interestingly, Nestle Sri Lanka had transitioned to a toluene-free environment much before Nestle India, highlighting once again the disadvantage of not harmonising Indian standards with global standards.
Singh cautioned about the need to keep inspection and compliance costs low. This concern was also cited by Acharya. Bhagwat shared his experience of how awareness on the food-safe packaging is average. However, he said, in time the consumers will spearhead this change. Therefore, it’s better for print partners to be ahead of the curve.
This was followed by two case studies on the experience of transitioning to safe packaging by Sukhdev Saini of General Mills and Banerjee of Nestle India.
Aspiring global standards
Nayan J Bezbarua of Henkel shed light on the concept of triple food safety assurance. This comprises of an assessment of supplier information using US FDA or European Standards, an analytical assessment and finally a toxicological assessment. The presentation again reiterated the need and opportunity for Indian printers to follow global standards.
The last session of the day saw Evert Delbanco from Siegwerk Germany and Andrew Ng from Siegwerk India speak on migration optimisation solutions, and how it can help chalk-out smart practices for packaging printers.
The takeaway of the conclave was the need to think beyond cost, to the opportunities that open up by moving to a toluene-free printing environment.
Pradhan said the unfavourable toxicology properties of toluene is the reason why global brands like General Mills, Nestle, Ferrero, Perfetti and Wrigley’s have already joined this movement of going toluene-free by either restricting or even completely banning the use of toluene in ink formulations intended for food packaging material of their products.
Pradhan added, “Siegwerk’s intent is to contribute to consumer safety and we are ready to support the industry, association and authorities in whichever way we can. Siegwerk, for the past four or five years, has been continuously interacting across the supply chain to create more awareness on packaging safety, especially packaging inks.”
In the end, the harmonisation of standards and moving towards global standards is a sure way of opening global doors for professionally managed print firms in India. This by itself is an incentive to migrate to a toluene-free environment.