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We have also worked with customers to further improve the environmental profile by replacing standard PE sealant layers with bio-based PE derived from sugar cane. This is often an attractive and easy change for our customers as the bio-based PE performs the same as the standard PE. In coffee and cheese we have helped customers convert to bio-based PE, resulting in a significant carbon footprint reduction of their packaging. Applying this to the newest grades of AmLite results in transparent and recyclable packaging with excellent environmental performance.

Ed Roberts (EMEA regional sustainability director at Sealed Air Food Care):

Food waste is top of mind for consumers, retailers and legislators. Shelf-life extension is seen as a critical tool in reducing food waste. Films with high gas barrier properties are particularly considered as delivering shelf-life extension and, hence, food waste reduction. Therefore, these types of materials should be considered as essential food packaging. However, not all plastics are the same – mono-polyethylene and mono-polypropylene, although having very good moisture barrier properties, have relatively poor gas barrier performance. These films may be suitable for some food types but are less suitable for others, such as fresh meat, fish, poultry and cheese.

As well is improving gas barrier performance, films are being developed to minimise resource reduction whether this be less plastic through, for example, thinner gauge films or energy consumption through, for example, improved transportation and/or refrigeration.

Markets such as the UK are well established in moving to vacuum systems, particularly tray skin packs. Fish has notably moved to vacuum packaging. Vacuum packaging has several benefits but relies on very high gas barrier films to achieve and maintain a suitable vacuum. Other European countries have seen the benefits of vacuum packaging for shelf-life extension, fresher for longer, eating quality etc. but the transformation has been somewhat stymied by a focus on single-use rather than essential food packaging.

3. The machinery company

Alexander Gegner (marketing at WEBOMATIC):

The most crucial issues we can directly influence are the high levels of waste and complexity in the recycling process. Unfortunately, no European country has been able to create closed cycles of reusability or even a standard definition of what ‘up-cycling’, ‘recycling’ or ‘down-cycling’ mean. Moreover, the devastating consequence is that still today one third of the food produced worldwide is thrown away. Resource-friendly and -efficient packaging is essential in eliminating food and resource waste.

As a producer of vacuum packaging machines, WEBOMATIC offers different food packaging types: in vacuum, with MAP, in a tray, as a shrink or skin package. Any flexible packaging supports the reduction of food waste by extending shelf life, protecting the product from external influences and allowing for safe transportation. Modern production technologies and the rising awareness of our current situation are what motivates us to help to modernise packaging, protect valuable food and help prevent wastage. Customer-specific smart packaging with smaller portions and reliable resealability have been a main focus of our R&D in recent years.

We have emphasised testing, recommending and using renewable resource packaging, or thin, mono-based plastic to satisfy the current European recycling standards and environmental concerns related to the high production of waste. A similarly effective alternative to simple vacuum packaging for smaller businesses is the use of shrink pouches. Compared to thicker tray packages and vacuum pouches, resources can be saved due to thinner pouch material and comparably easier recycling of a shrink pouch.

After the product is evacuated and hermetically sealed with a special shrink pouch, a shrink tank filled with water shrinks the pouch tightly around the product. A carton-based banderol displays all relevant product information and since both packaging types are not ‘glued’ to each other, the recycling fits the current standards.

Further improvements should be made on the consumer education front regarding food waste: together with the food producing companies, it is our duty to not only research around innovative packaging possibilities, but also to provide more information for the end-customer. Food waste is predominantly fuelled by popular myths and a lack of knowledge about the shelf life of certain products. These driving factors have to be tackled by both machine and product manufacturers.This subject relates not only to common misconceptions about meat colour changes, but also to the use of packaging gas and new, resource friendly packaging possibilities. The value chain needs to communicate with consumers on how to deal with food products, the shelf-life of different products and how packaging should be handled post product usage.