„Existing Materials are Suitable“

How are packaging machinery manufacturers affected by the current plastic bashing? For customers, Breidenbach-based company Weber Maschinenbau, one of the leading system providers for packing sliced products, is currently testing a range of new packaging materials in its machines.

“Grocery retail demands recyclable concepts and plastic reduction of its suppliers. We, as machinery manufacturers, have adapted to that,” says Stefan Runkel, Product Manager Packaging. “It doesn’t matter, which packaging for cold cuts and cheese will dominate the market in the end: In principle, the machines will use the same ones,” he emphasizes. New machines need to be adjusted to new materials in nuances. In existing machinery, speed loss might occur. As part of the product changeover, economical aspects would have to be evaluated for more eco-friendly aspects.

Currently, it was unclear, which materials would be broadly implemented in packaging cold cuts and cheese. At FachPack one heard from colleagues that, right now, this is an issue for the whole industry. Because the mono-material currently being praised had disadvantages in processing, the barriers are not yet satisfactory for long storage lives and quality assurance of cold cuts. “However, there are ideas that are very promising,“ says Andreas Dietrich, Application Technology Expert at Weber Maschinenbau. Examples: mono foils with a built-in oxygen absorber offer product protection and the packaging is recyclable. Or packaging made from paper, which contains a very thin easy-to-peel-off foil as a fat barrier and sealing agent, so that in the end the paper – meaning 85 percent of the packaging – can cleanly be fed into the paper recycling cycle.

Plastic packaging reduces food waste

At FachPack one learned: “Some concepts are not yet certifiable, others are not economically profitable because they are too expensive or require too much effort.” Despite all ideas for new concepts, Runkel and Dietrich share the opinion that consumers are needed to deal with packaging correctly. After use, packaging made from paper and plastics had to be separated and put into the recycled paper bin and the recycling bin respectively. It is absolutely his opinion, that the existing materials are suitable for meeting food safety and economical demands. “My personal hope is that on day chemical the recycling process will replace the mechanical one. Then, plastics could become oil, which could again be used for plastic packaging of all kinds. Because today, no recycled food packaging becomes plastic for food packaging. Consumer soften don’t know this. Currently, we do not have a closed cycle.” In the discussion on plastic packaging people often did not consider that without plastic packaging, there would be more food waste, Dietrich added. “I save 10 percent packaging resources and have to throw away 30 percent of cold cuts, when they aren’t fresh and delicious anymore.”

Runkel is betting on more education. “If the consumer is comprehensively enlightened, then he/she also knows that the commonly seen as evil plastic packaging is not actually that evil.” Folding packaging made from thin foils is, according to Dietrich’s opinion, a good example that new packaging ideas can be developed with existing materials. The cold cuts are put in the foil, which is folded to generate packaging that is pleasing to the eye. The plastic percentage was significantly lower than in conventional packaging solutions. By next year’s expert fair Interpack, Dietrich is sure, there will be new applications. “And by FachPack to years from now, there will be established solutions.”