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Science as a foundation for sustainable packaging

11 December 2014

The food manufacturing, retail and agriculture sectors will increasingly look to science to help develop next-generation packaging that combines environmental sustainability, design innovation, simplicity and cost effectiveness.

This is the view of Dr Patrice Hartmann, Research and Development Manager for Mpact, the JSE-listed packaging company. Hartmann says that research is central to reconciling requirements that until relatively recently were seen as mutually exclusive.

“There was a time when it was argued that ‘going green’ was not feasible because innovative design and materials were said to add too much cost to packaging. Few believe that anymore, but it’s no less a challenge to develop packaging materials that meet consumers’ changing demands in difficult economic times,” says Hartmann.

He says that research and scientific insights underpin solutions that meet the requirements of sustainability, innovation and business efficiency. Packaging has to help sell products as much as perform its basic functions. Food packaging solutions comprise various facets, and the choice of the material to be used is governed by factors such as branding, shelf life, food safety and cost.

A further, and increasingly critical, requirement is that at least some portion of new packaging is recycled material. In the light of this requirement for more recycled material in new packaging, the ability of scientists to measure and understand the composition of recovered fibre used in food packaging is critical to the expanded use of recycled paper and board.

Hartmann says that by providing consumers with peace of mind that food products using recycled fibre for packaging are safe, the role of scientists is clearly linked to the sustainability of the recycled fibre industry.

With Mpact Recycling being the largest paper recycler in South Africa, collecting upwards of 457 000 tons of recovered paper a year, the business is positioned as a leading manufacturer of recycled fibre-based paper for the FMCG sector. Recycled fibre therefore constitutes a significant portion of fibre used in the manufacture of paper and board products intended for food packaging at Mpact.

However, Hartmann points out that the inherent variability of recycled fibre is a result of the broad scope of collection sources used. For this reason compliance verification to food safety regulations is of paramount importance when using recycled fibre in food packaging applications. Internationally recognised guidelines and regulations such as the German BfR Recommendations and the US FDA regulation for paper-based food packaging are used as guideline to ensure that going green does not compromise the safety of products when used in its intended end application.

Hartman says Mpact has invested significantly in this area and has a Food Safety Centre of Excellence that provides guidelines to on food safety standards, ensuring compliance of products to regulations.

This is further strengthened through fundamental research at Mpact into the development of cost-effective barrier coatings to minimise or prevent the migration, either through direct contact or vapour phase migration, of potentially harmful substances from the packaging to foodstuffs packaged in it.

One such barrier coating was successfully evaluated recently to prevent mineral oil migration into foodstuffs. The impact of other sources of contamination is also considered at Mpact R&D, for example by examining the impact of inks and secondary or tertiary packaging used in the transportation of goods.

The combination of operational experience and the scientific excellence in the R&D Centre and the Food Safety Centre of Excellence has enabled Mpact scientists to engage with top researchers globally. Co-published academic research in the form of articles in peer-reviewed journals is helping to strengthen Mpact’s reputation in South Africa as being an authority in food packaging safety.

Recycled paper and board has been combined with virgin fibre in manufacturing new packaging material for some years. Without recycled fibre, the supply of virgin material globally would be insufficient.  The use of recovered paper also contributes to a reduction in our global environmental footprint because it substitutes virgin material.

The production of virgin fibre is more water- and energy-intensive, and therefore generates more greenhouse gas than recycled material. Recycled fibre also reduces the burden on landfills and prevents the incineration of recovered paper. In promoting the responsible use of recycled fibre in creating packaging solutions, Mpact is leading the way in providing smarter, sustainable solutions to their customers.

Issued by FTI Consulting – Strategic Communications

Trevor Jones +27 (0) 11 214 2414 / +27 (0)83 326 7698

On behalf of Mpact Limited

Deborah Chapman Communications Manager, Mpact +27 (0) 11 994 5500 / +27 (0)76 650 4155

Source: MPACT