Huhtamaki joins green revolution with recyclable packaging

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, Recycling

Huhtamaki's Chinet range of moulded fibre foodservice plates has
just been certified for biodegradability - the latest step in an
industry-wide trend towards greener packaging.

Huhtamaki's Chinet range of moulded fibre foodservice plates has been certified for biodegradability according to DIN EN 13432-2000-12 and ASTM D 6400:1999. The certificates, granted by Din Certco Berlin, confirm that European-made Chinet products are in compliance with the EU Directive for biodegradability.

Chinet plates are made from post-industrial paper cup cuttings in a proprietary smooth-moulding process originally developed in the United States. The company claims that the recycled maintain their rigidity, functionality and finish.

The European manufacturing unit in Honefoss, Norway, has used leftover cuttings from Huhtamaki's Finnish paper cup operation as raw material long before it became part of Huhtamaki in 1999. Today's certification of biodegradability is proof, according to Huhtamaki, that the origin of the fibre material is completely traceable and that it comes from forests that are under sustainable forestry programmes.

"We have always recognised the many environmental benefits of the Chinet concept and communicated them also to our customers,"​ said Joel Portnoj, Huhtamaki's division president for Foodservice Europe. "However, formal conformity to EU standards for biodegradability has required some fine-tuning of the manufacturing process and product recipe."

Huhtamaki​ believes that sustainable sourcing of raw material and certified biodegradability will enhance the environmental positioning of the Chinet range within the European Union, especially in environmentally sensitive markets such as Germany. In the longer run, the company believes that Chinet products will form an important part of the company's expanding range of sustainable foodservice packaging.

Food packaging recycling is becoming a growing concern as food manufacturers look at ways of achieving efficient waste management. According to the Environment Agency, the UK's food and drink sector produces between seven and eight million tonnes of waste per year, second only to the construction industry. And food processors must now abide by amended laws that will see less scope for waste in the industry.

To complicate this issue further, landfill operations in UK are currently going through something of a revolution. There is a drive to take organic waste out of landfill, largely because 25 per cent of methane emissions - a major factor in global warming - come from landfill.

This change in waste management is having a knock-on effect on the food production industry. Although commercial landfills are not covered, there are now targets in municipal landfills to reduce organic matter. This means there is less space for waste coming from food processing operations, which is also affecting the packaging industry.

There is a growing move away from the use of plastic and towards starch and other biodegradable materials. But with organic matter being taken out of landfill in the UK, both the food processing and packaging industries need to think carefully about waste management.

Not surprisingly, the industry is taking steps. PET industry organisation Petcore has published the first test results for recyclable barrier technologies, which show that new barrier materials such as Glaskin and Bestpet could be the future.

"Products that pass this rigorous test regime can be recycled using existing recycling practices, without any difficulties,"​ said Dr A Opschoor, technical director and member of Petcore's expert evaluation committee. "We are very pleased with these results. It opens up new beverage markets with innovative solutions. Tests on several other barrier materials are in the pipeline; this is just the beginning."

Indeed, the emergence of several barrier materials for PET containers used in beverages has opened up new possibilities in packaging. Beverages such as fruit juices, dairy products, beer, and even some carbonated soft drinks, rely on enhanced barrier properties now offered on the market.

PET recycling processes in Europe differ from those in the United States and Japan. Virtually all European plants use wet grinding, making it very difficult to sort out those polymer films and labels that do not float in water. In the United States and in Japan, most PET recycling plants are based on dry grinding processes, making it relatively easy to remove films by air separation.

However, Europe must institute the necessary infrastructure if both industry and the environment are to benefit from the recycling of food and beverage packaging - the German one-way container debacle is a good point of reference here. According to Europen, the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment, the German system of mandatory deposits on certain non-refillable beverage containers has had a devastating impact on some sectors of the packaging industry, according to a recent assessment.

The organisation argues that the deposits have had a number of harmful effects, and have not brought the environmental benefits that were the main reason given for their introduction in the first place. Its findings suggest that the controversial German system has resulted in an overall net loss of 9,530 jobs in 2004 alone. Moreover, factories in the UK and Sweden have been closed due to the collapse of demand for non-refillable beverage containers.

The study also shows that the return rate for refillable containers has fallen significantly - to below 50 per cent in some categories and that plastic recycling capacity in Germany, carefully developed by DSD (the German packaging waste recovery and recycling organisation), is increasingly becoming under-used.

Europen has sent copies of the study to the environment ministers of all the EU Member States and to the European Commission. Europen aims to make sure that, in view of future discussions on packaging and the environment - both at EU and national level - European policymakers are given a full and accurate picture of the consequences of the German deposit law.

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