Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Packaging of food materials in plastic film pouches and rigid containers is the industry standard to day because of the convenience that is inherent in using them. In the evolution of food packaging from metal cans to plastics, consumer had been enjoying many advantages plastics have, such as light weight, shatter-proof feature, low cost, ease of use etc. But during the last one decade the safety of plastics has received critical attention because of the contaminants leached into the contents during processing as well as storage. Fossil fuel based plastics contain many chemicals which are dangerous for humans and there are standards for upper limits of these leachable substances in food. While these standards differ in various countries, there are global limits set by WHO which form the basis for member countries to generate their own standards. Still more data are being generated on the dangers of food contaminants and the limits are continuously coming down as more and more sophisticated analysis techniques are developed. Environmental hazards, posed by the indiscriminate disposal of used plastics which are not biodegradable, is another challenge in continuing with them perpetually. Enormous volume of information on safety of plastics, often contradictory in nature, has raised more questions regarding the safety of plastics, especially during the last one decade. It is in this context that glass is returning to the fore as the safest alternative for food packaging, with minimum risks to the consumer, in spite of some of the logistical problems associated with its use. Here is a commentary on this shift in the food packaging scenario.   

"A shatter-resistant glass water bottle product developed by Walt Himelstein. But now, in back to the future fashion, glass is making a bit of a comeback. And it is being helped in a small way by an entrepreneur who is developing a reusable glass bottle that is hard to break and will not shatter if broken. The shift to reusable glass water bottles from plastic and metal, which began taking off a couple of years ago, is becoming big business, retailers said. "I'd say glass bottles account for 20 percent, 30 percent of water bottle sales on our site now," said Vincent Cobb, founder of, which sells a variety of reusable products. "More and more people are looking for glass." The interest does not stop at water bottles. Consumer concerns that chemicals used in packaging can leach into the products they eat and drink are driving more and more beverage makers and food producers to use glass containers, said Lynn Bragg, president of the Glass Packaging Institute, an industry association. "They're also looking for sustainable products to be ecologically responsible." Coca-Cola is expanding the distribution of products — Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Sprite — that it sells in eight-ounce glass bottles, and S. C. Johnson now sells a line of reusable Ziploc containers called VersaGlass that can be used in a microwave, a freezer and, without their lids, even in an oven up to 400 degrees. "It's part of our overall effort to increase packaging diversity so that people have more choices of packaging and portion size," said Susan Stribling, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman. No one expects glass to replace plastic anytime soon. After all, billions of plastic bottles are used every year. But in a survey of more than 4,000 consumers this year by EcoFocus Worldwide, a research and consulting group, 37 percent said they were extremely or very concerned about the health and safety of plastics used in food and water packaging, compared to 33 percent in 2010".

Use of glass alternative is currently limited to water bottling and packing of beverages including sodas. The two inherent disadvantages of glass are the relatively higher weight per unit volume and its vulnerability to easy breakage and shattering. Both these issues are being addressed and light weight, shatter-resistant and thermally stable glass containers are now being made by the glass industry for different uses. Food industry is increasingly turning to glass because of its many advantages which include excellent clarity, neutral to chemical reaction, unleachable nature, impervious to tainting of the contents, good heat conductivity etc. One of the problems that is still defying solution is how to make the glass absolutely safe by preventing breakage altogether since even if there is a crack in the container, the contents become inedible. Probably food industry may still live with this problem because such breakages and consequent rejection rate, can be factored while pricing glass packaged products.


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