High-barrier polymers : Invisible but indispensable at your local supermarket

High-barrier polymers

High-barrier polymers could seem a foreign concept for anyone living life outside a science lab, but in reality, they’re a lot more prevalent in daily life than most people realise. High-barrier polymers are the ideal food and pharmaceutical packaging solution that efficiently protects and extends the shelf life of food and medicines. Matthias Huter, Global Market Manager for Consumer Packaging at Solvay, explains how they work and how sustainability factors in.

Solvay’s solutions are used to protect sensitive products such as pharma- and nutraceuticals, and food supplies such as fresh meat and cheese respectively. Diofan® is mainly used in blister packaging?—?a typical packaging solution for pharmaceutical capsules or pills, and is especially effective in maintaining the efficacy of drugs by keeping out both water and oxygen. Ixan®, on the other hand, is responsible for safely protecting fresh meat and cheese. As a component of weight-optimized shrink bag packaging, it serves as a barrier, only allowing the ingress of the right, but very little, amount of oxygen for the necessary maturation of the food products, while maintaining overall quality of taste and texture over the intended shelf life until they get consumed. Both barrier polymer types in used packaging solutions comply with international food and pharmaceutical regulations.

Contributing towards more sustainable packaging

Due to the low polymer amounts of engineered multilayer packaging solutions used for meat, cheese and medicine, recycling can be a challenge indeed. Moreover, depending on the previously packaged goods, reusing packaging materials in the food and pharmaceutical industry could potentially affect hygiene and safety. On top of the necessary treatment and processing steps to recover the materials from the mixed plastic fractions it might require an undesired use of resources resulting in an unfavourable eco-footprint.

“But, this does not mean high-barrier polymers are not ecologically sustainable,”explains Matthias. “The positive ecological contribution of our high performance solutions is their advantageous role in the distribution chain until the packaged products get consumed. Afterwards, the comparably small-sized packaging increasingly gets funnelled into energy recovery through advanced licensed incineration units, assuring the highest standards for a hygienic and environmentally compliant disposal of potentially contaminated mixed materials. Furthermore, Ixan®’s containing barrier film packaging is a key contributor in producing less waste, thanks to being significantly thinner and lighter than other food packaging solutions.”

Finally, Diofan® and Ixan® high-barrier polymers contribute to one of the most important sustainability factors in the pharmaceutical and food industries: avoiding waste and extending the shelf life of valuable products.

“Did you know that more than 30% percent of food gets spoiled on a global level throughout the entire distribution chain, and that is also due to a lack of or unsuitable packaging solutions?” asks Matthias.
So the next time you’re browsing the meat and dairy section in your local supermarket, or taking an aspirin for that nagging headache, take a moment to consider the packaging?—?it’s another invention of chemistry…

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