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Q&A with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Process Systems about sustainable tubing

Brand owners have a lot on their plate these days. The food safety regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex - especially for multinational manufacturers. New and pending regulations seek to prevent contamination scenarios with heavy contingency planning and robust reporting structures. Additionally, the industry is self-regulating the exposure of edible goods to certain chemicals of concern.

Brand owners have a lot on their plate these days. The food safety regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex - especially for multinational manufacturers. New and pending regulations seek to prevent contamination scenarios with heavy contingency planning and robust reporting structures. Additionally, the industry is self-regulating the exposure of edible goods to certain chemicals of concern. Meanwhile, brand owners must also make strides in enhancing the overall sustainability and implement forward-looking solutions to meet their needs and facilitate growth both today and tomorrow.

It's a lot to ask, but brand owners and their OEM partners can take it all in stride with multi-tasking solutions. Even the smallest components can contribute to big-picture results when they are intelligently engineered with these goals in mind. PlasticsToday discussed the challenges and opportunities of this approach with Iuliana Nita, global marketing manager, food and beverage, the process systems business unit at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.

Q1. When we think of innovation in this industry, it's easy to lose sight of major strides made with small components, like tubing. Can you remind us where we often see tubing used?

A1. Flexible tubing is widely used in food and beverage packaging for dispensing and transferring products. Two of many examples include tubing for peristaltic pumps to transfer yogurt and other dairy products, or dispensing additives from tubes into food batches on processing lines. On the consumer-facing end, tubing is used to dispense products such as syrup concentrate for soft drinks, juices, soft-serve ice cream or condiments in fast-food restaurants.

Q2. What are some of the major regulatory challenges facing brand owners and manufacturers?

A2. There are a number of relatively new food safety regulations that have impacted manufacturing on a global scale. One of the most sweeping is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from 2011 that focuses on preventing contamination rather than responding to it. Governments around the world are also putting limits on the use of certain chemicals because of the perceived impact that they may have on environmental or human health. Examples of this include the European Union REACH candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHC), as well as California's OEHHA Proposition 65 List of chemicals of concern. For manufacturers, this necessitates finding alternatives to products that use such chemicals.

Q3. What is an example of a chemical of concern?

A3. There are numerous chemicals of concern, but phthalates have recently caught the regulatory spotlight. Widely used in food and beverage applications, phthalates - particularly DEHP di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate - provide tubing its flexibility, transparency and durability. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the maximum contaminant level for DEHP at 6 parts per billion (ppb). However, the potential health effects of phthalates are also subject to numerous reviews. Despite the general lack of scientific support for low-level effects of phthalates, their widespread use, and possible effects on children created the same spotlight on phthalates as we have seen with Bisphenol A (BPA). Legislators responded by placing DEHP on the EU's REACH candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHC) and California's OEHHA Proposition 65 List of chemicals of concern. Additionally, food and beverage manufacturers as well as OEMs have begun self-regulating use of the chemical in their operations, seeking alternatives that will deliver the same performance.

Q4. Sustainability has transcended the status of a manufacturing "trend" to become an integral part of a company's social and environmental responsibility initiatives as well as cost-savings strategies. How can small components like tubing help manufacturers advance in this area?

A4. Sustainability is arguably the most important global industry trend today and manufacturers are actively incorporating sustainable practices throughout their supply chains. Flexible tubing may seem like a small link in the overall sustainability chain, but strides made here can have a major impact because of the widespread use of tubing in multiple transfer and dispensing applications. Traditional tubing is made from petroleum-derived materials, but the food industry is now able to source bio-based, renewable materials. Sourcing renewable alternatives to replace petroleum-derived materials can help reduce carbon emissions in the development and disposal of these components, enhancing both sustainability and cost-savings initiatives.

Q5. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics launched its Tygon S3 tubing line in 2012, which is claimed to offer manufacturers a safer and more sustainable tubing product compared to conventional solutions. What's the difference?

A5. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics recently introduced a new flexible tubing solution, Tygon S3 that offers a bio-based alternative to DEHP. Made from a material derived from a vegetable oil, Tygon S3 is crystal clear, taste- and odor-free.The proprietary formulation offers durability and longevity for tubing applications, as well as manufacturing consistency. It can be tailored for and retrofitted into specialized and existing applications.

Q6. Can a bio-based alternative successfully meet the same performance standards as conventional products?

A6. Tygon S3 has been shown to offer a renewable alternative to tubing containing phthalate plasticizers without sacrificing performance. It has a smooth, non-porous bore that inhibits particles from becoming trapped, therefore minimizing the potential for bacterial growth. The material can also withstand harsh alkaline cleansers necessary to uphold food safety standards. Before introducing the product to the market, Saint-Gobain tested the material thoroughly to ensure optimal performance in targeted applications.

From a regulatory standpoint, Tygon S3 also offers manufacturers reassurance about safety compliance. The material complies with FDA, NSF, and 3-A requirements for food and beverage applications, as well as with Japan's Food Sanitation Law #370/1959. It also complies with European regulations (10/2011/EU) for many food and beverage applications when used as instructed. Unlike DEHP, none of the chemicals that make up Tygon S3 are listed in California's Proposition 65 list of chemicals of concern.

Q7. How long did the company spend developing the Tygon S3? What is the oil used?

A7. The development took a couple of years. The oil is proprietary information and we cannot share it.

Q8. Which sectors have been quickest to adopt the new tubing?

A8. The food industry has adopted the technology faster.

Q9. Are there measurable environmental benefits to using renewable materials like Tygon S3?

A9. Yes, Saint-Gobain recently demonstrated Tygon S3's sustainability impact by commissioning a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), comparing the product to other flexible tubing available on the market.  The results of the LCA indicate that Tygon S3 uses eight percent less energy to produce and 12 percent less fossil fuel. Overall, its carbon footprint is six percent less compared to other tubing. The LCA, which was independently verified by a third party, was based on a cradle-to-grave environmental impact study that included raw materials stage, manufacturing, transportation, use phase and end-of-life disposal.

Q10. When selecting the right tubing for a dispensing or transfer application, what should these manufacturers keep in mind?

A10. With regulatory scrutiny expected to increase for materials like DEHP, choosing bio-based alternatives can help manufacturers stay ahead of potential consumer issues as well as any pending legislation. Build for today and tomorrow, but keep in mind performance - durability, flexibility, etc. Customize and work with partners that specialize in engineering the perfect solution to meet the needs of brand owners and OEMs. The measure twice, cut once approach will deliver peace of mind. 

Q11. Is the company planning on expanding their bio-offerings? Maybe use bioplastics in addition to bioplasticizers? Any research in that area going on?

A11. Increasing our biobased offering is a high priority and we have a variety of active research projects on the subject. As an example, our research team in Northborough, Massachusetts has worked with the University of Massachusetts in Amherst on some early stage research developing an elastomeric polylactic acid.  The research team has developed a proprietary block copolymer that enables the morphology of the PLA to be tailored according to the end properties desired by the customer. Research on this project is still in its infancy but it is entirely possible that a fully renewably sourced biodegradable TPE could be commercially available in the coming years.

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