What’s next in packaging and food contact materials?

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What are the trends and developments shaping the European packaging industry and the packaging industry in general, and also what factors will shape the food contact area in Europe in the near future? This article examines each.

Trends and influences in the European packaging sector

Many long-term trends continue to sharpen the chemical sector, especially in terms of eco-influences such as sustainability and recyclability, which are both very different and demanding in terms of technology and exert their appeals at opposite ends. of the supply chain.

A short-term trend that many industries (including coatings) have experienced recently is that of “destocking,” which has artificially skewed demand and growth statistics out of fear that companies may run out of their essential business needs. during the pandemic crisis. .

This man-made anomaly has already manifested itself in the corrugated packaging industry across Europe in early 2022.

Corrugated cardboard packaging is one of the key areas of growth that is expected to continue for the packaging industry, especially as customers seek higher quality cardboard packaging. However, unusually, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia would affect this region in Europe, as wheat starch from both countries is used in the corrugation process.

Additionally, Scandinavian paper mill supplies are strongly tied to Russia, so on both fronts alternative supplies are likely to be sought as the conflict continues to massively disrupt European supply chains. The focus now may well see a shift in much of the material sourcing from the West once again, as well as from Africa and India, as industry ponders the downsides of to be dependent on Chinese supplies.

This growing demand for corrugated packaging in Europe due to increased online shopping is a trend that was recently noted by Mordor Intelligence, in a survey that foreshadows the future of the European consumer packaging market.

In e-commerce portals, demand has risen sharply for grocery packaging, healthcare products and e-commerce shipping. Plastic packaging remains popular for both cost of production and ease of handling, although there are many materials on the horizon to challenge it.

Within the EU, the focus is on promoting the circular economy which is driving research on many fronts, including tackling the use of environmentally harmful polymers, transitioning to bio-based plastics and increased recycling and treatment of plastic waste.

Packaging trends in general

Ripple (qv) is already well established as a long-term trend in the packaging industry, especially with consumers who expect higher quality packaging when their goods arrive.

Alternative materials to plastics are also on the rise. Cornstarch-based packaging is a growing natural alternative and its eco-friendly qualities are far superior to those of most plastics, when measured in terms of durability, recyclability and carbon footprint. They are also perfectly suited to the use of vegetable-based inks when printing.

Another key trend emerging in the packaging industry is food packaging. The concept of edible water bubbles has been around for almost a decade now. These bubbles are based on membranes that have been produced from algae, which makes them edible.

They have many advantages, including being biodegradable if the customer does not wish to consume the membrane itself; the advantages are that they can be flavored and colored with natural products.

Cartons and boxes remain popular and another trend coming here is the shift to more boxes and less plastic bottles. Cartons have the advantages of greater packaging efficiency (saving space) during transport and for home storage, as well as being made of cardboard, which is more attractive for environmental reasons than plastic bottles for use. unique.

In the future, we can expect to see more canned rather than bottled water when it comes to packaging water.

From packaging water to packaging ink

A recent interview conducted by the European Printing Inks Association (EuPIA) and Mike Simoni of Sun Chemical highlighted some of the challenges and changes taking place in the field of food packaging inks.

During the interview, Simoni, who is Chairman of EuPIA’s Food Packaging Technical Committee, highlights one of the major areas of change in food packaging inks, which is happening in Germany.

What follows for the remainder of this article is a summary of the interview, covering the key areas shaping food contact inks and other materials both today and in the future, particularly as they relate to concerns the wording.

The German Printing Ink Ordinance (GPIO) is new national legislation that affects both the food contact and non-food contact sides of food packaging. Its scope also encompasses the substances included and their migration limits to maintain food safety so that packaging can be demonstrated to comply and food packaging safety standards are met for the consumer.

Despite its name, the scope of the GPIO extends to all relevant food contact materials and not just printing inks. The implementation of the GPIO comes with a transition period of four years for the submission of toxicological information from industrial partners (suppliers of raw materials) so that they can be authorized as safe for use.

This process is considered long and tedious and will require considerable time to have a positive effect. While this should be seen as a welcome safety initiative, the fact that it is only taking place in Europe’s largest economy highlights the fragmented nature of industry in Europe at a time when it would be desirable that things are harmonized across the EU bloc.

Unfortunately, this comes at an obviously difficult time for the printing ink industry; the trend towards sustainability through the incorporation of bio-based raw materials is currently an area of ​​development for the ink sector, which stands out from another distinct challenge it faces in the field of packaging recycling, where the deinking is desirable.

At a much broader level, what the EU is currently implementing in terms of a chemical sustainability strategy, which introduces the concept of essential use and mixture assessment factors, further highlights the pressure currently under industry.

There is either an irony or a competitive advantage to this. Harmonization may not be such a distant prospect after all, as the European Commission is considering amending the EC Framework Regulation 1935/2004, the regulation that covers all materials and articles that come into contact with food.

Once completed, this could replace anything related to the GPIO; however, the time frame in which these things happen is of course a drag on the industry.

Industry frustration is seen as driving these developments in Germany, but with the EU as it is, harmonization of standards across all countries is highly desirable for the whole of the EU. ‘industry.

In addition, changes are also possible in Switzerland regarding the long-standing law called Ordonnance suisse, which regulates the safety of food packaging in Switzerland, and which is often cited as a compliance measure by those operating in the sector. EuPIA works with the Swiss paint and ink industry association VSLF (Verband der Schweizerischen Lack- und Farbenindustrie) and the Swiss Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs (FSVO) so that its members can keep aware of any upcoming changes.

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