Packaging coatings

Formulating confidence through innovation: Q&A with Eastman coating experts

As regulations and consumer trends continue to shift, coatings formulators are looking to their suppliers to help them navigate the changes. We sat down with Eastman Group Leader Alain Cagnard and Market Development Manager Jim McCaulley to understand how these trends are shaping the future of food packaging.

1. What are the key trends in the packaging industry today?

Cagnard: Moving away from plastic and favoring both metal and fiber-based packaging is an increasing trend for the industry in both primary and secondary packaging. Along with that, the replacement of material of concerns such as bisphenols, PVC, PFAS, styrene, mineral oil, and hexavalent chromium is key in the development of innovative solutions to address both safety and sustainability concerns while providing appealing solutions for consumers.

McCaulley: Also, the recyclability and elimination of materials of concern in food and beverage packaging is an ever-increasing trend as more and more consumers are concerned about wellness in the wake of COVID.

2. How can new coatings enable packaging designers and converters to meet the challenges created by these market trends and regulations? What are some of the most exciting opportunities you see?

McCaulley: The directions for what may and may not go into my single-stream recycle cart are bewildering. I look forward to the day when almost all of the packaging that enters my home can be put in the bin. New coating technology will be key to developing more readily recyclable packaging. For example, better barrier coatings are needed to expand the addressable application space of fiber-based packaging for food.

Cagnard: In metal packaging, the industry has always been able to decrease metal thickness and increase line speed to improve efficiency. Coating technology always had to adapt to fulfill the requirements. To illustrate, the tin plate used in can coatings is going to remove its hexavalent chromium passivation treatment, and that creates an adhesion challenge for the existing coatings. At the same time, it creates an opportunity for new and greener coating technology to be implemented, including safer solvents.

3. How can raw material suppliers and coating formulators help shift some of the negative perceptions from consumers regarding the safety of packaged food items?

McCaulley: We must develop new products that contain no intentionally added materials of concern and minimal migration of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS). This should be backed up with more transparency about what’s in these products. Lastly, we have to do a better job communicating to consumers the progress that is being made.

Cagnard: Raw material suppliers not only stay on top of current regulations but also anticipate what would be the next material of concern that will come under scrutiny. Working with all the various players of the value chain in a candid and transparent way would prevent some of the negative perceptions from consumers.

4. It seems consumer and brand owner preference, as well as increasing regulatory pressure, is driving conversion to BPA-NI linings in food and beverages. What is your view of the current situation and the future?

Cagnard: BPA-NI conversion is already achieved at a high rate in both the U.S. and Europe, and other regions are getting ready to convert. The recent EFSA proposal is likely to accelerate the conversion process, including for exterior coatings.

McCaulley: I agree with Alain. The recent EFSA proposal to reduce the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of BPA by a factor of 100,000 in the EU is likely to accelerate and broaden the adoption of BPA-NI linings in food and beverage cans. Many U.S. consumers might be surprised to learn that nearly all food cans produced here are already BPA-NI. I expect this to be true in much of the world in the next 5 to 10 years.

5. Do you think consumers and, therefore, brand owners, retailers. and brand are willing to pay more for more sustainable packaging?

McCaulley: The value chains for packaged foods, beverages, and other consumer goods are very long. Even a substantially higher cost for sustainable packaging coating ingredients, if it were passed on to consumers, would not have a noticeable impact on retail price.

Cagnard: At the consumer level, BPA-NI conversion results in increased coatings cost of a cent or less for a food or beverage can, so it will not be noticed. However, at the retailer and brand level, even one cent times billions of cans mean a substantial increase in spending. With pressure from nongovernmental organizations and sustainability commitments taken by brand owners and retailers, some higher costs will be required to honor such commitments.

6. How can raw material suppliers help coating formulators meet future needs in packaging coatings and inks?

Cagnard: This is achieved through intimate collaboration with formulators but also downstream in the value chain to anticipate future material of concerns or future regulatory changes. Through a strong commitment to both innovation and sustainability, Eastman is supporting its customers globally with in-depth technical and market expertise.

McCaulley: To hit a moving target, we have to aim in front of it. We must understand emerging market needs and the regulatory landscape so that we can develop new materials that deserve a lasting place in the market. At Eastman, we do this through active engagement with all points in the value chain as well as NGOs, trade associations, and governments.

Want to hear more from our team about the future of industrial protective coatings? Contact us to connect with our industry representatives.

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