ANUTEC – International FoodTec India 2022
Sustainability to drive the future of the food packaging industry
Over the years, the food packaging industry has gone through significant changes. As the global food trade demands grew and shifted, so did the food packaging. The industry is witnessing another such shift today. The future of food packaging is leaning towards sustainability. This shift is a result of growing influences from various sources, such as sustainable development goals to protect the planet. As environmental issues become more urgent, people are becoming more conscious and making sustainable choices. This need for sustainable food packaging has already started inspiring change in the industry and steering its way toward the preferences of its consumers with minimal impact on the environment. Most of the world's major packaging manufacturers are taking a stronger environmental stance and taking different measures to improve the sustainability of their food packaging.
FoodTechBiz had a brief interaction with Jeevaraj Pillai, joint president flexible packaging and new product development, UFlex on how sustainability trends are shaping the food packaging industry.
UFlex, the flexible packaging giant, has always had a multi-pronged goal of providing top-notch end-to-end value-added packaging solutions while setting high standards for sustainability in the industry and making the product grab attention. Over the last three decades, the Group has earned a stellar reputation for redefining the contours of the “packaging industry” in India and overseas. The company offers multitude flexible packaging solutions to varied sectors like FMCG, food and food processing, pharmaceuticals, building materials, fertilizers, and much more.
Pillai talked about how the pandemic impacted food packaging designs. He shared that initially, during the pandemic, there were more refill packs spread across sectors. Larger packets of snacks like chips and homecare products were more in demand than smaller ones. He added, “This trend lasted for around 8-9 months, and then, as the pandemic got less intense, people returned to normal consumption patterns. Small and medium unit packs were back in demand. Presently the consumption patterns are back to pre-Covid levels.”
Riding the wave of sustainable packaging
According to Pillai, the pressure of climate change is driving companies to manufacture sustainable products and packaging. Talking about its importance, he said, “Most countries are now signatories to the Global climate change pact, and as a result, there is a lot of focus on packaging designs to be more and more sustainable. This focus on sustainability, more than COVID, is the reason for the shift in design and the use of more sustainable structures.”
UFlex has three pillars for sustainable product designs — source reduction, source substitution, and biodegradable. Explaining source reduction, he said, “This concept is about how we can consume less for packaging the same amount of volume or material. We do a lot of research on how to use the latest-generation polymers to reduce the thickness of the packaging material. We also use a lot of recycled content as a major source reduction measure.”
Pillai shared that for material that is not easy to recycle, such as aluminum foil or paper-based Multi-Layer packaging materials, UFlex has come up with a program called source substitution, where we design the packaging material which is comprised of only plastic layers, thereby rendering this Recyclable. “UFlex’s research teams have come up with a solution for replacing this aluminum foil by altering the remaining films; thereby making the PCW (post-consumer waste) 100% recyclable”.
He added, “We have introduced mono polymer-based structures for specific applications in lieu of heteropolymer structures to make them more recycling friendly.
The third pillar is a viable, aerobic biodegradable material. UFlex has developed a biodegradable material that follows government regulations and is under testing. The biodegradable material shall be launched once the results comply with the regulatory requirements.
Innovation and sustainability as the backbone
Innovation and sustainability have always been the backbone of UFlex’s strategic vision. Pillai informed us, “We have a dedicated R&D center in packaging dedicated to developing sustainable structures to provide user-friendly packaging to customers. For instance, we have a slider zipper for pet food that allows food to be stored conveniently without being attacked by rodents. Another innovation is a random variable QR code that can be accessed through mobile apps and tells consumers the batch number, the date it was packed, and whether the product is genuine. This can also be used as an advertising tool where a consumer is taken to the brand website on scanning. This is how smart packaging has been developed by UFlex.”
- UFlex regularly collaborates with its customers to design packaging material that is eco-friendly, convenient, and recyclable. Pillai said, “We try to make packaging not only consumer friendly and aesthetically pleasing but also good in terms of usability and ease of dispensing.” Some of the efforts by UFlex for sustainability in flexible packaging for food products:
- UFlex collaborated with a leading rice brand to make its packaging structure more sustainable. A packaging structure that delivered the desired performance attributes with an enhanced recycling quotient was developed to overcome the previous packaging’s low recyclability.
- UFlex developed a packaging structure for a leading global food processing company for its instant noodles brand. The sustainable innovation involved replacing a packaging material with a heterogeneous composition with a PP-based Mono-polymer structure to achieve a recyclability quotient of No. 5.
- To meet the exceptional barrier requirements for oxygen and moisture-sensitive products such as milk powder, coffee packaging, or beverage packaging, the Flexible Packaging Films business division of UFlex developed a barrier BOPET film ‘F-AFR-M’ with metallization on one side and the option of Corona treatment on the other side and offers a metal bond strength of more than 600gm/25mm that allows easy handling and machinability. Owing to its high oxygen and moisture barrier properties and easy recyclability, the film has emerged as a successful replacement for aluminum foil used in dried packaging applications, enabling brands to step closer to their sustainability goals.
For the future, UFlex’s immediate focus is on introducing and launching biodegradable options, which will be a path-breaking development for the world.