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PET, Plastics Packaging Technologies and Materials in India
Monday, 18 July, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Senthil Kumar Kurunthachalam
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Preview
India is one of the fastest developing countries on the globe especially in industrial sector. The growing concerns of humans on food safety are increasing drastically since the emergence of packaged food. Therefore, food industry has great challenges in packaging with highly active and intelligent technical innovations. Because of the advancement in technology the improvements in food quality and safety are assured only to some extent. Particularly, the recent advances in packaging can only fulfil delaying oxidation, controlling -moisture migration, -microbial growth, -respiration rates, -volatile flavours and -aroma retention, ability to provide strength, glosses, grease resistance, heat retention, seal ability, printability and low odour. Packaging can be delineated as the dismal science discipline which plays an important role to make sure the delivery of packed food reaches consumer in the best condition. Therefore, once a packaging food is chosen as appropriate, it is important to understand the extent of any interactions between food and the packaging material. It is highly possible the chemical migration between the food and its packaging or vice versa does occur in trace levels and such migration needs to be assessed to assure it is minimal and less than produce any negative health implications.

India’s Stand on Packaging Industry
According to the Packaging Industries Association of India (PIAI), packaging is one of the fastest growing industry ranking 11th in the world -starting from packaging food, beverages, fruits, vegetables, drugs, medicines, to highly dangerous products and electronic items. India adapts highly advanced packaging techniques to improve the economy in terms of preservation and maintenanceof quality and prolonged shelf life. Since water became a consumer product, polymer bottles are becoming a universal occurrence. Therefore, the packaging industry growth has led to greater specialisation and sophistication from the human health point of view as well as environment-friendliness of packaging material. The Indian market for all types of packaging materials is estimated from Rs 280-300 billion /year. From this, the consumer packaging market has been estimated at around Rs 148 billion. The annual growth of Indian packaging industry is estimated at 14-15% and expected to double in the near future due to expansion of middle-class families and their rising income.

In global terms, Indian packaging industry turnover would reach $32 billion (Conversion 1$ = Rs 67) by 2020 with a turnover of around $25 billion and a growth rate of 13-15%/year. Particularly, packaging has an annual global turnover of about $550 billion, and India’s share is about $17 billion/year. According to a recent report, there will be a 10-fold increase in India’s middle-class population by 2025, which will further trigger the consumption of packaging materials.

Food Packaging in India
People life patterns of consumption are bound to change substantially and the demand for quality and convenience-based products. India adopts rigid packaging of 80% (e.g., glass bottles, metal cans, paper boards, corrugated boxes and so on) and flexible packaging of 20% (e.g., multi-layered laminated sheets with plastic, paper or aluminum). In flexible packaging,the segment has shown new innovations with marketing, food safety, ease of recycling etc. Besides, the concept of single-use unit pack is now acknowledged as marketing in India. Laminated tube almost fully replaced the aluminium collapsible tube for toothpaste packaging and extended to the pharmaceuticals sector. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and jars have made a spectacular entry into the Indian market, recording annual growth rates in excess of 20%/year. PET bottles are used for mineral water, edible oil, carbonated soft drinks and a host of other products.

PET, a generic polyester family, is a simple long-chain polymer compound, which is now essential in human life as it is being enormously used for food and beverage packaging industry. Due to its suitable chemical inertness along with ideal physical properties, PET is considered to be highly suitable material. Consequently, PET packaging technologies in food and beverage industry play a predominant role in order to fulfil consumer demands for longer product shelf lives without adding preservatives while providing good product protection.

Furthermore, packaging industries took initiative to adopt the latest trends and started investing largely in developing barrier technologies for plastic food packaging. This technique, which involves introducing layers of various materials that protect the filling, is on the exponential graph. By placing a great deal of value on having a wide range of offerings of plastic food packaging for different target groups, the recent technologies in food packaging has succeeded in driving a variety of barriers. This technological versatility ensures that consumers receive objective advice ideally tailored to their individual packaging technology needs. Nonetheless, plastic, which is the most commonly used substrate in flexible packaging, is also facing pressure because of issues of environmental protection and safe disposal.
    
Paper and paperboard are environment-friendly and adopt the advantages of easy handling and efficient process implementation. India is ranked 15th in the world for its paper and paperboard consumption and is expected to improve in future. Paper is the fastest-growing substrate segment with a growth rate of 6-7%. The total demand for paper currently is estimated to be around 6 million tonne, of which about 40% is consumed by the packaging industry. In addition, aluminium, glass, tin plates and laminates are being used for food packaging in India. Laminated  products  including  form-fill-seal  pouches,  laminated  tubes  and  tetra  packs are growing at around 30%/year. There are about 600-700 packaging machinery manufacturers, 95% of which are in the small and medium sectors in India. Altogether, the packaging market in India is set for the next level of exponential growth. Strong favourable demographics aside, factors such as increase in disposable income levels, rise in consumer awareness and demand for processed food, and multinational giants taking rapid strides in food, beverages, cosmetics, toiletries and pharmaceuticals, are expected to be the key drivers of this growth.

India’s food packaging has been calculated as 48% of the total packaging industry, which contributes significantly to the industry. Besides, this sector is not explored much as the value added to food in India comprised 7% when compared to China (23%), the Philippines (45%) and UK (188%). As indicated earlier, the food packaging segment is expected to grow at 15-20% backed by surging demand from the nuclear family system, increasing young population and per capita income, a higher propensity to spend, health awareness and a higher acceptance of new products. The food packaging industry in India faces competition from the East Asian counterparts, where the taxes and import duties are comparatively lower. India also needs to depend upon imports for certain latest packing technology and packaging material at international standards until it is fully developed and self-dependent in advanced packing technology.

Modern Food Packaging
The Packaging Institute International (PII) defines packaging as the enclosure of products, items or packages in a wrapped pouch, bag, box, cup, tray, can, tube, bottle or other container forms to perform one or more of the following functions: containment, protection, preservation, communication, utility and performance.

The main goal of packaging is to maintain food fresh without spoiling due to external contamination by microbial organisms, insects and environment (heat, sunlight, humidity, enzymes, odour, soil, dust, suspended solids and gaseous emissions),only by a proper package with highly suitable materials -to avoid retardation of deterioration, -extension of shelf life, and -maintenance of quality and safety of the packed food.

Prolonging shelf life involves retarding of enzymatic, microbial, and biochemical reactions through various strategies such as temperature control; moisture control; and addition of chemicals like salt, sugar, carbon dioxide, or natural acids; removal of oxygen; or a combination of these with effective packaging. The ideal packaging material should be inert and resistant to hazards and should not allow molecular transfer from or to packaging materials. In general, it can be seen that the desired properties for packaging applications are attained from the intrinsic properties of PET, plastics or multilayer sheet. Therefore, additives such as antioxidants, plasticisers, and heat or UV stabilisers are not required. Colourants in low concentrations are used for some PET commercial grades and, like catalysts, become encapsulated or incorporated as part of the polymer chain.

Human Health and Safety
The complex part of the food packaging industry in India is chemical migration between the food and its packaging. Substances which migrate readily are usually low molecular weight and volatile. Food grade PET essentially contains only high molecular weight species with little migration propensity, so actual migration is minimised. However, the slightest interactions are now detectable by sophisticated analytical techniques, and monitoring of migration is relatively easy. Many studies have been made of PET and have always given a reassuring result. PET itself is biologically inert if ingested, is dermally safe during handling and is not a hazard if inhaled. No evidence of toxicity has been detected in feeding studies in rodents. Similar studies conducted with monomers and typical PET intermediates also indicate that these materials are essentially non-toxic and pose no threat to human health. The endocrine glands of the human body generate hormones that control vital processes associated with life, such as reproduction, regulation of metabolism, mental processes and many aspects of development of birth. The body also has hundreds of hormone receptors, each one designed to receive a particular chemical signal from a hormone to initiate the biological activity associated with the hormone.

There has been increasing public concern that certain man-made chemicals (e.g., Bisphenol-A), if absorbed into the body, can mimic like female hormone estrogen disrupting the normal endocrine cycles and causing genetic disorders or adverse reproductive effects like reduced male sperm counts. It is important to stress that the chemistry of compounds that are used to manufacture PET shows no evidence of estrogenic activity. There is a significant body of evidence that demonstrates that the use of PET is not a concern and is perfectly safe in this respect. Detailed information on chemical migration can be accessed from Senthil Kumar (2013) Possible Adverse Implications of Chemical Migration from Food Pack Materials in India. Hydrology and Current Research 4:3 http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2157-7587.1000156).

Emerging Beverage Packing Techniques
Consumption of packaged beverages and food in India is still very low compared to other regions. However, expenditure on these products has doubled in the last five years. Within next five years, it will increase by another 14%/year, as the demand for processed food is rising due to growing disposable incomes, urbanisation, and a young population with current estimation of $14 billion. However, it’s growing at a healthy cumulative annual growth rate of 17%, which has significant implications for the packaging sector. The growing consumption of carbonated beverages like soft drinks and milk marketed in attractive containers and packaging is key. Technology has certainly played its part in the increased consumption of carbonated beverages with the advent of glass bottles, cans, plastic bottles, high speed packaging lines and evolving packaging systems. Packaging carbonated products in either glass, PET or aluminium containers requires specialised expertise and different configuration of equipment.

Conclusion
The packaging industry has grown at a remarkable rate in India. This industry has higher potential growth in the future. The consumption of packaging material is increasing as the economy is moving towards commercialisation. The various types of packaging materials have bigger demand. Recyclable PET, multilayer components and corrugated boxes are best for packaging all types of materials, since these does not create environmental problems. The large and growing Indian middle-class, along with the growth in organised retail in the country, are driving demand in the packaging industry. Another factor, which has provided substantial stimulus to the packaging industry is, the rapid growth of exports, which requires superior packaging standards in the international market. Chemical migration of all kinds of packaging materials needed to be analysed at regular intervals in order to ensure hygiene and human health.

(The author is an analytical sciences and technology specialist at Sadara Chemical Company, Saudi Arabia. He can be contacted at kuruntha@gmail.com)
 
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