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Plastics in Food Packaging in India

Plastics in Food Packaging in India

Packaging fulfils the diverse role from protecting products, preventing spoilage, contamination, extending shelf life, ensuring safe storage thereby helping to make them readily available to consumers. India is one of the largest producers of commodities like Food grains (220 mln MT), Sugar (20 mln MT), Milk (180 mln MT) Fruits, Vegetables (150 mln MT), Pulses (20 mln MT) and tea. Due to varied crop pattern, localized production of commodities, safe and hygienic storage, transportation and distribution, and protection against wastage, packaging is of utmost importance. Huge losses have been observed in agriculture produce in India. Wastage varies from 5-35% depending on nature of crops. Majority of wastage takes place in each of the above steps viz. storage, transportation and at retail market due to improper packaging. Bulk Packaging provides a solution for commodities weighing 10-50 kg during handling, storage and transportation, while smaller packaging for food products range from 50 ml to 5kg. Plastics based on Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Polyvinyl Chloride and PET is mainly used for packaging applications.
Why Plastics for packing?
Plastics have emerged as the most preferred choice of packaging material for various products- from food, beverages, chemicals, electronic items and so on. They offer unique advantages over conventional materials.
• Safety: Plastics are safer materials for packaging of food products specially polyolefins which do not react with food. Pilferage and contamination is difficult.
• Shelf Life: Plastics packaging material offer better shelf life
• Cost: Plastics are the most cost effective medium of packaging when compared with any other material, the cost of transportation is reduced considerable on account of lower weight            and less damage
• Convenience: Plastics can be converted in any form with various processing techniques, thus can pack any type of substances like liquids, powders, flakes, granules, solids.
• Waste: Packaging in plastics reduces the wastage of various food products, typical example is potatoes or onions packed in leno.
• Aesthetics: A right choice of plastics packaging increased the aesthetic value of products and helps in brand identity
• Handling and Storage: Products packed in plastics are easiest to handle and store as well as transport.
• Plastic products are easy to recycle.
Every day there are new products packed in plastics replacing conventional products and when a thought is given to pack a new product the first choice appears in the mind is Plastic packaging material.
Foods products packed in plastics: There are various food items those are effectively and economically packed in various types of plastic packaging materials.
1) Food Grains, Pulses and Sugar
Packaging and storage of foodgrains and sugar is a challenging job. Both are hygroscopic and thermally active. Ideal Packaging System for these commodities should have adequate mechanical properties and should sustain the quality on long-term storage. Considering the packaging needs both International and Indian standards are used. In India BIS standards have been formulated for Plastic woven sacks for foodgrain (IS 14887:2000) and sugar (IS: 14968: 2001) Packaging.
Various studies and field trial have been conducted both in food storage go-downs and laboratories to establish suitability of PP Woven Sacks for long-term storage of food grains and sugar. The studies have been conducted from institute of repute like Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Indian Grain Storage Management and Research Institute (IGMRI), Industrial Toxicological Research Centre (ITRC), and Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) etc. Test and trial parameters were selected in view of most important parameters with respect to Food grains storage and packaging. Outcome of these studies and trial compared to other conventional material of packaging can be summarized as under:
• PP Woven Sacks restrict moisture permeation and insect penetration
• Lower temperature during storage hence lesser insect germination
• Better insecticide persistency to reduce its application and cost
• Odour of the stored commodity is not altered
• From Entomological aspects, PP Woven Sacks are superior
• CFTRI certification of raw materials used for PP Woven Sacks from safety angle for food contact applications
• ITRC has certified these bags suitable and meet all the physico-chemical and biological tests required for food grain storage
• Food grains stored in PP Woven Sacks conform to �Prevention of food adulteration act and rules� as per Delhi Test House report
• Mechanical properties of PP Woven Sacks (tensile strength and stretchability) are superior
• Drop impact strength and slip tendencies of bags stacked are better and comparable respectively with stack height up to 35 layers
2) Fruits and Vegetables
India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. However, the national loss of fruits and vegetables is staggering as high as 35%. Lack of cold storages, PHM, improper packaging and abusive handling of farm produce are major reason of losses. Horticulture produces are sent to various Mandis by trucks without any packaging or mainly in wooden box, paper cartons, jute bags and crates.
Leno with following features over traditional materials is excellent fit for them.
• Excellent breathability, No rotting, sweating of vegetables.
      o Increase the shelf life of contents.
      o Lower wastage and spillage.
• No Fungal growth, hence hygienic
• Good aesthetics and visibility hence quality product
• Good strength of the bags
• Lighter in weight -more can be transported at lower cost.
• Does not impart Odour to packed contents.
• Insects and chemical resistant.
Coupled with cost advantages of leno over jute bags it has become world choice for fresh fruit and vegetable packaging. Export norms by some counties too specify use of leno as packaging material particularly for onion, potatoes etc.
3) Dairy Products � Milk and Milk Products
Dairy Industry is of crucial importance to India. Dairy products are a major source of cheap and nutritious food to millions of people in India
• India is largest milk producer ~100 MTA, valued at US$26 bln.
• Per capita milk availability growing @ only 1.5 %
• Almost 20% of the total milk produced is being packed and handled by Organized sector. Out of this 85% milk is packed in flexible PE pouches. PE pouches are made of    LLDPE/LDPE materials in 50-60 micron thickness.
• Plastic pouches are economical and durable packing medium for pasteurized milk.
• Other materials used for packaging of milk are glass bottles, tetrapack and plastic containers. Amongst these, Plastic containers are better choice for packaging.
• Flavored milk is predominantly packed in glass bottles. With new technology of sterilization, plastics (PP) bottles are getting inroads in this market and will soon replace glass bottles.
• Other dairy products for which plastics are used for packing are Dahi, Butter ghee and sweets.
Even though India is the largest producer of the milk, the milk does not reach each individual as cost of handling and storage as well as transportation is high. New developments with plastics for packaging of milk will help in considerable increase in the shelf life of the milk even at room temperature.
4) Health Drinks
Health drinks like Bournvita, Complan, Boost, Horliks are gaining popularity in India. The consumption of these products is increasing multifold. Until few years back, all of these were packed in glass jars and refill packs. Polypropylene jars have now replaced almost all the glass bottles and offer numerous advantages over glass. The advantages are summarised below,
• Cost: Cost of packaging as well transportation has considerably reduced.
• Handling: There is total elimination of problems that use to occur while handling glass bottles, such as injuries caused due to breakages, damage due to mishandling
• Weight: to pack 1 kg product, a 700 gm glass bottle has been replaced by 70 gm PP bottles, considerably reducing the overall weight of the pack
5) Processed / Semi Processed Food / Bakery products
Invent of plastic flexible packaging has given a boost to processed food consumption all over the world. Plastics offer all the packaging needs of the processed foods from barrier properties, microwave-ability, and shelf life to aesthetics.
• Plastic packaging offer better oxygen and moisture barrier properties, for example
• Food packed in PP thermoformed trays can be micro waved before consumption
• Shelf life of pickles, spices, cookies, breads and many other products is enhanced considerably when packed in pouches made from plastics films
• The appearance of the pouches can be enhanced with modern printing and lamination techniques thus offering better brand image which leads to more value addition, for example BOPP for biscuit packaging, 3 layer PET/PE laminates for potato chips.
6) Beverages
Beverages are generally classified in two types, carbonated and non carbonated. For carbonated beverages PET bottles are the choice of packing. Non Carbonated beverages include fruit juices; PET bottles, PET/PE pouches and PP bottles are used for packing these.
7) Ready to eat food
Retortable and ready to eat foods are being very common because of the present life style. Both flexible and rigid plastics are used for packing of these products. Microwave ability, better shelf life, hygiene and aesthetics are the positive factors that are in favor of plastic packaging materials.
8) Edible Oil
Multilayer PE pouches, laminates as well as HDPE containers are used for packaging of edible oil.

Recyclability of plastics
As plastics are non bio degradable, their disposal some times is a problem. The most effective way of handling this issue is to recycle the products after use. Recycled plastics find many applications especially where food packaging is not done.
• Plastics offer a safe, hygienic and cost effective means of packing both raw and processed food products.
• Use of plastics for packaging reduces food spoilage is storage, transportation and on shelf in the retail stores
• In India, Raw Materials, machineries as well as finished products that are required to manufacture plastic packaging products are amply available.
(Authors: Dr. U.K. Saroop and Prashant Parkhe, Reliance Industries Limited)
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