Grand opening of the Constantia Ecoflex plant in Ahmedabad

High-barrier laminates recyclable to new packaging films

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Constantia Ecoflex
Packaging samples designed and conceptualized at Constantia Flexibles. Photo PSA

Constantia Flexibles officially unveiled its new Constantia Ecoflex plant in Ahmedabad on 20 November 2019 with great ceremony and joy. Billed as a unique plant dedicated to the production of recyclable flexible packaging, over 300 guests including dignitaries, brand owner customers, and suppliers and well-wishers were given a tour of the plant.
The Austrian ambassador to India, Brigitte Öppinger-Walchshofer spoke of the economic cooperation between the two countries and the opportunities for businesses to collaborate advantageously. RS Sodhi, managing director of Amul, the marketing brand representing the 3 million milk farmers of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, gave a rousing welcome to the sustainable flexible packaging venture. Citing the growth of the milk industry, he said, “With the growth and opportunity just in the structured dairy business, great expansion in flexible packaging is needed. Amul is also a producer of recyclable milk pouches that are collected after use by consumers. With the continued high growth of milk and other products of mass consumption, Constantia should already be thinking of expanding capacity in this new plant.”

“With this Ecoflex Ahmedabad plant, we are making a big step towards more sustainable packaging. This is not only great progress in terms of sustainability for Constantia Flexibles but also the entire packaging industry. Together we can go into a greener future,” said Alexander Baumgartner, chief executive officer of Constantia Flexibles.

Following the official part of the opening, including speeches and ribbon-cutting ceremony, the guests and media representatives took a guided tour through the new plant. They had a look at the state-of-the-art technology that produces the new EcoLam packaging solutions. “Ecolam is the first high barrier flexible packaging that combines the resource-efficiency of plastic with recyclability back into new packaging films,” said Dr Achim Grefenstein, SVP Group R&D, who developed the innovative EcoLam laminates in close collaboration with the Indian team.

2Opening Ahmedabad 2 300dpi
Ribbon cutting at the new Constantia Ecoflex flexible packaging plant in Ahmedabad. L to R – Pranav Parikh, director, Constantia Parikh, Alexander Baumgartner, CEO, Constantia Flexibles, Brigitte Öppinger-Walchshofer, Austrian ambassador to India, and, RS Sodhi, managing director Amul Industries

EcoLam

EcoLam is a lightweight Mono-PE laminate suitable for a great variety of packaging applications and is part of the company’s innovative Ecolutions product line. Due to its mono-material structure, EcoLam is claimed to be fully recyclable, and its carbon footprint is approximately 32% lower than that of comparable products.

As the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy stipulates that all plastic must be recyclable by 2030, with the products coming from the Ahmedabad plant, Constantia Flexibles will help the industry fulfill legal requirements. At the same time, it will create products that appeal to the growing number of consumers who care about sustainability. However, it must be kept in mind that current European regulations do not allow recycled laminates to be in direct food contact in flexible packaging.

This plant is one of the results of the Indian government’s original waste control order of 2016, which called for the use of single polymer laminates or fully recyclable flexible packaging. Pavan Parikh, managing director and vice president of Constantia Ecoflex Ahmedabad, feels very strongly that industry must clean up its act and that there is no choice but to produce sustainable packaging, which is not only recycled but recycled laterally into materials of equivalent use and value. “Innovation is not a dispensable luxury but simply a necessity,” he said, adding, “Ecolam is a single polymer PE laminate that can be re-used as many as nine times.” The single polymer PE Ecolam family is now ready with three levels of oxygen, moisture, and light barrier properties.

Industry must take the initiative in sustainability

In a brief interview before the ceremonious unveiling that Constantia Ecoflex in Ahmedabad would supply customers worldwide. At the same time, Baumgartner, who appreciates the possibility of pioneering sustainable packaging in the country and globally, said, “If we are successful with this plant in Ahmedabad, there is no reason that it cannot be replicated in other countries.” Baumgartner implied that the European countries are very slow in bringing in regulation while the Indian government seems closer to meaningful regulation.
Apparently, a great impetus for building the plant in Ahmedabad and investing in the R&D came from the Indian government’s Waste Control Order of 2016, which called for the use of easily recyclable flexible packaging using single polymer laminates. Subsequently diluted by an amendment in 2018, the regulations now allow the use of multi-polymer laminates that can be re-used for any purpose, such as for energy by burning, or by pyrolysis.
The dilution of the order was seen as a practical necessity by many in the industry.

Nevertheless, it was a setback for those companies championing the use of single polymer PE laminates. Pavan Parikh seemed optimistic that the Indian government is bound to eventually enforce stricter regulation of flexible packaging that call for lateral recyclability. On the other hand, he said, “Industry should not just wait for government regulations to force us to change; it is up to us to take the initiative in producing sustainable solutions in flexible packaging.”

Designed for safety & health

As far as the technology employed in the new plant, more than three years of research, development and testing by Constantia’s teams in Austria, Germany and in Ahmedabad have led to the current Ecolam laminates. At the Ecoflex plant, these use a 7-layer Hosokawa Alpine high barrier blown film line claimed to have a unique configuration and of being able to mix 35 components at a time. Printed on a Comexi CI flexo press, Dae Kwang co-extrusion and Nordmeccanica Super Combi 4000 laminators are installed and running.
For the first time, an Indian flexible packaging plant has been designed, keeping in mind complete safety, health, and environment measures and precautions, and dust proofing. There are air-handling systems that remove the solvents from the pressroom and converting areas and bring in fresh air, ensuring the health and safety of the employees and also preventing contamination of the materials produced. The dust proofing is also key to the quality of the printing and converting processes that will be especially critical with a material like PE. Similarly, we expect that laboratory, although we didn’t see it, will be of a high standard to further test and establish the barrier properties of the EcoLam materials.
The exact ingredients, processes and technology that imbue Ecolam with its high barrier and recyclability characteristics are, as a matter of course, closely guarded and under patent. The Ecoflex plant opened after more than two years of intensive preparations with test runs in September 2019. It has an area of 24,500 square meters and currently employs 50 people, a number expected to triple by the second quarter of 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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