A conference during the show focused on the pros and cons of plastic packaging. The argument against plastic was put by a manager of a major UK frozen food retailer: “We have been successful in finding alternative materials (to plastics) over the last 12 months and have developed plans to replace plastic across a vast range of products. However, with some of these materials costing between three and 10 times more than their plastic counterparts, cost remains one of the biggest challenges in our mission to create plastic-free packaging.”
A spokesman for the British Plastics Federation predictably begged to differ. “The real issue is how we behave with plastic,” he said. “Consistent collection and an aided circular economy will ensure that we are using this resource responsibly. We have to cherish plastic and put it back to work.”
It is unusual, even in Europe, to hear anyone wanting to “cherish” plastic packaging, and a leading UK retailer was recently shot down in flames for protecting all its “bio” fruits in rigid (and non-recyclable) plastic shell cases. Anyone wanting the full story of how best to pack and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables can refer to the 50-page report put out in December 2018 by UK-based “WRAP.” Those who just want the bare bones can note that most – but not all – fruits benefit from being stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but that, “The relative wastage rates of pre-packaged versus loose fruit and vegetables in store and at home are yet to be quantified.”
So, on that measure the match must be considered a draw. The same report also rather cryptically reports that in Britain, “The total amount of fresh vegetable and salad waste in 2012 was in the region of 1.6 million metric tons, of which approximately 80% was food.”
One wonders what the other 20% was. On a (slightly) more serious note, the British House of Commons was forced, following an e-petition, to debate whether supermarkets should be required to offer non-plastic or zero packaging for fruits and vegetables. Members of Parliament argued that, as fruits and vegetables often come in their own natural wrapping, why smother them in plastic? Following the debate, the government re-affirmed its pledge to support an initiative to create a circular economy for plastics by 2025. If only deciding on Brexit were as easy!
The ecological label – does it exist?
How can labels help optimize the environmental performance of packaging materials? Can labels promote better recycling? A group of packaging specialists from the German Packaging Institute met at the Herma plant in Filderstadt, Germany, to exchange views. For adhesive labels, participants at this symposium discussed how to manage the trade-off between ensuring reliable adhesion of the label and being able to remove it without leaving a residue. To do this, Herma has developed a “multi-layer” adhesive technology. “With this method,” explained Marcus Gablowski, R & D director at Herma, “It’s possible to combine seemingly contradictory features. Special and expensive materials are not needed because we can assign specific properties to each layer of adhesive. This means that labels are not part of the problem, but of the solution.”
The visit included an exclusive preview of a “linerless” label R&D project, which will be officially presented at this year’s Labelexpo and Fachpack. “This system will significantly increase the scope of linerless labels,” said Thomas Baumgärtner, Herma managing director. “The elimination of the liner is a powerful argument for sustainable development.”
An even more powerful argument can be found by looking at Herma’s financials for the calendar year 2018. Despite a general falling off of GDP growth throughout Europe, Herma’s 2018 sales rose by 5.6%, with all three divisions (labelstock, labeling equipment and finished labels) contributing to the success. For 2019, Herma is targeting a 4% overall growth rate likely to be spearheaded by the labelstock division. A new coating plant, scheduled to come on stream in the fall of this year, will increase the group’s capacity by 50%.
Know your banana
…and know where it comes from. German grocery retailer Rewe now labels its bananas to enable traceability right back to the producer. As a further novelty in the industry, customers can also get individual information about the social and environmental standards under which these tropical fruits are produced. It all happens thanks to a QR code on the label, and consumers can now trace the Rewe private label bananas back to the producer. Since mid-April of this year, Rewe bananas have been sporting a PS label with a specific QR code, which leads to a link with the Rewe website content page for information about the plantation on which the bananas were grown and harvested. This is designed to make customers aware of the awards, certifications or sustainability projects the plantations adhere to.
We all know the theory that the beat of a butterfly’s wings on one continent can provoke cyclones on another. It may or may not be true in meteorology, but it seems to be true for printing inks.
It all started with a deadly explosion at Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical Works in China, which is severely impacting the global raw material supply chain, including materials used in UV printing inks. Apart from the human tragedy (80 deaths), there was a collateral effect when the Chinese government ordered the shutdown of several similar plants to allow for safety inspections. According to Arno de Groot, VP of procurement for Flint Group Packaging, “Thousands of factories have already been shut down. Government investigations and safety inspections will impact the total chemical industry in China.”
The shortfalls include ink feedstocks such as polyethylene and polyethylene resins, titanium dioxide, pigments, key solvents, glycerin and MMAs. Paradoxically, there has been a rise in the number of Chinese suppliers selling inks on the European market. Has the world turned upside down?
Doing themselves a favor
German retail group Kaufland will soon start using reusable crates for its fruit and vegetables instead of disposable boxes all over Europe. The company has, for 15 years, been selling fruit and vegetables in its German outlets using the green reusable crates from Euro Pool System, a logistics services providers. Between 2014 and 2015, this cooperation was expanded to include the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia. Since the end of 2018, the green reusable packaging has become the standard packaging for fruit and vegetable logistics in all of the group’s European stores, including those in in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
“By using these crates, we have reduced our CO2 emissions by about 35,000 metric tons per year,” says Stefan Lukes, Kaufland’s purchasing manager. “In addition, we can prevent packaging damage and save resources.”
The logistics service provider Euro Pool delivers empty crates to the farms, who will fill them with fruit and vegetables. The goods will remain in the green crates until they are displayed in the retail store. Euro Pool System will then pick the empties up at the Kaufland distribution centers and deliver them to one of its own 70 service centers in Europe. Here, the reusable packaging will be cleaned and reinserted into this logistics cycle. Since March 1 of this year, the return process has been additionally simplified by the introduction whereby all the reusable crates can be returned without being hand-sorted, since they are all equipped with a water- and weatherproof label with a QR code to speed handling at each stage of the cycle.
Readers of this column may recall a mention of France’s Imprimerie Nationale. Your correspondent was unkind enough to wonder what its 700 employees did to justify their existence, given that official forms are now nearly all online, and that they can’t all be occupied making the beautiful postage stamps that so few people use.
Now a part of the answer is revealed. As of May 2019, all cigarettes sold in France, whether locally made or imported, must bear a new label to ensure traceability. And the Imprimerie Nationale, surprise surprise, has got the contract for designing and printing the labels. These will comprise “A unique identifier, giving access to data relative to the manufacturing and shipping of all tobacco products.” Each label will, in addition, have five hard-to-copy symbols of the kind used on banknotes. Smoking is on the decline here as everywhere else in Europe, but the French still bought 40 billion cigarettes legally last year, with an estimated 8-10 billion contraband smokes coming into the country, mostly from Eastern Europe. Swingeing taxes on cigarettes have brought the price of a packet to over $10, which of course boosts demand for the contraband option. Whether the new security labels will put a significant brake on smuggling is open to debate.
Is this a revolution?
In 1789, King Louis XVI, observing an angry crowd outside his palace, asked the Duc de la Rochefoucauld “C’est une révolte?” To which the Duke famously replied “Sire, c’est une révolution!” Which of course it was, and Louis was soon to lose his throne – and his head. Since then, revolution has become a well-worn word to describe anything from a shareholder revolt to a new razor. So, when Bobst describes its Ink-on-Demand (IoD) concept as revolutionary, we may be skeptical. Boiled down to its essence, this patented process means that “..the ink is dispensed directly in the ink gap that is created on top of the meter roller by the rotation directions of the meter and anilox rollers….and the ink gap takes in exactly the 30 grams of inks required for printing, eliminating the need for ink tray and the ink return pipes of conventional inking systems.”
If it is as revolutionary as it looks, it will be a big boost for Bobst, and may leave competitors’ R&D departments looking rather foolish. In which case heads, as they say, will roll.