Over the last two decades, scores of multilayer structures based on a combination of polymers, paper & foil have been deployed for shelf life extension of food products ranging from milk, edible oil, etc.

This category of packaging format has contributed enormously in elimination of adulteration, wastage of food products & provided convenience & excitement across all age groups.

However, with the increased consumption of packaged foods, and the shift from rigid packaging formats to flexible for light- weighting & cost reduction, has brought along with it a new challenge to the industry.

Management of post- consumer flexible laminates & multilayer structures is now posing a bigger challenge & has now led us to think of new solutions for providing barrier protection, shelf life extension & minimizing food wastage.

Companies like Adani Willmar have taken the lead & are now exploring all polyolefins structure for edible oil packaging to make it more sustainable & environmentally friendly.

Essel Propack Ltd, an Indian Multi-national company in the business of manufacturing laminated plastic tubes, announced Project “Liberty”, a major step forward in its commitment to improve sustainability.

Project Liberty is a first-of-its-kind and path breaking attempt to recycle multilayer laminates which consists aluminium in the structure, by separating aluminium and polymer into two distinct and reusable streams without the use of chemicals or heat.

In this effort Essel has collaborated with multiple major technical partners across the globe and co-developed a solid-state environmentally friendly process to liberate aluminium from the laminate/tubes.

Essel uses two basic structures to make laminated tubes: 
- Plastic Barrier Laminate (PBL) tubes –made of all plastic layers and are easily recyclable

-Aluminium Barrier Laminate (ABL) tubes –made with combination of polymers and has aluminium foil as the barrier layer.  

ABL poses challenges in recycling and the company has been working relentlessly over 4 years on developing a solution to separate the polymer and aluminium.

With Project ‘Liberty’ the polymer fraction can be recovered from ABL tubes and the same can be recycled to various packaging applications. The recovered aluminium metal also shall be reused, making every single tube recyclable.

A Mumbai based scientist has also filed for a US patent on delamination of multilayer flexible laminates used for packaging applications.

Going Forward:

Going forward, demands on food packaging materials & technologies are going to become more & more challenging. On the one hand; is the issue of food safety & wastage & on the other hand, to evolve a solution which is truly sustainable.

We have seen some breakthroughs in this field at some of the IITs & hope that R&D efforts will strive towards evolving a practical solution for packaged food & beverages.

It is clear that these are opportunities for fundamental research in packaging in the coming years.
While package design & packaging innovation is a continuous process to grow new markets & acquire new customers, the industry has witnessed significant turmoil both in terms of material challenges as well as deleterious impact of abuse & littering of packaging waste, finally ending up in the ocean & ultimately entering the food chain.

The need to explore new materials therefore needs to address this challenge as well. A lot of discussion on bio polymers & biodegradable plastics has happened over two decades, but a commercial grade plastic, comparable in price & scale of economy, availability & affordability is yet to arrive. There is still scepticism on “biodegradability” certificates & tags attached with new materials.

Think about this, of what use is biodegradability if the package does not fulfil the basic function of protection, preservation & containment during its journey from the factory to the consumer.

In case of polymers, all the more daunting as polymers are first stabilized with additives for thermal stability during processing & conversion & later for extended service life. Degradation promoter additives should remain dormant during this cycle & then get activated in an appropriate environment, such as in a landfill or compost.

The other option is to look for cellulose, & its various forms to create packaging structures for achieving ultimate biodegradability. Here the Challenge is, can such formats capture excitement & element of surprise through forms, colours & design??

Similarly, use of printing inks & adhesives used in food packaging structures need close examination. Similarly, testing & quality control of packages, adherence to globally acceptable standards & regulations need to be taken seriously & monitored effectively for Indian exporters to remain competitive in International markets.

Disruptions in supply chain management, delivery mechanisms of quick service restaurants are now a reality & will impact the way we deal with on-line ordering.

It is time to take “sustainability” out of the jargon mode & evolve something more meaningful, as society has reached its inflexion point with post- consumer packaging waste.

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About the author

Dr R Rangaprasad

Dr.R.Rangaprasad is a polymer & packaging professional with over 25 years experience. He has served as Consultant at Indian Institute of Packaging Mumbai & as Director at SIES School of Packaging / Packaging Technology Centre. Between 1995 & 2007, He was associated with Product Application & Research Center of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL). He has also conducted training & knowledge workshops at leading FMCG companies in the area of design of polyolefin materials for packaging sector.

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