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Chemical emissions and the challenges ahead

Thursday, 3 May 2012 at 11:20:AM

Dr Caroline Widdowson of Markes International examines the issue of chemicals in food packaging

A comment piece published in Packaging News

The occasional, but very widespread and damaging, bursts of media attention focusing on the range of chemicals found in food packaging, plastic bottles, wrappings and containers has meant that ‘materials emissions’ has become something of a buzz phrase for many of those working in product manufacturing.

Hard-hitting headlines such as ‘Eating canned soup poses a ‘health risk’ (BBC News), ‘Toxic chemicals from labels seep through packaging and contaminate food’ (Daily Telegraph), ‘Cancer linked to cereal packets’ (Daily Express) and ‘Chemicals in packaging may lower fertility’ (Daily Mail), have meant that the packaging industry has had to face some major challenges.

Even in news stories where an industry spokesperson seeks to assure the public that there is no risk to human health there still remains a difficult, and often long-lasting, public relations barrier to overcome.

Added to this, the increase in regulations and market pressure from many diverse manufacturing sectors (Construction, Automotive, Toys, and Consumer goods) has greatly increased consumer awareness of the potential health risks associated with various chemicals.

But what choice do manufacturers have to proactively and positively manage the potential problems related to the chemicals in their products? Whether you’re concerned with the effects of chemicals leaching from packaging, ink contamination, migration of mineral oils from packaging to food or the re-use of plastic water bottles I’m sure that most people would agree that it’s not acceptable for manufacturers not to know what effect their products could have on a consumer’s health.

While any move to introduce new legislation linked to chemicals in packaging is likely to take years, the pressure from consumers and forward-thinking competitors alike are forcing the hand of many manufacturers.

There are of course numerous companies that are actively embracing these challenges, seeing them as opportunities to improve their overall product offering or brand image. Those of us working in materials emissions testing have seen a growing demand from manufacturers for us to work alongside them to develop a range of simple and quick tests that enable them to fully understand the exact nature and specific chemical make-up of their products.

The use of new innovations and technology to enable effective in-house material emission testing is already common place in related industries and this trend looks certain to gather further momentum in the packaging industry over the coming years.

Dr Caroline Widdowson MRSC is a material emissions specialist for Markes International

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