PHDCCI conference deliberates on sustainable food packaging

The ideal food packaging needs to be safe, secure, and sustainable, say the experts, as they offer solutions to sustainability

25 May 2022 | By Aultrin Vijay

(clockwise) Dr Christoph Lettowsky, Jeevaraj Pillai, Jean-Marc Dore, Tanweer Alam

Packaging solution has become a major trend in the food packaging sector. Thus, in the short and medium-term future, there will be advancements in packaging material with recycled content, biodegradable material, and recyclable polymers, said Jeevaraj Pillai, co-chair, PHDCCI packaging committee and joint-president, packaging and new product development, Uflex. He was speaking on the first day of the virtual international conference on the advancements and challenges in the food packaging industry on 23 March. The event was organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry and was supported by the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Pillai said the advancements in the food packaging sector have largely been due to the industry’s attempt to face the challenges head-on. “Today, the industry is under pressure to relook at the current product portfolio and propose changes to it to make it more sustainable,” he said.

He added that while the government has issued sustainability guidelines on a compliance basis, the FSSAI has also taken up the responsibility of an enabler to help implement the key recycling requirements proposed in the plastic management rules.

During his keynote address, Dr Tanweer Alam, director, of the Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP), said that the packaging industry in India is now worth USD 35-billion. The number is expected to double in the next five to 10 years.

“The pandemic has proved the importance of packaging more than ever,” he said. “Today, retailers are struggling to meet the efficient packaging demand from the consumers. This shows that packaging and distribution have become more important than ever.”

He said for the immediate future, the ideal food packaging will need to be safe, secure, and sustainable. It needs to be eco-friendly with good barrier properties.
So, there is a need to introduce sustainable packaging material and design. “If we can make biodegradable plastic cost-effective, there will be a huge demand for it,” he said.

Jean-Marc Dore, president, of packaging vertical MEDEF, spoke about food packaging trends in France. MEDEF, or the Mouvement des enterprises de France, or the Movement of the Enterprises of France, is the largest employer federation in France.

Dore said the European food packaging market is worth 180-billion euros, while the packaging machinery market is worth 11.6-billion euros.

In France, the food packaging market was worth 35-billion euros in 2018, while the packaging machinery market was five billion euros in 2020.
Dore said there are 17,647 food packaging companies in France. Of these, 98% are SMEs. The country is the fourth global food packaging exporter after the US, Germany and the Netherlands.

He said the French food packaging industry has been actively involved in sustainable development for the last 25 years, with a material recycling rate of 68% for the household part and even more for industrial and commercial packaging.

In his keynote address, Rohan Wijesinghe, president, the Sri Lanka Institute of Packaging, spoke on the global perspective on food packaging. He said the growth in food packaging has led to stringent regulations by the governments to ensure the quality and safety of the products. Thus, packaging materials need to meet the ever-tightening standards.

“This is a challenge for the industry. For example, until now, biodegradable polymers have replaced only 5% of plastic. So, we have a long way to go,” he said.
He added that life-cycle inventory evaluation can be a suitable guideline for sustainability. This includes sourcing and use of raw material, material consumption and wastage, resource consumption, and recycling, among others.

“The next generation of food packaging should contribute to reducing waste as well as resources. The use of sustainable or green packaging has the potential to reduce the impact,” he said.

He gave an example, saying that, it is considered possible that by 2050, 50% of the European food packaging material will be manufactured from renewable non-food resources using food and packaging waste. The remaining 50% of the material will come from oil-based closed-loop recycled material. These bio-based materials will also be compostable.

In his presentation, Dr Torben Fischer, division manager, cast film, Windmoller & Holscher, Germany, spoke on the sustainable cast PP packaging and technology solutions for food packaging.

Windmoller&Holscher has three fields of action, namely, packaging 4.0 solutions, efficient productions, and sustainable products. The sustainable product category includes increasing the processability of recycled material and identifying new recycling approaches.

In the new sustainable products category, Fischer gave the example of a stand-up pouch. The current design of a stand-up pouch includes BO-PET counter-printed + adhesive + aluminium foil + adhesive + PP sealing film. Thus, the product is difficult to recycle.

As a solution, Fischer suggests a two-ply stand-up pouch design, which uses PP film + adhesive + cast-PP with matelisation or barrier coating. He said this new material and design has the added advantage of recyclability.

Talking about emerging trends in the food packaging industry, Dr Christoph Lettowsky, technical director, Reifenhauser Blown Film, Germany, said that mono-material solutions are preferred, even required, to improve the mechanical recyclability of packaging film laminates.

“The most promising mono-material packaging is all-PET. It provides excellent sealability even when contaminated and has the ideal sealing layer for packaging granular, solid and liquid products,” he said.

Speaking on Comexi’s role in sustainable solutions for food packaging, Albert Chicote, Comexi Group, Spain, said the company understands sustainability as respect for nature and commitment to work for a better world. “It is also a social responsibility towards our employees, to have a healthy company and do what we are committed to doing,” he said.

He said Comexi is the first flexible packaging company to make life-cycle analysis and environmental product declaration a part of its machines. “We apply sustainability with offset EB printing machines, the first central drum offset machine that enables sustainable flexible packaging printing,” he said.


Speaking on sustainable paper for food packaging, PN Sridharr, DGM, sustainable products & packaging, ITC, explained that paper is repetitively available, grown in an environment-friendly way, economically viable, and is FSC-, PEFC-certified. The paper also doesn’t harm the environment during the conversion process. It also has the least possible carbon footprint.

On how to move towards sustainable paper packaging, Sridharr gave the example of CII GreePro Ecolabel. It is a type I eco-label for paper/paperboard packaging. Sridharr said, it has a holistic product life-cycle framework and identifies environmentally preferable products. He added that GreenPro is in line with the UN environmental guidelines on providing product sustainability.

Speaking on innovative and sustainable packaging for the future, Christoph Wachter, director, of the flexible packaging paper division, Koehler Paper, Germany, said that there is strong consumer demand for truly sustainable packaging solutions. Quoting a survey, he said that 91% of consumers want products without plastic packaging, 90% would like to see more activity from retailers to offer more sustainable packaging solutions, and 78% of consumers avoid plastic if other packaging solutions are available.

He said while making sustainable paper, Koehler Paper focuses on different aspects of the products, including recyclability. He added that in the future, the company wants to use bio-sourced material for paper production.

He said a sustainable packaging solution hinges on four aspects — recyclability of the package, functionality (barrier effects depending on the product), the cost (compared to the current solution), and the machine performance in converting and packaging lines.

“As an ink supplier, we need to consider our contribution in the recycling/composting process,” said Dr Lars Hancke, business development, flexible packaging, Hubergroup. He added that Hubergroup started this journey with the cradle-to-cradle certification. It is the most comprehensive certification one can get for sustainability compliance. One major aspect of the certification is to make sure the ink is not toxic to the environment.

Dr Joerg Peter Langhammer, head of global PSR + sustainability, Siegwerk, Germany, said that the packaging value chain is complex and the responsibilities must be shared. 

According to Langhammer, this value chain involves three stakeholders — the food industry (packaging specification and final validation), the converters (packaging conception and process validation), and ink manufacturers (ink development and supply and advice on how to use ink).

“Siegwerk proactively assumes responsibility by understanding the needs of each partner in the chain,” he said.

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