Sustainable packaging: What does the future hold for dairy products?

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

Plastic snap-on lids for yogurt or drinking cups could soon disappear from the refrigerated section and be replaced by new solutions that reduce the plastic content of the overall packaging. Lids with integrated drinking openings are an alternative. Pic: Syntegon
Plastic snap-on lids for yogurt or drinking cups could soon disappear from the refrigerated section and be replaced by new solutions that reduce the plastic content of the overall packaging. Lids with integrated drinking openings are an alternative. Pic: Syntegon

Related tags: Packaging, Dairy, Sustainability, Plastic

The environmental impact of packaging has gained importance within the last few years. Manufacturers are seeking new approaches to use environmentally-friendly materials such as paper. Sensitive products like dairy, call for innovative technologies that meet these high demands.

Processing and packaging company Syntegon Technology, based in Waiblingen, Germany, told DairyReporter it is working on innovations that make packaging for yogurt, dips and desserts safe and hygienic – even when using paper.

What’s next for plastic packaging?

In the future, Syntegon, formerly the packaging division of the Bosch Group, believes manufacturers will rely more and more on renewable raw materials and will reduce the plastic content in packaging.

Syntegon_PP_paper cups
Although paper cups have a better ecological footprint, they are more sensitive. Moisture and heat can damage the material. New technological solutions are needed to facilitate gentle handling on filling machines. Syntegon works with customers to implement these technologies on existing and new machines.

For example, plastic snap-on lids for yogurt cups will gradually disappear from the refrigerated section and be replaced by new solutions that reduce the packaging’s overall plastic content. New packaging concepts are being developed as an alternative to snap-on lids for refrigerated drinks.

Some initial approaches include reusable lids or peel-off lids with integrated drinking openings.

This eliminates the need for plastic snap-on lids with drink openings. Besides reducing the plastic content and improving recyclability, the environmental impact of packaging also extends to lower carbon emissions thanks to less packaging weight and less product waste. In the future, cup solutions for viscous products made of plastic-paper mixtures as well as mono-material solutions will replace composite materials.

Syntegon said for some products, the issue of sustainability is easier to implement, while for others, such as liquid and viscous foods, technological developments are necessary.

How can collaboration support the development of new innovations?

Syntegon said its goal is to develop new technical solutions that make it possible to use sustainable materials on new and existing filling lines. The company tests materials for its machine runability and hygiene properties at its Liquid Food Lab in Königsbrunn.

Together with partners, Syntegon evaluates which adjustments are necessary to adapt existing machines to new requirements. Product safety and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive, the company added.

Enhancing sustainability by testing new technologies

In the past, plastic was the most commonly-used packaging material because it is robust and easy to handle. A major challenge in the transition to sustainable materials is to keep machine performance high and minimize the rejection of faulty packaging.

Paper solutions tear or crease more quickly. Product handling in the machine and during transport is therefore much more challenging than with plastic cups. Also, the machines have to be able to process conventional materials as well as the new sustainable materials.

Syntegon_Ilona Junker
As part of Syntegon’s sustainability team, Ilona Junker develops new technical solutions for filling machines, making it possible to use sustainable packaging materials for liquid and viscous food products.

Syntegon said it conducts research and develops new technologies to solve these issues. It assesses various processing parameters of possible packaging materials, such as paper or recyclable PP mono-material films, to address questions such as how cups are destacked, how they sit in the carrier plate, and how the material reacts to differences in temperature.

The Liquid Food Lab studies performance, and also evaluates germ reduction and tests product filling. These tests predict the necessary machine adjustments and sensory effects on the product to support customers in their transition to sustainable materials.

Highly flexible machines enable quick and easy changes between different materials – a key point when several products are to be packed and sealed on one machine. For this reason, Syntegon said it works on individual solutions with customers to retrofit existing systems. New lines are equipped with the developed solutions and become standard.

Syntegon said its goal is to develop technical solutions that make it possible to fill liquid and viscous food products into sustainable packaging made of paper or mono-material. This includes new technologies for sterilization, sealing and machine handling. The company added that parameters such as new materials, technological progress, digitalization, new regulations, but also regional conditions influence the further development potential for environmentally friendly packaging.

Syntegon Technology has more than 6,100 employees at 30 locations in more than 15 countries. Its portfolio includes stand-alone machines, as well as complete systems and services. In the food industry, the portfolio includes process technology for dairy, as well as confectionery, dry foods and frozen foods.

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