Flexible packaging: enabling reuse and reducing emissions for transport packaging

Flexible packaging is used in transport to ensure the safe movement of food around the EU by reducing food waste, emissions, avoiding contamination and enabling reuse of rigid containers.

By Guido Aufdemkamp

Guido Aufdemkamp is the Executive Director of Flexible Packaging Europe.

20 Nov 2023

Do you know how your passata is transported once the tomatoes are produced and before it is packaged? Flexible packaging is used in transport to ensure the safe movement of food around the EU by reducing food waste, emissions, avoiding contamination and enabling reuse of rigid containers. Now the newly proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) rules risk halting this efficient packaging system by mandating all transport packaging to be reusable in many applications, including those in direct contact with food.

Usually, liquid food products such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, tropical fruit or traditional fruits as juices, concentrates or pulps are transported using an industrial bag-in-box packaging system. Those systems protect and safely deliver to the production facility bulk amounts of flowable food and chemical products in packaging as large as 1,600 liters. The packaging system is usually made of a flexible liner or bag which is inserted into a rigid and reusable container in the form of a drum or a big rigid box.

These flexible liners allow the reuse of rigid bulk containers like IBCs and drums, with less water needed to clean and service the bulk containers. In addition, an optimized packaging-to-product ratio means that an aseptic bag represent only 0.3% or 0.5% of the weight of the product. The aseptic protection provided by the flexible bag permits the preservation for long-period at room temperature of very sensible goods. Therefore, not only does flexible transport packaging enable efficient reuse of drums and other rigid containers, but it also allows to avoid setting up a cold or frozen chain for those products and it protects against cross-contamination.

For example, most tomatoes processed globally (more than 40 million tonnes) are transported in aseptic bags which also allow storage for up to two years to balance out the offer (from harvest) and demand (processing industry) without cold or frozen chain. EU food processors (shelf stable tomatoes, tomato paste and purées, ready meals, soups, pizza, liquid sauces, pasta sauces or ketchup) rely on the global tomato chain for access to tomatoes all year long. Other products, such as nuts, grains and other dry food also rely on flexible intermediate bulk containers to transport packaging and avoid cross-contamination, food waste and reduce emissions in transport.

The PPWR ENVI report currently mandates all transport packaging to be reusable if transport happens within the same Member State or within sites and partner enterprises (including outer EU factories). In practice, this would constitute a ban for flexible transport packaging and cause heavy disruption of the supply chain for tomatoes and for other liquid and dry foods.

The alternative to flexible packaging for large quantities of supplied tomatoes, fruits and others is a cold or frozen chain with much higher environmental impacts in logistics and storage as well as lower nutritional values and shorter shelf life. In addition, without such flexible packaging, spoilage via oxidation, contamination or exposure to heat or light is inevitable and would bring to substantial food waste.

We therefore call the European Parliament to address this issue in plenary and exempt transport packaging in direct contact with food from obligations on reuse in Article 26 paragraphs 12 and 13. The vote of EU policy makers in the November plenary is crucial towards preserving the stability of the EU’s food supply system.

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This article was produced in partnership with Flexible Packaging Europe.