Sustainable packaging: the next commitments for Italy

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Nowadays, the impact of packaging as a byproduct of the food industry fortunately has become a topic of much discussion when we discuss the ecological footprint of food chains. However, at the same time reducing the use of packaging in the production and distribution of food is not easy.

Between 2014 and 2015, Italy will play an important role in the debate on the sustainability of packaging systems: first, at the end of the current year will end a three-year project in which our country is a partner; furthermore, packaging should be one of the hottest topics of Expo 2015. The exhibition coincides with another international fair dedicated to the packaging industry: the IPACK-IMA trade fair. 

From scientific research...

In December 2012, the European Union has funded an international project for reducing the environmental impact of food packaging. This project is called SUCCIPACK, it involves many countries, including Italy, until the end of 2014 and is coordinated by the Association de Coordination Technique pour l’Industrie Agro-alimentaire (ACTIA). It is funded by the European Union under FP7 and it has the aim of developing sustainable, active and intelligent food packaging materials.

In fact, the SUCCIPACK project has carried out the first production of polybutylene succinate (PBS) materials with 100% bio-based succinic acid (wheat sector) for the processing of food packaging. The production of new PBS grades has been performed by the Agro Industry Research and Development (ARD).

A first aspect is the optimization of the synthesis and compounding of polymer and copolymer grades for industrial plastic transformation processes to obtain films, trays and pouches. Tailored packaging functionalities will be obtained by flexible in-line surface treatments to control gas barrier properties and to introduce antimicrobial activity.

Until now, the first tests have demonstrated the feasibility of the material for packaging concerning fresh ricotta cheese and beef, while future tests are planned to understand how these materials perform for packaging fish, chicken and vegetarian dishes. 

...to international trade fairs

The interest of our country to the issue of packaging must not be only synonymous with European projects and research. The concept of sustainable packaging has to start at first by the large stakeholders, who are, together with the institutions, the real players in the game.

Packaging is also one of the topics that will be covered in Expo 2015, which has food as its main theme “Feed the planet, energy for life”. Expo 2015 is partner of the international fair to be held in Milan with the opening of the Expo itself: IPACK-IMA, which will take place from 19 to 23 May 2015 in Fieramilano exhibition center, and which will be focused on processing and packaging. “Without packaging you cannot feed the planet, and hence the collaboration with Expo,” says Guido Corbella, Chief Executive Officer of IPACK-IMA spa.

In accordance with the expectations, one of the topics that should most benefit from this co-operation with the theme of the Expo is just packaging. In collaboration with Expo, IPACK-IMA has planned a series of seminars and conferences for a sustainable vision for the technological and social development. Furthermore, thanks to the partnership with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) WFP, FAO and IFAD, today IPACK-IMA is recognized as the reference point for the development of initiatives and events that put technology at the heart of sustainable development.

“The main topic of the exhibition is precisely sustainability, not only in ecological terms but also from a social, economic and cultural perspective,” adds Corbella. “These are themes on which Italy seems to be very sensitive. For instance, the attention that the big players in the food industry are giving to the issue of prevention. Moreover, consumers today are very attracted by anything that is 'nature friendly' and then it is clear that the big brands have a common interest in working on the sustainability of packaging.”

But beyond the exhibition, there will be international conferences organized worldwide throughout 2014, that will accommodate a real dialogue around the theme of sustainable packaging.

East Afripack will host from 9 to 12 September 2014 at Nairobi, Kenya, the international conference “Food processing & packaging innovation for a sustainable development”, which examines the issue of sustainability as a key driver for future technological innovations and the development of the food industry. East Afripack, the exhibition dedicated to the process technology, packaging and converting industry in East Africa, has been organized by IPACK-Ima spa in joint venture with PMMI and in partnership with UNIDO, EAC and the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development of the Government of Kenya.

This is part of the cycle of conferences developed by Ipack-Ima and UNIDO through a Memorandum of Understanding. The cycle started in Mumbai, India on February 11th of this year. It will continue with the upcoming conference at East Afripack, followed by another in Indonesia, autumn 2014, and will reach a climax in Italy during the second day of IPACK-IMA 2015 on May 20th.

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