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Environmental sustainability and business do not go hand in hand especially when it comes to product packaging. Packaging has always been an important part of commercial business however; the materials used in the process have recently been identified as a cause for concern. Pressure has been put on the big business companies to reduce their extensive plastic use and other operations that involve use of non biodegradable packaging. Recent efforts are raising awareness and promoting research about eco friendly packaging. The criteria for ranking and comparing packaging based on their sustainability is an active area of development.
Packaging materials like plastic packets and sheets are not recyclable. Chips packets make use of multi layered packaging which according to experts is extremely difficult to treat appropriately. Single serving foods like curds are often packaged using tough plastics to give them strength. Despite their popular use these are extremely difficult to recycle. Modern developments “Packaging Insights: Innovation Scenarios in Sustainable Packaging Material Winners and Losers as Packaging Markets Become More Environmentally Friendly” are discovering new materials that can be used as replacements for conventional methods.
1. Micro fibrillated cellulose (MFC) is obtained through a fibrillation process of cellulose fibers. Using mechanical shearing the cellulose fibers are separated into a network of micro fibrils with a large surface area. MFC fibers are stronger and stiffer than glass and carbon fiber whilst more lightweight at the same time. It also is an excellent moisture and oxygen barrier and can be used in the form of film or coating. This material can easily be extracted from plant waste thus, maintaining producers’ price competitiveness.
2. Polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) is a water soluble synthetic polymer. PVOH film is widely used today as a water soluble packaging material and is considered the next step in eco friendly packaging with the potential to capture significant market share. These are used to pack disinfectants, toilet blocks and water treatment chemicals. These save costs and are eco friendly as they can easily be disposed.
3. Ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) is composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Films of EVOH are in popular use these days as a packaging material for food. It does not produce any toxic gases when burnt and produces minimal heat in the process. It is used for packaging meat and is known to keep flavors fresh.
4. Polyethylene furan ate (PEF) is a chemical analogue of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This material is eco friendly and is bio based. This material is being widely utilized today and faces a rapidly growing demand.
New mechanical processes are currently under development to enable the use of MFC materials on an industrial scale. MFC producer WEIDMANN Fiber Technology not only produces MFC for engineering applications but also provides its expertise about the material. Dell has used eco friendly bamboo packaging in the past and has also announced its plans to use only eco friendly packaging in future. Tom’s of Maine is experimenting with potato starch packaging material. Puma has and is continuing to make considerable efforts to promote paper packaging.
All the big companies in the world are shifting from non biodegradable plastic packaging to the above mentioned materials not only to improve their reputation but also to attract customers who are now considerably aware about these issues. All these developments will benefit the environment and sustainable packaging is expected to grow as an industry.
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Ken Research
Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications