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Briefing: The state of the food contact industry

August 26, 2014
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In recent years, there have been many significant developments regarding food contact regulations and consumer perception of associated materials and technologies. From the controversy of BPA use to the developing market in China, Smithers Pira gives you a detailed run-down of all of the developments you need to know about in the food contact packaging market in this new bulletin.

Consumer and regulatory pressure for phase-out of BPA

BPA (Bisphenol A) continues to dominate the food contact agenda. This is because of an increasing perception that BPA has adverse health effects when migrating from packaging to food.

BPA has been widely used in food packaging for a long time, within clear plastics and inside metal cans. Although the true hazard profile is contested, recently there have been suggested links to diabetes, as well as miscarriages and heart disease. Therefore an ongoing high media profile is manifesting in consumer-led moves to non-BPA products. Initially for children’s items, this is now affecting all food packaging.

Alternatives to BPA for use in food contact materials do exist. In fact, an inventory listing 73 substitutes was published by France’s Food safety agency (Anses) in April 2013. These consist of 21 polycarbonates, 18 epoxy resins and 34 thermal papers. However, hazard assessments have not been done for these materials, which makes any kind of meaningful substitution difficult. According to the Anses Status Report: “no single alternative stood out for replacing Bisphenol A for all of its uses… [and most] have not yet undergone thorough toxicological testing”.

On the other side of the coin, the US federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains there is ‘no convincing evidence’ to support restrictions of BPA. Attempts by Californian lawmakers to require compulsory marking of BPA containers were defeated in court. The European Food Safety Agency (Efsa) supports the FDA position and will soon issue a new opinion.

Public concern about BPA, especially in the US, continues to be high, despite official reassurances. In this way, consumers drive the market themselves by increasingly opting for products labelled as ‘BPA-free’, with retailers and manufacturers following suit.

China’s booming consumer market will offer new opportunities

China is fast becoming a priority market for food packaging suppliers. A transition is currently underway from traditional shops to Western-style supermarkets and packaged food, and Beijing is making a conscious effort to cut red tape.

The Chinese food packaging market rose from almost $18 billion in 2007 to over $33 billion in 2012. This market will continue to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7% over the next four years. Drinks packaging will rise at a CAGR of 8% until 2018, driven by increased consumption of plastic and canned beverages. The Chinese market for food and drinks packaging will rise to $50 billion and $17 billion respectively over five years.

Food packaging materials are now the responsibility of a single body in this region: the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), founded in March 2013. The CFDA is now compiling its own list of substances approved for domestic use.  Under the new streamlined rules, an application for approval of a new substance should take around one year to complete.

Developments in consumables for food packaging will impact food contact regulations

New Yorkers discard around 23,000 tonnes of such packaging each year. These can take 500 years to decompose, and are rarely recycled.  In December 2013 the city of New York agreed to ban polystyrene food containers for takeaway food by 2015, and several other US cities –Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles – have similar bans.

The rise of low-migration inks

On-going safety concerns are creating an increased interest in low-migration inks for use in food packaging. Germany has expressed an interest in a national regulation to impose migration limits on packaging inks.

As a result, a variety of low-migration inks suitable for use in food packaging applications are now reaching the market. Printers are investing in new production machinery to allow them to deliver packaging marked with low-migration inks.

Moves to recycled packaging

To demonstrate their environmental awareness and commitment, many companies are keen to embrace recycled plastics. The use of recycled PET is already established, with a number of new products entering the market in 2013. Meanwhile, studies into the viability of recycling polypropylene (PP) will continue in 2014.

What does the rise of recycled packaging mean for the food contact industry? Food and beverage packaging applications currently account for over half the use of sustainable packaging. This market is worth $100 billion in 2013, and this will rise to $133 billion in 2018. By 2023 sustainability is predicted to be the number one challenge facing companies, and 60% of consumers have indicated a willingness to forego convenience to embrace sustainable food or drink packs.

TTC effective screening

Toxicological threshold of concern (TTC) is an alternative method for assessing the substances migrating from food packaging. It offers a quick, effective method to screen out chemicals found at very low concentrations. The FDA already accepts TTC and Efsa are positive too, meaning other jurisdictions could also approve this cost-effective measure in the near future.

To find out more about the food contact industry and the various changes to regulation, our new report, The Future of Food Contact Paper and Board to 2017 is available to purchase now.

 Research compiled by Smithers Pira (smitherspira.com). 

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