Greening Your Brand: Sustainable Food Packaging in Compliance with US & EU Rules

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The Perfluoroalkoxy Alkane (PFA) ban in the US and EU has placed the food packaging business in a state of limbo. There is an increasing call for PFA-free food packaging to be used right now.  

In the ever-changing regulatory climate, businesses are looking into compliant, secure, and sustainable alternatives to ensure their future. 

Table of Contents

Introduction  

In recent years, the United States and the European Union have been at the forefront of efforts to reduce the environmental impact of food packaging. While there may not be complete bans on specific packaging materials, both regions have implemented regulations and guidelines aimed at promoting sustainability and reducing the use of harmful substances in food packaging.  

In this blog, we will explore the growing need for alternatives in food packaging and some sustainable options to consider. 

The Need for Sustainable Packaging 

The push for sustainable food packaging is driven by environmental concerns, consumer demand for eco-friendly products, and regulatory changes. Both the US and EU are increasingly focused on minimizing waste, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and conserving natural resources.  

As a result, businesses in the food industry are seeking alternatives to traditional packaging materials. 

Sustainable Packaging Alternatives 

  1. Biodegradable and Compostable Materials:
    Biodegradable and compostable materials, such as those made from cornstarch, sugarcane, or potato starch, are gaining popularity. These materials break down naturally and can reduce the environmental impact of food packaging. 
  1. Recyclable and Recycled Materials:
    Using recyclable materials like glass, aluminum, and specific plastics not only reduces waste but also supports a circular economy. Packaging made from recycled materials is another eco-friendly option. 
  1. Paper and Cardboard:
    Paper and cardboard packaging are easily recyclable and biodegradable. They are versatile materials suitable for various food products. 
  1. Metal:
    Metal cans and containers made of tin or aluminum are not only recyclable but also provide excellent protection against oxygen and light, making them ideal for a wide range of food items. 
  1. Reusable Packaging:
    Embracing reusable packaging options, such as glass jars, metal tins, or durable plastic containers, allows consumers to return or refill their containers, reducing waste significantly. 
  1. Edible Packaging:
    Innovative companies are experimenting with edible packaging made from ingredients like seaweed or rice starch. These materials can be consumed along with the food, eliminating waste entirely. 
  1. Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP):
    MAP involves altering the atmosphere inside the packaging to extend the shelf life of products. This can reduce the need for preservatives and excess packaging. 
  1. Smart Packaging:
    Incorporating smart packaging technologies, such as QR codes or RFID tags, can provide consumers with essential information about the product’s origin, ingredients, and proper disposal methods. 
  1. Alternative Plastics:
    Bio-based plastics, derived from renewable resources like corn or sugarcane, are more environmentally friendly than traditional petroleum-based plastics and are gaining traction in the industry. 
  1. Regulatory Compliance:
    Staying informed about the latest regulations and guidelines regarding food packaging is crucial. Compliance ensures that businesses avoid potential legal issues while contributing to sustainability goals. 

Companies Dealing with Sustainable Food Packaging  

ContourSM and Molded Fiber Technology

To successfully replace PFAS in the production of molded pulp food containers while adhering to strict performance standards, Solenis developed the contour technology. The first chemical to guarantee functioning coating without PFAS is this one.  

In contrast, Zume has developed the machinery and molded fiber technologies for mass production. 

These two American businesses worked together to develop PFA-free food packaging materials, and they have already shared their recipe online as a global incentive to do so as soon as feasible. 

In order to create the PFA-free packaging, Zume, and Solenis used a process that includes thermoforming, freedom, chemistry management, change management, and component creation on molded fibers.  

Greening Your Brand: Sustainable Food Packaging in Compliance with US & EU Rules

The material’s resistance to oil and grease migration through it is strengthened by the thermoforming process. The homogeneity of the fiber matrix and minimization of void volumes are addressed during part formation in order to obtain the necessary characteristics.  

Cellulose-based barrier films

A material science startup called Cellulotech uses cellulose to make food packaging goods. By substituting plastics and other toxic chemicals, this company seeks to increase the use of cellulose-based materials and aid numerous industries, including packaging, in becoming more sustainable. 

Dr. Daniel Samain, the company’s principal scientist, also has an extensive portfolio of patents, including ones for coatings and equipment for food packaging (image below). A water, grease, and vapor barrier film for food packing is described in one of his patents.  

Greening Your Brand: Sustainable Food Packaging in Compliance with US & EU Rules

PVA and activated fatty acid are used in the procedure to prepare the surface that will be coated. The surface is subsequently treated to nitrogen flushing under specific circumstances so that PVA is used to graft the fatty acid onto the surface. 

PROTĒAN® and PureFiber

For food packaging, HS Manufacturing Group has created a patented technology called PROTEAN. It is a bio-based coating made of fatty acids derived from saccharides or polyols (PFAE, SFAE). In place of plastic-based coatings, it offers good water and grease resistance on packing surfaces. 

Greening Your Brand: Sustainable Food Packaging in Compliance with US & EU Rules

The business is also willing to license its technology to businesses looking to make sustainable products and work on joint product development. The business partnered with Stora Enso, whose PureFibre technology, in accordance with research, has a lower carbon footprint than 75% of its rivals. 

This partnership has produced a patent-pending technology that is fully safe for interaction with food, in addition to being recyclable and biodegradable. With the aid of this ground-breaking barrier coating, a wide variety of cellulose-based paper products can be converted into superior oil, grease, and water-resistant PFA substitutes. 

The adaptability of this technology allows a wide range of options for single-use food service goods, changing the sector with ecologically beneficial and sustainable solutions.  

Seaweed-based alternative to PFA in food packaging

A seaweed-based biodegradable coating has been created as an alternative to PFA in food packaging by German biomaterials firm One-five and Australian researchers at the Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. A similar technique has been supported by Notpla. 

The packaging made of seaweed by Notpla has also been successfully introduced. Additionally, this business has won other awards, including the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize and the Earthshot Prize 2022. 

Greening Your Brand: Sustainable Food Packaging in Compliance with US & EU Rules

PPC (Polysaccharide Polyelectrolyte Complexation) based coating for packaging

As a substitute for PFA in food packaging, researchers at Pennsylvania University have created a coating based on polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complexation (PPC). As a water and grease barrier, this coating is similar to PFAS in characteristics.  

The coating works with the current machinery and is also reasonably priced. 

The EU and US government agencies are not being left behind as these technologies are being developed by the companies. 

To develop PFAS substitutes in the food and textile industries, the EU has supported the ZeroF research program. By 2025, the program will have solved the PFAS issue by bringing together academics and business professionals. 

 In order to reduce the amount of PFAS in food packaging items, the USDA has also filed a patent for a packaging innovation. It calls for a biodegradable coating free of PFAS to be put on paper-based surfaces, giving paper-based food packaging good oil resistance. 

Conclusion

The US and EU are setting the stage for a more sustainable future in food packaging. While there might not be complete bans on packaging materials, businesses are encouraged to adopt eco-friendly alternatives to meet consumer demands, reduce environmental impacts, and comply with evolving regulations.  

By exploring and implementing sustainable packaging options, the food industry can play a vital role in reducing its carbon footprint and promoting a more environmentally conscious approach to packaging. 

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