Recycled fibre: how do you reconcile eco-friendliness and food safety?

In 2011, Cascades used 3.1 million tons of recycled fibre, which helped to preserve 44 million trees.

In a recent post, we discussed the food safety challenge posed by the presence of mineral oil in recycled fibres. We argued that although several possible solutions exist, they all elicit questions. Also, they largely involve substantial increases in packaging costs and major process changes. What are these solutions?

  • Stop using recycled fibres and switch back to virgin fibres

Using virgin pulp exclusively would result in a 25 % cost increase, not to mention the devastating impact it would have on our natural resources. Also, if we went purely with new cardboard, our entire recycled cardboard division would collapse. That’s really not what we’re aiming for!

  • Change the composition of newspaper printing inks

This option would solve the root of the problem, but it’s unlikely to be adopted in an industry that’s already severely weakened by competition from electronic and other media. Not only would changing the ink type be expensive, it may not even be technologically possible with current printing presses. In the food packaging printing sector, vegetable-based ink could be an interesting alternative to consider. Vegetable-based inks that are currently available include flaxseed, soybean and sunflower oil.

  • Sort fibres at the source to remove newspaper or incorporate more virgin fibres

Currently, the idea that we could refine sorting processes enough to completely remove newspaper is just a pipe dream. Although this option would significantly lessen the risk of migration, there are practical constraints inherent to the sorting and collection processes. Incorporating more virgin fibres is not a real solution—diluting the pulp wouldn’t completely negate the risk of migration.

  • Strengthen inner packaging bags to form a better barrier

Polyethylene (PE) bags do not prevent migration. We would need to find the right barrier for preventing or reducing migration: an aluminum or metallised PET bag. Such a change would lead to significant technological challenges in packaging lines and inevitable cost increases. It’s also worth recalling that the bag becomes useless once it is open, since migration is volatile (airborne).

  • Apply a functional barrier

Applying a surface treatment to paper could curb mineral oil migration. Extrusion coating and water coating processes look like promising options. Still, major challenges remain. We would have to develop an innovative, low-cost functional barrier that could completely stop migration.

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A few recommendations in light of this analysis
  • Fill the current regulatory void and define mineral oil regulations;
  • Promote the use of vegetable-based or low-migration printing inks for packaging;
  • Carry out more studies on analysis methods, oil migration and above all, the impact of that phenomenon on human health.

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This brings our two-post series on the subject to a close. While health and eco-friendliness are usually two complementary aspects of sustainable development, here, they are causing a paradox. What do you think about this? Feel free to voice your comments or questions.

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About the Author
Islem Yezza

Islem Yezza is a Technical Business Development Director at Cascades. He has worked both in academic and private sectors, notably he occupied the position of R&D manager of an international flexible packaging Group. He earned his PhD in bioprocess engineering from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS). After graduating, NSERC awarded him a post-doctoral fellowship at the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI-NRC). One major achievement of his research: the development of an innovative process for the production of biopolymer using maple sap as feedstock, for which he obtained a patent. Islem published regularly peer-reviewed papers and made contributions to national and international conferences. He has given several interviews in different media as a specialist in sustainable and smart packaging.

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1 comment
  1. vinyl stickers at 2:30 pm

    Today everything available online. This also has played important to minimize the wastes of packaging. I agree with you on other factors that like refining the process can also be good way to minimize the wastes of packaging material.

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