News focus: The sustainable future of packaging

Labels still a sticking point for bioplastics

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Label

In the second part of our look back series on major developments at
this year's Interpack trade show in Dusseldorf, Germany, examines the importance of reforming labelling on
bio-packaging to the industry.

Along with innovation in developing wider applications of bio-packaging for beverage, food and other consumer products, the industry must also look at how it addresses consumers through labelling. Debate in particular rages over simplifying existing labelling for biodegradable and bio-based packaging, while ensuring the consumer is informed sufficiently about a packs individual properties. According to Joeran Reske of industry association European Bioplastics, labelling is vitally important, particularly in terms of certification, to ensuring the success of bioplastics. Compostability ​ Taking the example of compostable materials, Reske said that certification had to address many issues involed in the packaging, from labels and colours used, to the origin of the adhesive holding labels onto a product. "At a consumer level, it is hard to tell traditional plastics apart from bio-based alternatives,"​ Reske said. In Europe alone, there are currently two prominent labels used to identify packaging certified for compostability, according to European Bioplastics. These include the "seedling" logo devised by the association itself, which is already used in a number of markets like the UK and the Netherlands, and the OK Compost label used mainly in French speaking countries. Despite the apparent differences, European Bioplastics claims that both certifications represented similar European standards on bio-based materials. The association claimed that in the interests of promoting the use of bioplastics in an expanding single market, it made sense to look to harmonise existing compostability labelling. Simplification ​ Reske added that the market should be at the heart of any changes to labelling, with a more simplified system involving the use of a single certification logo best-serving consumers needs. Andy Sweetman, market development manager of Innovia films agreed that the system needed addressing, claiming that confusion exists among consumers over the compostability of packaging. He called for the possible adoption of two different logos that would differentiate between products suitable for either home or industrial composting, possibly by amending the existing "seedling" label. Patrick Gerritsen, from rival manufacturer Natura, who was also speaking at the event, said that bioplastics should be certified with different logos for both the renewability and compostability of a product. "We should have a single logo for a single message,"​ he stated. "In the end consumers must receive a clear message about a product, and right now the message is not clear."Renewability ​ European Bioplastics chairman Harald Käb added that devising a logo that additionally highlighted a products renewability was important to the industry, but was some way away from being put into practice. "There is not much space for labelling on consumer products,"​ he told "When you therefore begin to require more labels on products, it is obviously becomes increasingly difficult." ​ Carbon labelling was one area that Käb says particularly highlights the difficulties in displaying more detailed on-pack information on products. "While issues like compostability are still very complex, scientifically a label has to address whether a product is or is not biodegradable, effectively creating a yes or no situation,"​ he said. "With a sustainability mark, you cannot simply have a yes or no answer." ​ Käb said that an effective label for so-called carbon renewable packaging would therefore require more detailed information on the exact percentage of material sourced from either renewable plant-based or non-renewable petro-chemical derived carbon. This issue, he added, would consequently be exactly the same for other potential labelling areas including energy use within the packaging. Käb said that the industry was currently reviewing various options such as a multi-label that contains various information regarding environmental performance, though a solution could be some way from realisation. "We need a label above all else to make a reliable statement to the consumer,"​ he stressed. "This is an issue we are currently discussing, though we may not see it for another ten to twenty years yet."

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