What this means is that the current legislative drive towards greater sustainability has added a new layer of complexity to food packaging strategies. It’s also challenging traditional packaging formats and inspiring new innovations in the form of eco-friendly materials, technologies and formats. And it means that RSSL’s comprehensive analytical testing expertise is more important and in demand than ever.
Why? Because changing product packaging to use less, thinner or more sustainable packaging materials can create a number of issues. Barrier properties and shelf life, along with pack integrity, robustness and seal strength can all change. Any unaccounted changes can compromise the function of packaging during production, transit, storage and use. So, every aspect must be thoroughly assessed using relevant analytical methods that consider both product and packaging. If not, quality standards may not be maintained; risking consumer complaints and even damaging brand reputation via a food safety issue.
Putting packaging to the test
For instance, switching to a new compostable flexible film is likely to bring different barrier properties that could affect the taste, appearance or odour as well as shelf-life and safety of the product it houses. Only by measuring the oxygen and moisture transmission rate through the film can we be show that it provides the optimal barrier protection during shelf life.
It’s also vital that analytical testing is carried out under conditions that replicate the journey through the entire supply chain. This is particularly important when it comes to biodegradable materials which, by their very nature and purpose, are expected to have a finite lifespan – but must still perform their functional role until the end of the product’s shelf life. By aging the materials and packaging at temperatures and humidity that mimic different environments, we can evaluate their mechanical and barrier properties to ensure these expectations are met.
These tests should also consider every element of the new packaging concept. Don’t forget, EPR legislation applies to even the smallest packaging components, from caps, strapping and tapes to adhesives, closures and tethers. So, the same rules apply. Mechanical testing will show if the sustainable alternatives function in the same way, while more expensive haptic consumer studies can verify their suitability in use.
Interestingly, 2024 also marks the introduction of new EU legislation that sets out the requirement for caps of non-returnable plastic bottles to remain tethered even after opening. A move that has further implications for testing strategies. which now need to now need to evaluate whether the cap connection is strong enough to remain in place through product use, disposal and the recycling chain. Again, RSSL can respond to this with tailored testing methods that will confirm whether the force needed to break the tether is sufficient for compliance purposes.
Thinking outside the box
Despite making progress towards greener packaging, much still needs to be done to achieve the goal of true circularity; where recycled materials are used for the same purpose for which they were originally used an infinite number of times.
One of the biggest issues is that the quality and properties of recycled materials degrade over time. There are also concerns about potentially harmful impurities making their way into the recycling process and migrating into food. At the same time, the materials themselves need to meet certain recyclability standards to ensure they don’t contaminate waste streams.
Targeted analytical testing can help answer these - and many other - important questions. It plays a fundamental role in ensuring the quality of recycled materials and packaging remains fit for purpose. And takes you one step closer to a successful sustainable switch.