Siegwerk is a family-owned, 180-year-old company. “Siegwerk is not listed on any stock exchange and is a family-run company. So, our decisions are not typically driven by the quarter-to-quarter existence of most multinationals that are listed on the stock exchange; our decision making is a lot more long term,” said Ashish Pradhan, chief executive officer of Siegwerk India.
Siegwerk manufactures inks for packaging, labels and catalogs worldwide. It has established 15 centers of excellence and blending corners in more than 30 national subsidiaries to ensure that printing inks are made according to customers’ requirements.
Recently, Siegwerk India introduced its toluene-free inks to the Indian market. In India, the inks usually used for printing on flexible packaging are solvent-based inks and contain toluene. Toluene is a solvent that is easily available and is relatively cheap. Toluene is widely used for printing purposes to achieve better printability and also because it evaporates quickly. It occurs naturally in crude oil and is also found in the Tolu tree. However, the solvent has earned disrepute globally for its bad toxicological profile.
On flexible packaging, ink is typically printed on the reverse side of the film, which is then sandwiched so that the food product inside the package doesn’t come in direct contact with the ink. Nevertheless, there are cases where contaminants with lower molecular weights easily pass through the plastic material since it doesn’t have the barrier properties that a glass bottle or a metal can does. This increases the risk of toluene coming in direct contact with food.
“Now, let us talk about the effects of toluene. If you look at toluene in general, it can easily cross the blood brain barrier. So, if toluene is inhaled in large quantities, it can affect the way in which your brain functions. The effects of toluene include hallucinations and headaches among others. In the United States of America, 3 to 4% of teenagers use toluene as a drug to get a high,” Pradhan added. “The workmen working on a printing shop-floor are exposed to a lot more toluene than consumers are in general. All this can easily draw us to a conclusion that toluene is hazardous depending upon its exposure. And the bad news continues; toluene also affects the organoleptic properties of food. If toluene comes in direct contact with the food material, it affects the taste of the food and has an impact on the odor as well. These are just some of the affects that I’m highlighting, the list goes on.”
According to Pradhan, most of the flexible packaging in the market today is “not quite prone to toluene exposure. It is not a major risk today. The steps being undertaken to reduce toluene exposure today are a part of risk mitigation. Almost all packaging in India satisfies the rules laid down by FSSAI. However, when we talk about risk mitigation, there is always a chance of something going wrong in a value chain. There is also a possibility of risk mitigation plan failure. And for toluene, the only foolproof solution is risk-elimination.”
Toluene has been banned in various countries including China and Sri Lanka. Recently, FSSAI also recognized the need for implementing regulations on packaging inks, which has also led to Siegwerk India and the other global ink companies in India to come up with the idea of introducing toluene-free inks to the Indian market.
“We want FSSAI to list toluene amongst the other contaminants because at the end of the day, it’s a risk that we need not take as there is technology available where toluene need not be used. We were using toluene in India till last year but from now, in an attempt to continue our global commitment to product and consumer safety by providing highest quality products and services, we are introducing toluene-free inks to India,” Pradhan concluded.