‘Al” – The Next Step toward Sustainable Food Packaging

High durability and low cost, the two characteristic features of an aluminum (Al) foil, have triggered its demand in the packaging industry, wherein aluminum foil packaging is used across a multitude of applications in industries including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food and beverage. Speaking about sustainability, aluminum foil packaging continues to remain at the vanguard of green packaging space, making it the most preferred packaging solution.

Pervasiveness of aluminum foil packaging apropos of demand across the globe is largely attributed to its recyclable nature. Being completely recyclable, the environmental impact of aluminum foil has drastically reduced since the past few years. According to European Aluminum Foil Association, impact of aluminum foil packaging on environment has reduced owing to enhanced recycling and collection technologies adopted worldwide. For instance, in Europe alone, around 55 percent of aluminum foil is recycled. That said, new projects have been undertaken to enhance the production of aluminum foil, making it a greener solution in the packaging world, as new techniques strive to facilitate cost savings, material optimization, carbon emission cutback along with overall product enhancement.

Recycled Oven-Friendly Foils in the Offing – New Product Development Opportunity

As aluminum foil packaging continues to witness high traction, being a flexible food packaging solution, vendors are focusing on recycling and introducing new products with advanced features. Initially, aluminum foil packaging had a disadvantage with respect to food wrapping, particularly while heating in ovens. This translated into development of new aluminum foil packaging with oven-friendly features with manufacturers focused on introducing special-ovenable and dual-ovenable aluminum foil. In addition, according to International Aluminum Institute (IAI), new aluminum stocks accounted for one percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Following the scrutiny on aluminum foil as a potential source of greenhouse emissions, manufacturers are largely focusing on recycling of aluminum foil on a large scale. On account of this, several manufacturers of aluminum foil packaging from United States and Europe are carrying out aluminum foil recycling operations in order to produce oven-friendly aluminum foil packaging.

Ready-to-eat Food Packaging Paving New Pathways

Packaged food has witnessed higher demand worldwide, especially in the developed countries of Europe and North America. This has paved potential pathways with respect to use of aluminum foil packaging as it provides high quality barrier properties. With growing proliferation of packaged food products, ready-to-eat meals and processed foodshave gained high traction resulting in increased adoption of aluminum foil packaging. According to EAFA (European Aluminum Foil Association), around 3/4th of aluminum foil produced in Europe is used in packaging, particularly household and flexible packaging. Moreover, the European market has witnessed increased use of thin-gauge foils. This aspect is likely to trigger volume sales of aluminum foil in food ready-to-eat food packaging in the forthcoming years.

Phrased as Efficient Pharmaceutical Packaging Solutions

Use of aluminum foil packaging in the pharmaceutical industry has gained significant traction on the back of increasing use of blisters as efficient packaging solutions. With unrivaled properties,such as effective barrier against micro-organisms, oxygen, light, gases and moisture, use of aluminum foil packaging in pharmaceutical industry is expected to gain more ground, particularly for extra sensitive pharmaceutical products. Use of aluminum foil packaging solutions in the pharmaceutical industry has potentially appraised its market as it is used in packaging tablets, cold-formed foil blisters, push-through blisters, strip pack, dressings as well as high performance membrane for closures.

However Green, still has an Impact on Environment

Despite completely recyclable nature, most of the aluminum foil packaging, particularly from the food and beverage sector, ends up in landfills after use. Even among beverage cans, only 70 percent of the aluminum foil packaging is recycled in American households. In other regions, this ratio is even less, thus making the packaging solution anunused inventory and increasing its environmental footprint,which is likely to have an adverse impact on the environment.

Vapor Barrier and Insulation – Potential Opportunities in the Construction Sector

Low cost and high resistance of aluminum foil makes it a suitable option in industrial applications. Moreover, by alloying with metals such as manganese, magnesium, nickel, copper, zinc or silicon, aluminum foils with altered characteristics can be developed. That said, use of aluminum foil as vapor barrier and insulation in the construction sector is likely to offer countless opportunities for manufacturers. With 96 percent radiant heat reflecting capability of aluminum foil, it is a widely used material in thermal insulation in the household construction industry. It is used in wrapping cables providing additional insulation from moisture and other external agents. Moreover, aluminum foil is the base of aluminum adhesive tape that is used in wrapping thin wires, which has expanded the scope of use of aluminum foil as an efficient packaging solution.

Can Still Preserve the Green – An Innovative Breakthrough

In response to the environment health issue, Queen’s University Belfast has come up with an innovative solution of converting dirtyaluminum foil into biofuel, supporting the environment protection cause by solving landfill problems.In the UK, about 20,000 tons of aluminum foil packagingis dumped as waste every year, with most of it ending up in landfills. This wasted aluminum foil packaging can now be converted into a biofuel catalyst using innovative method of crystalizing the product. The resultant can be used in natural gas vehicles,which acts as a catalyst in catalytic converters of the vehicles. Such an innovative breakthrough can not only reduce the amount of aluminum foil packaging going into landfills but can also sidestep the negative environmental impact related to bauxite mining.

China vs. U.S. – Aluminum Industry in Critical Dilemma

China has been one of the leading producers of aluminum since the past couple of years, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the world’s aluminum production two decades ago. Today, China produces more than half of the world’s primary aluminum. This significant change has radically impacted the U.S. market. Moreover, subsidies and incentives are provided by the Chinese government that have led to uncontrolled construction of production facilities. Additionally, foil exporters in China receive a 15 percent value added tax rebate from the government. This translated into aluminum foil dumping in the U.S. market at fair market value or below cost, which resulted in anti-dumping duties imposed on China.

In response, China’s leading aluminum foil producers are preparing legal defense challenging the U.S. ruling that would impose huge penalties on imports. The charge on the case is led by The China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association (CNIA), which will be filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The outcome of this distortion is still unclear. However, the aluminum industry is likely to witness a strong turbulence in the forthcoming years, which is expected to significantly  impact the aluminum foil packaging scenario. To address this problem, several steps have been taken to curb the negative effects. This includes enforcement of trade laws, raids on transshipment and misclassification and increase in market transparency, among others.

The insights presented here are from a research study on Aluminum Foil Packaging Marketby Fact.MR.

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Food Marketing & Technology is a monthly magazine published by L.B. Associates Pvt Ltd

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