An introduction to the European Paper Packaging Alliance

The European Paper Packaging Alliance is a non-for-profit food and foodservice packaging association. Our priorities are to find concrete solutions to increase recycling and to reduce carbon emissions of food and foodservice packaging without compromising food safety and human health protection. EPPA is committed to working with European policymakers to support these common priorities. The Alliance supports evidence-based policy making.  

In today’s fast-moving world packaging is more relevant and has a higher profile than ever.  Nowhere is this more apparent than for food and drink packaging.  We all depend on food and drink, and we all depend on the packaging that enables us to have access to a wide variety of foods and to consume them conveniently, safely and hygienically.

Food packaging has evolved from simple containers holding food to infrastructures that play an active role in improving food quality, reducing waste by protection and increasing accessibility.  Innovation has developed packaging properties to protect food and make it more accessible. These include barriers to oxygen, moisture, and flavors.

Fiber-based packaging is integral to the modern European food economy.  It has allowed access to many foods year-round that otherwise could not be preserved and even allowed new categories of foods to be developed and small businesses to diversify and add-value through hot and cold beverages.

  • Paper is a natural and renewable material.  EPPA members are committed to sourcing it from sustainably managed forests that play an important role in mitigating climate change by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere through reforestation.
  • Paper and fibre-based food packaging are recyclable and are recycled. EPPA will promote recycling practices to increase recycling rates even further.
  • Paper-based packaging contributes to reducing food waste, guaranteeing food safety and protecting the health and safety of consumers.

The functions of paper and fibre-based packaging
The basic function of food packaging is to protect food from external factors, such as oxygen, water vapor or even light, so that it can be safely consumed. The barrier requirements for different foods vary significantly depending on the food that is packed as well as the length of time and the conditions in which the food is intended to remain in the pack. 

The barrier properties of untreated paper, paperboard and other fiber materials are extremely limited. Therefore, to be used for food and foodservice packaging, paper, paperboard and fiber as the base material need to be treated depending on the end use.  This is typically achieved with a coating or sizing.

Coatings provide a barrier between the fiber-based material and the foodstuff or liquid, as well as helping to maintain the quality of the food or drink.  Different coatings are used to achieve different functionalities, including sealing and liquid-tightness (drinking cups), grease-proofing (food boxes), heat resistance (ready meal trays) and moisture barriers (dry food flexibles).

The technical requirements for sealable liquid-tightness are more demanding than those needed for grease-proofing.  Paperboards are typically coated with polymers, varnishes or aqueous dispersion coatings that may include polymers. Polymeric coatings can be produced from renewable as well as fossil-based sources.

All materials used in food and foodservice packaging (as well as all finished products) must comply with the relevant food contact legislation. Foodservice packaging products manufactured in the European Union or released on the Union markets must be in compliance with the European Framework Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 article 3: “Materials and articles shall be manufactured in compliance with good manufacturing practice so that, under normal or foreseeable conditions of use, they do not transfer their constituents to food in quantities which could i) endanger human health, ii) change the composition of food, or iii) change the look, taste or smell of food.”

Wood fiber-based solutions have several advantages from an environmental perspective compared to 100% plastic products. For instance, more than 90 % of plastics can be replaced on average, and as the environmental footprint of paper is lower than the plastic alternatives, there is a positive impact. 

Polymeric coated fiber and paper products are widely recyclable and fit well in established recycling systems.  They can be used as raw material to produce new renewable products, such as magazine paper, paper bags, secondary packaging or corrugated board packaging.