Sustainability was top of mind for exhibitors and visitors at the trade show
July 14, 2023 By Martin Habekost
After a six-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Interpack, one of the world’s largest trade shows for the packaging industry, in Düsseldorf, Germany, opened its doors again to visitors from 155 countries.
More than 2800 exhibitors showcased their technologies and solutions from May 4 to 10, 2023. Approx. 143,000 visitors attended Interpack with two-thirds of them coming from abroad. The trade show focused on the four topics of circular economy, resource management, digital technologies, and product safety. There were machines for filling containers, from glass and metal to hard and soft plastic. Fault detection solutions, ranging from leaks to metal detection in food, were also on display. Videojet, a well-known coding and marking solution provider, had a large booth at the show.
Sustainability and reduced energy consumption of processes was an important topic at Interpack. Many paper-based, and less- or no-plastic packaging solutions were exhibited at the show. CCL Labels showed the various embellishment solutions they offer on shrink sleeves for alcoholic beverages using premium foils and embossing. They also offer blow mould and in-mould labelling solutions. They had an interesting demonstration of clear labels for beer bottles. The adhesive is water-soluble, and the labels come off when the bottle is immersed in 70 C water. The label then sinks to the bottom of the hot water bath.
Another exhibitor was Sappi Paper, who had on display their innovative (e.g. cellulose-based) solutions for paper-based flexible packaging. One of the products they showed was heat-sealable paper. Of course, paper cannot be heat-sealed on its own. Sappi’s product has a coating, which is certified for food contact, on the inside of the packaging. This coating gives the heat seal properties. These paper packages are being sold commercially in the European market.
Many exhibiting companies were claiming to be sustainable. Most of the time, the sustainability claims stemmed from either using less energy or fewer materials than before. Some companies have moved away from petroleum-based raw materials. One such company is LEEF, which makes a variety of products, such as trays, plates, cutlery, and flip-flops, from dried and compressed palm leaves.
A new feature of the show was the Interpack Spotlight. Every day, the spotlight was on a specific topic. Sustainability was spotlighted on day four. One of the talks on that day highlighted software that can help create more sustainable products. The company Recyda helps customers navigate laws and product labelling requirements so that a product can be recycled correctly in the market it is being offered in. Recyda is active in Europe and plans to expand into North America shortly.
During a presentation, the German Association of Machinery and Equipment Manufacturers (VDMA) said packaged food sales will increase to 5.3 billion tons in 2026, a 14 per cent increase from 2021. North America and Europe will see an increase of eight per cent until 2026. This also means an increase in the use of packaging materials, especially rigid and flexible plastic, by 14 and 21 per cent, respectively. If nothing gets done, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Also, food loss based on spoilage during transport is quite immense. VDMA sees mechanical engineering as a key driver for sustainability. Retrofitting older machines with new control and drive systems can reduce power consumption by up to 30 per cent. Their booth showed many innovative solutions from German universities. One of the innovations was a seaweed-based film that can be transformed into trays and dishwasher tab wrappers. The wrapper dissolves in water and doesn’t leave a residue. During the Interpack show, the innovators of this product also found that their materials can be marked with inkjet and laser engraved.
Another innovative product on display was resealable product bags made from 100 per cent paper by German company Weber Verpackungen. These bags allow consumers to see the product inside. Other companies showcased sustainable self-adhesive tapes to replace the plastic-based adhesive tapes for sealing shipping boxes. The adhesive is natural rubber-based, and some of the tapes are even compostable in an industrial composting facility. Elsewhere on the show floor, I saw kraft paper-based air pillows to protect products during shipping.
I also came across a company that developed a heat-sealing machine for packaging trays. Unfortunately, the transparent material used to provide heat-sealing capabilities is still petroleum-based. However, it is a question of time until someone develops a film based on sustainable material. The same company also offers pulp-based heat-sealable menu trays.
Ricoh showed a very innovative marking solution. They developed a special coating that can be printed with a flexo press. The coating is semi-transparent and can be printed with a thermal printhead. They call it “On Demand Direct Packaging Printing” for marking prepacked fresh food. The special coating that can be marked with a thermal printhead has to be printed last. Due to the layer’s semi-transparent nature, the tray’s content is somewhat visible. This technology removes the need for labels that are often hard to remove from packaging as well as the need for ribbons used in thermal transfer printing. Currently, this solution is intended for packaging trays for cheese and cold cuts, fresh meat and fish as well as soft fruits and vegetables.
Overall, sustainability was at the forefront of the 2023 Interpack trade show. While several plastic-based packaging and wrapping solutions were on display, there were more recyclable options. It was, again, an exciting trade show for the packaging industry. The next Interpack will be held in Düsseldorf from May 7 to 13, 2026.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of PrintAction.
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