Flexible Packaging

Flexible Packaging – Sustainable and An Innovative Approach

Indian packaging industry will see notable growth over 2016-2021, growing at a CAGR of 9.2% as compared to 6.2% during 2011-2016.The growth of the Indian packaging industry will be heavily influenced by changing demographics such as growing urbanization and the rising proportion of middle class consumers. These changes drive the need for new packaging formats, such as different sizes, materials, and strength.

Flexible Packaging is the leading pack type in the Indian packaging industry and will grow at a healthy CAGR of 8.9% during 2016-2021, with major contributions from the Food, Household Care, and Cosmetics & Toiletries industries. This growth is largely driven by its low cost and flexibility to suit multiple shapes and sizes, convenience (zip-locks, plastic closures), and low-carbon foot print on the environment as compared to Rigid Plastics. Food packaging must meet a number of conditions, such as legislation, safety and many other conditions as well as functionality since it is required to be innovative, easy to use and attractive design.

One of the main tasks of packaging in the food industry is to protect the product of chemical, mechanical and microbiological impact, and also allows the freshness of the product and keeps all its nutritional value. The key point in food packaging is that the packaging is an integral part of the production, storage, distribution, and at the present time and an integral part of the preparation of foods. It is of paramount importance of raising awareness of people to live properly and responsibly, in harmony with nature, manage packaging and encourage the production of biodegradable packaging.

The following points can be enlisted as driver for sustainable flexible packaging:
1. Increasing governmental and industry awareness of the need to develop the use of sustainable resources. We need to preserve our resources & environment today for future generations.
2. One of the most pressing problems today is what to do with various waste products. Certain wastes can no longer be deposited in landfills, and landfill fees are on the rise.
3.  Very high proportion of flexible packaging is sourced from oil based derivatives.

Major components of plastic waste with their applications:


Laws and their implementation:

In order to address the burgeoning rates of plastic waste disposal and to ensure its scientific management, Plastic Waste Management Rules (PWR), 2011, was introduced under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The rules established a framework which assigned responsibilities for plastic waste management to the urban local body (ULB) and set-up a state-level monitoring committee. The rules further addressed the issue of carry bags by setting minimum standards for the thickness and a mandate for retailers to charge a fee for each plastic bag made available. The 2011 rules were succeeded by the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 which was far more comprehensive and sought to effectively address the issue of plastic waste.

With the introduction of Plastic Waste Management rules in 2016 (PWM 2016), the Indian government has shown serious intent to curb the pollution problems arising from the growing levels of plastic waste that is not collected and not re-used/recycled. PWM 2016 advocates a further tightening of the rules (e.g. banning plastic bags of less than 50 microns thickness) and also lays the foundation for accountability across the value-chain). As per the existing rules, the manufacture and use of multi-layered plastics, that are hard to recycle, is to be phased out by March 2018. Some central and state government departments have already adopted directives to restrict or ban the use of plastic bags in recent years. Although these plans may seem simple, their implementation is far from that. There are major challenges still to be overcome to actually implement PWM 2016 and the array of other legislative initiatives at local level.

This version of the rules extended its purview and applicability to rural areas and plastic importers in the supply chain. Further, the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags was increased from 40 micron to 50 micron. The rationale for doing this was double-edged—that is, not only will the recyclability quotient increase, an increase in the manufacturing cost will deter retailers from supplying bags for free. The rules also mandated the producers and brand owners to devise a plan in consultation with the local bodies to introduce a collect back system. This system known as the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) would help assist the municipalities in tackling the plastic waste issue. As a part of the EPR, it also provides for collection of a fee from the producers, importers of plastic carry bags/ multilayered packaging in order to strengthen the financial status of local authorities and, therefore, the plastic waste management systems.

The 2016 rules were revised to be known as the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2018. Three major changes amongst others have been incorporated in the latter. Firstly, the rules notify that under Section 9(3), the term ‘non-recyclable multilayered plastic’ has been substituted by ‘multilayered plastic which is non-recyclable or non-energy recoverable or with no alternate use’. Secondly, Section 15 dealing with the pricing of carry bags has been omitted. The rule earlier required vendors, who made plastic bags available, to register with the respective urban local body and pay a fee of 48,000 annually. Thirdly, the new rules attempt to establish a centralized registration system by mandating brand owners and producers operating in more than two states to register with the CPCB.
While the rules have been introduced with an attempt to mitigate the plastic menace, some concerns still remain.

The unaddressed expression of Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR):

The government and industry must aim at partnering and establishing effective and sustainable EPR implementation models. The idea of the EPR introduced by the 2016 rules was novel but lacked detailing. The EPR for plastic waste management would require similar detailing to that provided by the ‘Implementation Guidelines for E-waste’ relating to e-waste. There is a need for a real-time assessment and a state-wise mapping of producers, plastic demand and supply, thereby, formulating realistic and accountable EPR targets. Furthermore, pilot EPR models for low-hanging fruits such as the completely recyclable PET must be prioritized and explored.

Municipalities may explore some successful models implemented in the state of Goa which includes measures such as the following:
1. Tie-ups with local dairies for paying residents a specified amount for returning washed, empty plastic milk bags at the local dairy booths.
2. Tie-up with Tetra Pak (company) for a buyback of empty packs Further, India could also seek to explore multiple successful models implemented in other countries where producers take the responsibility of the product’s end of life by funding plastic waste management activities.

Sustainability of plastic waste management:
As India progresses towards a circular economy, there is need to transition towards improved waste management systems with increased emphasis on information, education, and communication (IEC) amongst its citizens on the issues relating to plastic waste management. Though it is established that solid waste management (SWM) is a state subject with the rules further narrowing down the responsibility to Urban Local Bodies(ULB), there has been little focus and emphasis on ensuring that the service is sustainable financially.

Municipalities with a few exceptions are often found grappling for funds to meet expenses related to SWM as The Energy and Resources Institute’s (TERI’s) article on ‘Why Take Away the Cess meant to Clean India’s Mess’ reemphasizes that there is an impending need for the central government to empower the ULBs financially. Although schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan support the local bodies in their efforts by providing viability gap funding or tender document preparation support, there is a need to establish a mechanism to financially sustain this service that operates every day of the year.

Pricing of carry bags The PWR 2018 amendment has done away with Rule 15 of its predecessor aimed at the pricing of plastic carry bags. It is envisaged that charging users for carry bags would be a key step towards initiating a behavioural change, albeit gradually. Results of a study conducted by the Delhi School of Economics on ‘Consumer Responses to Incentives to Reduce Plastic Bag Use’ states that in developing countries, a blanket ban may not be the best possible solution and 82% of the consumers would switch from plastic bag use to own bags if the former were priced explicitly. Further, TERI’s article on ‘Fighting Plastics: Is Ban the Way Forward?’ observes that the success behind implementing a fee on plastic bags has been established as an effective strategy in cities around the world.

Enforcement of legislation although the government has been proactive in terms of formulating rules, the implementation of a last accessed on May 29, 2018.

Consumer responses to incentives to reduce plastic bag use; few inclusions has been a challenge. For instance, the PWR 2016 calls for producers and brand owners to work out modalities of the EPR with ULBs within a period of 6 months of the publication of the rules.

The implementation of the same may be taken up on a priority basis. Another instance is the ban on the use of carry bags less than 50 micron in thickness. The effective implementation of this legislation has been a challenge for many municipalities with the use of bags <50 micron persistent with roadside hawkers and vegetable markets owing to cheaper price and continued local manufacturing. Further, the latest CPCB report on the implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, acknowledges that the manufacturing, sale, and stocking of carry bags (<50 micron) has continued in majority of the states/UTs post the implementation of the ban. The situation, therefore, demands for increased monitoring and verification by the ULB staff. Multilayered plastics (MLPs) According to the CPCB, an MLP refers to any material used for packaging that has at least one layer of plastic as its main ingredient in combination with one or more layers of paper and aluminum foil either in the form of laminate or a co-extruded structure. Most companies prefer MLPs as they are three times more waterproof, light-weight, reduce shipping volume, and help in increasing the shelf life of products, such as fruit juices and sweets by keeping them fresh for extended periods even at room temperature. However, recycling of this packaging remains expensive and a challenge owing to its multilayered properties. The amendment under the 2018 version of the plastic law allows MLPs to be categorized under either recyclable, energy recoverable, or with some other alternate use.

Plastic waste management in India:
Growth in population, increased urbanization and the rising average incomes are attributed to problems facing SWM in India. According to the CPCB estimates, urban India generates close to 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) annually with the organic fraction in the range of 40%–60%.Plastic waste forms close to 8% of the generated solid waste in the country. The per capita waste generation has seen a steady rise from 0.44 kg/day in 2001 to 0.5 kg/day and has been estimated to be growing at a rate of 1.33% per annum.

Further, the CPCB has estimated the collection efficiency as 80.28% in 2014, out of which only 28.4% was treated. The remaining quantities were disposed of in landfills or open dumps. A study conducted by the CIPET- CPCB on the ‘Assessment and Characterization of Plastic Waste in 60 Major Indian cities’ observes a few important findings as has been mentioned below:
> 94% of plastic waste generated is recyclable and belongs to the thermoplastics family, while the rest 6% are non-recyclable thermoset plastics.
> 67% of the plastic waste belonged to the HDPE/LDPE, 10% to PP, and 8.66% to PET amongst others. The data indicates that the majority of the plastic waste generated comprised the HDPE/LDPE materials, such as polybags and multilayer pouches used for food packaging, gutkha, and so on.

Existing Scenario Plastic waste management in India:

How plastic waste is being presently handled?
1. Recycling is a well-known conventional technology for re-use of plastic waste. Recycling typically requires the plastic material to be segregated into its “pure” form (i.e. not mixed with other types of plastic) and cleaned.

2. Polymer Blending in Bitumen Roads: The process of laying roads using waste plastics has been designed and implemented successfully in various parts of India. Polymer Blended Bitumen Roads have been observed to deliver superior performance compared to bitumen roads – a CPCB study showed that such roads see no pothole formation, and have reduced bitumen bleeding in summers. Such roads have comparable costs vs. bitumen roads, and CPCB reported that they have “no observable demerit either in this process or in the road characteristics. For the last several years various roads that have been laid using waste plastics are functioning well.”

Innovative approach-Development of Biodegradable Packaging:

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, great importance is given to products from renewable sources, for their positive impact on nature. Accumulation of plastic in the environment, reduction of fertile land, wear oil wells, releasing gases during incineration have prompted efforts to develop biodegradable packaging / plastics.

The largest sector in the demand for bio-packaging is the food industry. The rapid development of the industry has led to problems with non-degradable packaging, but it takes time, work and patience while reorienting them to bio-packaging.
In addition to efforts, to find a replacement for plastic, supports the development and cardboard packaging produced only from renewable sources.

Biomaterials (biopolymers) are polymers produced from renewable sources. Biopolymers are manufactured from plant raw materials, in the first place, but in recent times and of animal. Their main feature is their biodegradability. Classified in many ways such as, chemical structure, origin, methods of synthesis, cost-effectiveness, application, etc.

Polymers from renewable resources are different from natural polymers because their synthesis is induced intentionally. Conventional polymers are not biodegradable be- cause of long chains of molecules that are too big and too well connected to each other to make them able to separate the microorganisms to break down. Unlike conventional, polymers made from natural plant materials from wheat, potato or corn starches have molecules that are easily microbiologically degradable. For 1 kg of bio-plastics should be 1 to 2 kg of maize and 5 to 10 kg of potatoes, which means that 500 000 tons of bio-plastics per year re- quires 50,000 to 100,000 hectares of soil. At the same time, it means the destruction of large areas of forest/rainforest to cultivated plants for the production of biodegradable materials.

Thanks to their natural origin, natural polymers are all inherently biodegradable since for each enzyme a polymerase whose activities produce a natural polymer, and there is depolymerase capable of catalyzing the decomposition of the polymer.

Classification of Biopolymers:
The traditional way of dealing with biodegradable packaging materials is divided into three generations based on historical development.

 First generation:
The first generation of material was used for shopping bags, consisting of synthetic polymers such as low density poly- ethylene (LDPE-low density polyethylene) with a pro- portion of 5–15 % starch fillers and pro-oxidizing and auto- oxidative additives. Later these materials decompose or bio-fragment into smaller molecules that are not biodegradable. Such materials have created a very bad image of bio materials especially for consumers who were convinced that they played in terms of biodegradability .Low density polyethylene-LDPE produced in 1933 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) using high pressure process via free radical polymerization. Its production uses the same methods today. It is estimated that about 5.7 wt% of LDPE can be recycled. LDPE is in the range defined by the density of 0.910 to 0.940 g/cm3. Non-reactive at room temperature, except in the action of strong oxidizing agents and some solvents cause swelling. Excellent resistance to acids, alcohols, esters, and a base, followed by resistance to various aldehydes, ketones and vegetable oils, and low is resistant to halogen hydrocarbons. They are stable up to a temperature of 80 °C. It is produced in transparent or opaque variations, and is quite flexible and tough, but also fragile. It is used for general purposes (packaging for juices) or for industrial purposes (corrosion resistant materials, welding machine, etc.

 Second generation:
The second generation of biomaterials comprises a mixture of pre-gelatinized starch (40–70 %) and low density poly- ethylene (LDPE) with the addition of the hydrophilic copolymer such as ethylene acrylic acid, polyvinyl alcohol and vinyl acetate, which are used to compact. Complete degradation of starch takes 40 days and the degradation of the whole of the above-mentioned film lasts 2–3 years.

 Third generation:
1. The third generation of the material fully consists of bio- materials and can be divided into three main categories according to the origin and production methods Polymers extracted/isolated directly from biomass
2. Polymers produced by classical chemical synthesis and bio-monomers
3. Polymers obtained directly from natural or genetically modified organisms.

Properties of biodegradable materials:
Materials were based on the need to be useful in the food packaging industry so as to their physical and mechanical properties enable their eligibility and the application of a certain degree, but it also applies largely to prices.

Barrier Properties:
Poor barrier properties (especially humidity resistance) of the traditional and most widely used biomaterials (paper, cellulose films, and cellophane) are all known and is therefore necessary to mix these materials with synthetic polymers to achieve the desired barrier properties for packaging of many foodstuffs. Biomaterials made of polysaccharides having poor barrier properties when it comes to water vapor and other polar substances in a large proportion of the humidity, but at low or middle portion of humidity create good proper- ties to oxygen and other non-polar substances such as various flavors and oils. Moisture vapor transmission rate was prepared from the starch material is 4–6 times higher than conventional materials made from synthetic polymers. Materials made of arabinoxylan as barley a low permeability as regards oxygen and CO2 and a high permeability in the case of water vapor (the fluorinated materials are less surface hydrophilic such or yet to be finalized).

Some of barrier properties (Tab. 1) where the bio- material and oil derived materials e.g., PLA (polylactic acid) has a moisture vapor transmission rate 3–5 times greater than that of PET (polietilentetraftalat), LDPE (low density polyethylene), HDPE (high density polyethylene) and OPS (oriented polystyrene). PLA has improved barrier properties to oxygen rom PS (polystyrene), but not as well as PET. The barrier properties of polymers to bio-based and those derived from oil are given below:


PHA (polihidroksialkonati) has similar moisture vapor transmission rate as well as materials made from petroleum.
PHB (polyhydroxyalkanoates) has better barrier properties to oxygen from the PET and PP (polypropylene), and adequate barrier properties when it comes to fat and fragrances for products with a short shelf life.
Barrier properties of gases in most bio-materials depend on the ambient humidity, or PLA and PHA are exceptions.

Mechanical Properties:
The mechanical properties of most organic material similar to the materials derived from petroleum. For example properties of the PLA are defined by molecular weight of the polymer chain structure (linear with respect to the branched), the degree of crystallization etc. Orientation PLA improves the mechanical strength and heat stability, a different molecular weight and crystallization result of soft and elastic to hard and high strength materials. The amorphous and poorly crystallized PLA has a transparent, shiny surface; a highly crystalline PLA has an opaque surface. The above table is available to the melting temperature is 130–180 °C, and in the glassy form exceeds already at a temperature of 40–70 °C.

The physical properties of PHA copolymer depend of the composition and molecular structure of the copolymer. PHB is generally hard, highly crystalline thermoplastic polymer which most resembles the isotactic PP because of its mechanical properties. As such polymer PHB generally rigid and brittle, the introduction of the HV (hidoksivale- ratne subunit) copolymers improves his mechanical properties so that it reduces the level of crystallization and melting temperature resulting in a decrease or increase in hardness toughness and resistance to impact. It is evident that a variety of PHA used in various applications due to its properties and a melting temperature which is 50–180 °C.

Methods for improving functionality:
It is necessary to develop new techniques and processes to improve the barrier properties of bio-packaging. For example, the addition of bio-nanocomposite material shows that the improved mechanical properties of bio-materials and coating SiOx compounds with PLA material reduces moisture vapor transmission rate of 60 %. There are many applications of different techniques that improve different properties when it comes to these materials or to achieve this and applied in the future requires more effort and research that will help to these materials even more pro- ducts and use (Chiellini, 2008).

Biopackaging forms:
Biodegradable packaging is produced in several different forms to adapt to the requirements for packaging and storage of various products currently the most biodegradable gels, films, bags, boxes with lids and trays.

Various poly- metric materials reduce the service life of certain fruits, probably due to migration of water from the surrounding area. White extruded ginseng extract has good potential to maintain the concentration of antioxidants if used together with biodegradable stretch film.

Biodegradable films:
Biodegradable films are designed with the intention of re- placing the polyethylene film used for different purposes, from various industrial films, packaging products to the bag for the collection of organic waste. Such materials have better properties than traditional non-degradable plastics. They are resistant to moisture, warm organic materials for a period of several weeks or even months without changes in physical properties. This allows greater flexibility com- posting program. Good as a replacement for current films used in storage, transport and packaging of the product and are completely biodegradable. In addition, do not contain polyethylene, do not leave residues after composting and are made from renewable biomaterials (polyester derived from corn dextrose). A comparative study of the permeability of the biodegradable film for oxygen and carbon dioxide as a form of packaging for the fruit of tomatoes showed that films with low permeability negatively affected the quality of the fruit. However, when the permeability of the biodegradable films is into line with the respiration of the fruit, the prevention of contamination by microorganisms and insects achieved a positive effect on the durability and quality.

Compared with polyphone foil, biodegradable film permeability is significantly decreased. Two kinds of experimental films have been applied to freshly chopped pineapple and melon and observed for their influence on the microbiological quality control of the fruit during storage at 10 °C. The types of films that were used in this study are commercial plastic stretch film and experimental methyl-cellulose film that includes vanilla as a natural antimicrobial agent. Fresh sliced fruit, without any foil wrapping was used as a control. Methyl-cellulose film had inhibitory effect against Escherichia coli, and the yeast was reduced was recorded. Methyl cellulose films with vanillin increased the intensity of the yellow color with pineapple. Pineapple which was guarded in an ordinary commercial plastic film had a larger amount of ethanol. However, with pieces of pineapple coated biodegradable film with vanillin recorded a decrease of ascorbic acid by 90 %.

Outlook of biodegradable Packaging:
Based on research and literature review can be concluded that biodegradable packaging has a bright future in the food industry. A number of factors including policy and legislative changes, as well as world demand for food and energy resources, will undoubtedly influence the development of biodegradable packaging. There is no doubt that the production of and demand for this packaging more to increase partly because of improved properties of bio- degradable packaging and partly due to the decrease of its price, which is now unacceptable in relation to the price of other packaging materials.

By increasing the awareness of people and by introducing Bio degradable packaging is one of the most effective solutions of handling huge plastic waste. Last but not the least, there is a need for engagement between government and industry in order to find ways to implement this change in a planned and phased manner with minimal impact to the food industry.

Former Production Manager at ITC Limited (Packaging and Printing Division)

Mr. Partha Pratim Sanyal is a Printing & Packaging Consultant from Kolkata, India. He is associated with Printing & Packaging/ Conversion Industry since 1971 and was last employed in ITC Limited –Packaging and Printing Division as Production Manager for 30 years.

Currently engaged as Member-Printing Inks, Stationery & Allied Products Committee, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS),Govt of India and Special Invitee Member, Executive Committee ,Indian Institute of Packaging(Kolkata Branch),Ministry of Commerce, Govt of India.

He is a Science Graduate from Calcutta University and a Qualified Printing Engineer from The Regional Institute of Printing Technology, Calcutta, India in 1976. Also completed Certificate Course in Operation Management for executives from XLRI, Jamshedpur in 1996.

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