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Companies are also working intensively on new concepts in the area of fiber-based packages, so as to satisfy the circular economy’s criteria for recyclability and the use of renewable materials without compromising product protection. For example, the first sealed paper packaging consists of mono-material paper instead of polymer film, making it completely recyclable. It is suitable for dry food like sugar, pasta, cereal or powder. With the new solution, food products can now also be packaged and sealed with vertical form fill seal (VFFS) machines, which translates into higher flexibility concerning the choice of format and packing style. Moreover, VFFS sealing delivers improved product protection and dust tightness. Thanks to the use of FSC- or PEFC-certified paper, this approach is truly sustainable – from the raw material to recycling – and offers a viable alternative to plastic for products with low barrier requirements.

Although the pharmaceutical industry faces more complex challenges given the high barrier requirements for its products, some secondary packaging concepts are already available that may prove to be visionary. When it comes to fragile products like syringes, vials and ampoules, as well as applicators such as insulin pens, conventionally a mix of materials has been used to ensure their safety. However, a new, tray folding carton made entirely of cardboard and featuring variable inlays could offer an alternative solution. Thanks to the use of a single packaging material, there is no more need for plastic trays. Consequently, there is also no need to separate different classes of materials during recycling, which translates into better sorting and more efficient recycling outcomes.

Energy recovery during ongoing processes

Conserving resources is another key aspect of sustainability in the processing and packaging industry. In the energy-intensive pharmaceutical industry, for example, innovative energy recovery concepts are yielding significant savings. In the sterilization process, heating and cooling energy are recovered, which can mean up to 40 percent lower heating costs and 60 percent lower cooling costs. When it comes to ultra pure steam generation and distillation, the latest-generation systems use a preheater to reduce hot steam consumption by roughly 30 percent. In cleanroom production, up to 65 percent lower energy costs in connection with hot and cold water, steam and electricity can be achieved with the help of cutting-edge isolator technology depending on the air supply system used.

Keeping an eye on resource consumption with industry 4.0 

The latest software solutions in the area of digitization show how manufacturers can conserve resources with their existing machines and lines. Thanks to the progressive connectivity of production, we now enjoy access to more and more data, which can also be used for consumption analysis: sensors provide data, for instance on energy and compressed-air consumption, allowing us to analyze these parameters over a given timeframe. These often very different types of data can be bundled and analyzed on a single platform, and displayed in real-time on the Human Machine Interface (HMI) of a given machine or line. In this way, fluctuations, peak loads and irregularities can be identified – and effectively remedied.

Trinity of design, material and machine

Several different aspects are important in the context of selecting suitable packages and processes: in addition to cost efficiency, more attention is being paid to barrier properties, processability, mechanical requirements, quality, and compliance with regulations. In this regard, sustainability will become more and more important in the future. When it comes to developing new packaging concepts and systems, factors like recycling, energy and resource efficiency have already become an integral part of performance specifications. Leading processing and packaging machinery providers are already working closely together with their customers in various pilot projects to develop comprehensive solutions based on a trinity of design, material and machine.