Industry fate is sealed

11 May 2020

Before the covid-19 reality, sustainability led the agenda for the packaging and converting industry, dictating a number of the newest innovations and launches. A key example of this has been occurring in the adhesives market, where concerns about epoxy silanes being genotoxic have led to substitutions and new products being released. Here, the Association of the European Adhesive & Sealant Industry (FEICA)’s technical working group, Paper and Packaging, discuss the latest circular economy developments, and provide further background to the reasons behind the removal of epoxy silane from food contact materials

In December last year, the EU launched the ‘European Green Deal’, which sought to set out its sustainable future. It gives due consideration to climate, green energy and industry-supported circularity, with a particular focus on value chains in packaging, construction, electronics and textiles.

Supporting the concept of the European Green Deal is a study from September 2019 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which concluded that the circular economy can contribute to emissions reduction by transforming the way we make, use and dispose of products, leading to a more sustainable economy. The adhesive and sealant sector, represented by The Association of the European Adhesive and Sealant Industry (FEICA), supports the European Commission’s objectives within the European Green Deal for a comprehensive approach to ‘closing the loop’ of product life cycles, bringing benefits for the environment, the economy and society, and helping to achieve a more sustainable future.

Adhesives and sealants have been creating more sustainable solutions for decades. Some of the industry’s recent innovations are described in the Good

Practices section on the FEICA website, and on the EU Commission’s European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. There are examples from various sectors that are relevant for the European Green Deal, covering the main areas of circularity and sustainable development – showing the value improvement that adhesives and sealants deliver to a broad range of applications. One of those is in energy-saving. Adhesives and sealants enable solutions that save energy in the  use phase of buildings and vehicles; for example, the fixation of insulation panels, the production of lightweight cars and more.

Another innovation is material efficiency. Adhesives enable the optimised use of materials, such as composite materials for lightweight vehicles and for furniture components, supporting the use of renewable materials such as wood in construction. Repairability is also important. Adhesives extend the utility, use phase and service life of many products, like shoes and conveyor belts. Durability also extends the life span of products and components.

Finally, with recycling, adhesives that do not impede recycling, such as those used in paper recycling, the cleaning and reuse of returnable glass bottles, and recycling of food packaging. These adhesives also help improve material efficiency because less material needs to be processed when the product is at its end-of-life. FEICA believes that the European Green Deal and circular economy thinking is a paradigm shift for industry and society. To fully address its challenges, all stakeholders will need to contribute because the move to full circularity requires a grand collective effort.

The adhesive and sealant industry is convinced that design for circularity across entire value chains is of key importance in exploiting the full potential of a circular economy. The sustainability performance of any circular solution should be measured by life- cycle assessments along all value chains. This includes extending the durability of products, repairability, reuse and recycling.

Innovative adhesives, as well as new technologies to be developed, can support circular approaches. One area of innovation might be debonding-on-command type adhesives, enabling the easy separation of bonded components for repair or recycling. The industry is eager to cooperate with all actors within value chains in the design phase of products, to optimise durability and their end-of-life solutions through options such as recycling and repair potential.

The move towards a circular economy is an innovation driver for the adhesive and sealant industry. FEICA is active in educating the industry, and supporting adhesive and sealant producers in Europe on sustainable circular economy developments and good practices. It also creates partnerships along value chains to support circularity by design; understands the use phase and end-of-life needs of customer products; engages with the chemical industry to develop novel end-of-life options; and works closely with the relevant standardisation bodies and, together with FEICA’s national associations, supports efforts to achieve standards that support the circular economy.

Safety first

One of the major goals in this journey forwards can be found in food-safe packaging, and represents one of the main topics of conversation in the food contact material discussions held with the EU. In September last year, a meeting with food contact materials (FCM) European Professional Associations focused on the latest topics that would lead to consideration or regulatory development, with one line in particular causing interest to chemicals and adhesives providers. The European Commission discussed the GLYMO question, referring to the FCM substance [3-(2,3-epoxypropoxy)propyl]trimethoxy silane (CAS 2530-83-8), known to be ‘potentially genotoxic’, and insufficiently regulated. The Commission confirmed the need for a specific measure on this substance.

A technical draft is currently being prepared that establishes special conditions of use, which would be ‘applicable to the manufacture of food contact coatings, adhesives, printing inks, silicones, paper and , rubber, combinations thereof and combinations with plastics and/or inorganic substances’. GLYMO was widely used by the adhesives industry for decades, chiefly as an adhesion promoter for polyurethane adhesives for flexible packaging. It was used mostly for high-performance packaging such as sterilisation, pasteurisation, retort conditions and more.

Although this application does not represent adhesives, the conclusion of the related European Food Standards Agency opinion on GLYMO, was, basing on REACH Registration Dossier, that the substance has a genotoxic potential, and thus is toxicologically relevant. When FEICA became aware of the genotoxic potential of GLYMO, it created an expert task force that entered dialogues with the relevant European authorities. It quickly developed a recommendation for the industry to start the substitution process, and work with the downstream industry to find technical alternative solutions with lower toxicological impact. This substitution process is well under way and is expected to be finalised by the third quarter of 2020. It underlines the market need driving the recent launch of multiple GLYMO-free food contact adhesives by leading organisations worldwide. Because of the material’s ubiquity, this is a key update to the adhesive industry and will have far-reaching impacts. Fortunately, with FEICAs facilitation, it is a chemical that the industry and regulators can overcome in broad collaboration and discussion

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