Within Europe’s soft fruit sector, the race is on to find feasible alternatives to plastic trays and sealing film. The imposition of the European Union’s plastic waste levy in early 2021, combined with increasing consumer concern about plastic pollution, has prompted a search for workable, recyclable replacements, and JBT Proseal is at the forefront.

Costing €800 per tonne, the coming into force of the EU Plastic Waste Levy in January 2021 has concentrated minds across Europe on the need to find suitable alternatives. Such change is also being driven by changing consumer options about plastic, particularly in the organics industry where shoppers have voiced their preference for non-plastic packaging.

Proseal is a market leader in tray sealing for soft fruit. In fact, Proseal estimates that as much as 95% of all top-sealed trays in the UK are sealed on Proseal machines. With that pedigree, the company has been at the forefront of developing new and innovative solutions to help customers who want to align to non-plastic packaging.

Automated solution
One such is a product called the Alexa Stackpack (pictured above), a premium, craft-board punnet that provides an inline, off-the-shelf, fully printed way of doing card. But although the punnet comes pre-assembled, until now there has been no automatic system available for folding and sealing the pack’s two flanges other than by hand.

In collaboration with Alexa, Proseal has developed a solution that will fold and seal the flanges as the packs are filled and run through a line. “The card punnets come ready assembled, but sealing the flanges was proving a real challenge for the manufacturer,” explains Proseal’s Daryl Henshaw. “Soft fruit is a business with very high throughput and minimal margins, so this practical, automatic solution will really make a difference. It’s a unique piece of technology and a real niche for Proseal.”

Off-the-shelf system
An even more off-the-shelf solution, which is receiving even more uptake across Europe, is the CKF Earthcycle Punnet; a system that gives the option to swap easily between plastic and pulp, as well as the chance to move from plastic-based film to cellulose-based film. “The CKF Earthcycle Punnet offers a completely plastic-free equivalent to a plastic punnet and a realistic, workable alternative to plastic,” says Henshaw. “This is a legitimate, off-the-shelf solution: you can plug-and-play these materials into your existing Proseal machine.”

Plastic savings
Proseal has been at the vanguard of helping suppliers through reverse engineering needed to fit existing designs and testing in Proseal’s own dedicated test kitchen (pictured above). But for those customers not yet ready to make the full switch, Henshaw emphasises that considerable plastics savings can be made just by switching from a clamshell lid to a film lid. “You can replace an 8 gm plastic clamshell lid with an 0.5 gm film just by adopting top-sealing, saving 95% of the plastic used in the lid and 40% of the plastic used in the punnet overall,” he explains.

Long-term trend
However, what is evident is that a widespread move in soft fruit away from plastic will soon become apparent in Europe; a move Henshaw believes is also being driven by a changing consumer mindset. “Where we’re seeing most of this is in the organic segment,” he says. “People who are paying extra for organic grapes don’t want to buy those grapes in a plastic punnet. These have been the first people to move away from plastic.”

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