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The future is flexible

Stefan Glimm is the executive director of Flexible Packaging Europe, a $16Bn part of the $76Bn global flexibles industry. Here he speaks with Matthew Rogerson about what’s next in this dynamic market.

How would you describe the state of the market in 2014?

SG: According to PCI, flexibles accounts for about one fifth of packaging in Europe, and this confirms the growth that FPE is seeing across the industry. The main reason behind this growth is the capabilities of flexible packaging in waste reduction, resource efficiency and in addressing consumer trends in innovation, sustainability and convenience. With the growth in concentration on food waste, and via initiatives like Save Food (of which FPE is a proud original member) this growth looks set to continue.

We like to say that flexible packaging saves more resources than it uses and, because of this, is part of the solution to reducing and avoiding food waste.

What do you think are the leading reasons behind the strength of flexible packaging?

SG: We are increasingly seeing improvements that facilitate positive substitution (where a less efficient material is being replaced by a more efficient one), and we are seeing a move towards downgauging without the loss of integrity or barrier. This supports what I believe to be the major overall reason for the move towards flexible packaging, which is resource efficiency. While there are a
number of areas within flexible packaging that are topical, for example lightweighting, recycling or reclaiming materials, convenience, ease of opening or closure, sustainability, legislation and barrier technologies, these all are affected or covered by resource efficiency.

As an example, there was a study done comparing the transport of 0.2 litre glass bottles against 0.2 litre pouches for Capri Sun juice. Transporting the beverage in glass meant that there was 47% beverage to 52% packaging in bottles, per truck. For pouches it was 93% beverage to 6% pouch. The product will still perform and have the required protection, so that the customer will still enjoy the quality of product that they had intended to purchase, but with a lower environmental impact, as nearly twice the volume of sellable goods can be placed into every truck. This in turn has implications for logistics and reduces the overall product environmental impact.

Resource efficiency does not necessarily only mean recycling or recovery; if a product is used and 70% of the packaging is recycled or reused, this still means that 30% is lost. FPE looks to reinforce the message that there is a better way of making packaging that will help the whole supply chain to operate more sustainably.

This leads to a major area of focus for us which is the need to reduce food waste. In Europe, roughly 35% of food is not eaten and wasted. Sometimes this is due to incorrect portions, or consumers taking advantage of special offers where they buy multiples in a supermarket while they only wanted a single portion of the product for themselves. This is where we find the interesting paradox
that by addressing this issue and reducing food waste, it required more packaging to do so!

However, with flexible packaging reducing the total waste including the product should still be seen as a ‘win’. Ultimately, the idea is
to both reduce the wasted food and reduce the packaging it comes in.

This is where we are seeing some of the largest growth, in pouches that reduce material use, that can easily be disposed of (or recycled in some countries) and most importantly are much easier to empty than the rigid equivalent. Flexibles are an excellent format to prevent food remains being left in the package, and allow for all the product to be used as intended. This means the
consumers can better portion what they need, and has led to the rise in multipacks of individual portions (for example, moving from rigid jars to pouches for Ella’s Kitchen).

Across packaging there is an interesting conundrum that we must always be aware of. When we buy a product, we first have to contend with the packaging to get access to it. Unlike when you buy a car, you just get the car (all the packaging has already been
removed for you). However, when you want a chocolate bar (or prepared meal, pizza, drink, washing powder, etc) you have to open the package to get to your product. Very few consumers want the packaging first and the product second – which is why we call it a conundrum.

FPE is proud to be part of the solution to this problem. Through connection with FAO and SETAC, FPE continues to be recognised for members’ work in improvements to LCA, and continued improvements in resource efficiency. While we continue to innovate, what is great is that we have a voice in Europe that is heard and understood. Having harmony in addressing European affairs is the final area of focus for FPE.

Legislation – what are the key developments you are seeing in EU?

SG: Council of Europe Resolution Metals and Alloys in Contact with Food: although the resolution has no legal standing at the moment, it will probably be adopted as a method of demonstrating that a material complies with Article 3 of the Framework Regulation 1935/2004. In addition, Belgium has announced its intention of adopting the provisions into its national law, and Germany and other states may well follow them. Ensuring compliance with this resolution will require companies to appropriately test and if necessary the right labeling will need to be provided.

Bisphenol A
The toxicological arguments on Bisphenol A (BPA) continue without any sign of consensus. EFSA have published a draft opinion on consumer exposure to BPA – which shows levels much lower than those previously estimated. Their full opinion on the potential human health risks is due later in 2014

Meanwhile, efforts to replace BPA based coatings continue. France has instituted a ban (technically a "suspension") for the under 3s from 2013 and a total ban from 2015. It is also bringing in a requirement for all packaging containing BPA to include a warning label such as "Made using Bisphenol A. Use not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women or for children under three".

However, other nations have different interpretations that do not include labelling or outright bans. For FPE, one of the top priorities on our agenda is ensuring that legislation is handled at a European level. This reduces the confusion that occurs when legislation is prepared on a country by country basis, a method that is not good for the consumer or as an efficient use of resources.

Non Intentionally Added Substances
Non Intentionally Added Substances (NIAS) may be present in food contact materials:

– as impurities in raw materials

– as by-products from the reactions used to make materials

– as the result of interactions between two different components of a structure

Since companies have many raw materials and processes in common, FPE set up a small Working Group to see whether there was any way in which information on these NIAS could be shared between members. As with other legislation in food contact, the priority is to ensure a cohesive and pan-European framework and standard is provided.

Mineral oil hydrocarbons
In May, Germany published a second draft of legislation on mineral oils in packaging. This ordinance will only apply to recycled fibre based packaging immediately in contact with food, hence excluding transport packaging and virgin fibre based packaging. No detection limit is set in the ordinance, neither is there a definition of MOAH. It assumes that "in general, according to the state of
technology, a functional barrier would be required to avoid such migration".

The common theme between these and other planned and available legislation is that most of the companies that are providing the materials, through to the brand or retail owners and consumers are multinational. If individual governments are able to set their own national legislation this can very quickly cause complications and impact on the industry’s abilities to continue to maximise resource efficiencies.

The more we can have harmony in legislation and standards, the more efficient the flexible packaging industry will be.