The certification of packaging materials occurs at several levels. The goal of certification is to assure compliance with a standard. Certification involves a so-called third party, the certifier, determining whether an organisation complies with the rules. These rules are recorded in a standard. Certification is basically a method to demonstrate “reliability,” whether it be in the form of a certification or some other mark of quality. This reliability may concern product/food safety, avoiding the use of toxic substances, complying with the rules of the sustainable extraction of the materials being used or meeting a certain material standard with regard to the disposal phase of the packaging materials in question. There are also certifications that concern the work processes being used, such as the ISO22000 food safety management system and BRC. Although these have less to do with the materials being used, they can impact that aspect as well.
With regard to sustainable packaging, there are various standards that packaging materials can or have to meet. Some well-known examples include:
- Product/food safety standard: European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
- Standard for wood/paper fibres from sustainably managed forests (FSC / PEFC)
- Compostability standard EN13432 (various)
Considerations when using certified materials
- Buyers of raw materials and/or packaging materials can depend on a (generally) reliable quality guarantee as a result of the materials’ certifications. Work is taken out of their hands because the certifiers audit suppliers’ compliance with the requisite standards.
- Certified materials can offer added value with regard to the marketing of the product-packaging combination.
- Buyers of raw materials and/or packaging materials have to make do with the established parameters/standards of the certification in question. As a result, perhaps no one will bother to ask for (even) more improvements.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
In Regulation 282/2008/EG, specific requirements are given for the reuse of plastic as a packaging material for food products. The goal of these requirements is to manage the risks in the recycling process.
Companies that produce recycled plastic that will come into contact with food products may only use approved materials and processes that are authorised by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Critical aspects of a material's approval are the quality of the plastic that is to be recycled and the “cleansing ability” of the recycling process itself. For PET, no more than 5% of the input stream may consist of non-food packaging.
Standard for wood/paper fibres from sustainably managed forests (FSC/PEFC)
The international FSC / PEFC certification guarantees that wood and paper products come from a sustainably managed forest and that the forest is preserved.
Certification involves a so-called third party, the certifier, determining whether an organisation complies with the rules. These rules are recorded in a standard. FSC and PEFC are the two biggest certification systems. They offer two forms of certification: certification of forest management (FM) and certification or businesses, the Chain of Custody (CoC).
To distinguish certified wood and paper from non-certified (wood) products, all links in the business chain must be certified (certification of the “Chain of Custody” (CoC)). CoC certification means that all businesses in the business chain, from the saw mill to the manufacturer of end products, are capable of keeping the stream of certified wood products administratively and physically separated from other wood products and that a certifier has determined that these businesses comply with all applicable rules.
Compostability standard EN13432
Compostable packaging materials are materials that meet the requirements of the EN13432 standard. When packaging materials and disposables are EN13432 certified, they may carry a seedling and/or OK Compost logo. These logos indicate that the product can be composted in an industrial environment. Organisations such as TUV Austria and DIN-CERTCO follow the protocol specified in the standard to determine whether a packaging meets the requirements. Whether and under what conditions a packaging may be disposed of as organic waste differs per country.
Situation in various countries
In the Netherlands, packaging materials that are designed to come into contact with food products have to meet the requirements of the Commodities Act decree on packaging and consumer articles. The Regulation on packaging and consumer articles further substantiates this Commodities Act decree. The Commodities Act decree and the Regulation are the Netherlands’ national implementation of the European requirements, but they include additional rules as well. For the production of various types of materials, there is a positive list of starting materials, production excipients and additives. Only the substances included on this list may be used for the production of the packaging or the product. These (positive) lists can be found in the Regulation on packaging and consumer articles. For example, the Regulation on packaging and consumer articles states that the recycled fibres from paper and cardboard may be used. In the Netherlands, nearly 3,000 businesses have a CoC certification.
Packaging materials and process
When developing sustainable packaging materials, choosing the right material and packaging process is an important step. When choosing a material, you are basically also choosing a packaging process. This combination determines which packaging types you can produce.
Here is an example: suppose you want to package soup. You not only have to choose a material, for example glass, plastic or metal, but also a packaging type, for example a glass bottle, a glass jar, a plastic bag, or a metal can. Each of these options calls for a specific processing process, since filling a glass jar requires entirely different production lines than filling a flexible bag.
The choice for a sustainable packaging solution is therefore not only limited to the sustainability of packaging materials. In addition to the material itself, the packaging process and the logistical process also affect the sustainability. This section therefore contains both information about material selection and raw materials as well as points of attention for the packaging process, packaging systems, and logistics.
Fact sheets Requirements for Packaging materials
Paper – published by Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging
Commodities Act decree on packaging and consumer articles
Paper – published by Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport