Lean, green and chalky

June 1, 2009
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Calcium carbonate is touted as a tough, earth-friendly material in sustainability circles, and its applications in global packaging are growing.

An aseptic version of Ecolean’s flexible pouch made of chalk works with a filling machine that automates everything from roll-stock loading to case packing. The pouch’s air-filled handle aids pouring and helps the pouch stand up. Source: Ecolean AB.

If success is measured in square footage of trade-show booth space, calcium carbonate is destined to become the material of choice in Europe’s flexible food pouches.

Ecolean AB, a Helsingborg, Sweden, filling and packaging firm founded by a former Tetra Pak executive, recently debuted a new aseptic system in Cologne, Germany, at Anuga FoodTec. Ecolean’s space was magnitudes larger than the booth it occupied three years earlier (see “Are minerals the new plastic?” Food Engineering, June 2006). The EL-3 filler, with the first installation at a Russian dairy, is a completely automated system, from roll-stock loading through robotic casepacking, all performed in a clean-room cell. The aseptic pouches are sterilized before shipment with an electron-beam emitter, eliminating the need for chemicals and water.

The pouch is the firm’s greatest distinction. Up to two-fifths of the materials of construction are calcium carbonate, or chalk, stronger than most films and significantly lighter. An empty one-liter pouch weighs 14 g versus 31 g for a comparably sized gabletop and 36 g for PET. Ecolean’s standard pouch is thicker and weighs 2 g more.

Improved production techniques helped reduce thickness by 7.5 microns for the aseptic barrier film, explains Paul Mellbin, project director, and pouch dimensions were altered. “The new package has a shorter pitch,” he says. “The height is slightly higher, but all in all, this gives better material utilization.”

The pouch’s shape emulates a pitcher, complete with a tear-open spout and a handle that is inflated with air during filling. For both standard and aseptic filling, the pouch is open 2.4 seconds prior to sealing.

An aseptic system was essential to gain a toehold in the French market. Virtually all milk sold in France is UHT. Aseptic commands up to half the market in other major European countries.

Russia was emerging from its post-Soviet funk when Ecolean was founded, and the new economy was receptive to new packaging. Despite beachheads as far away as Australia and New Zealand, Russia remains Ecolean’s strongest market. Half of the 30 countries where the firm operates are former Soviet states and satellites.

For more information:

Paul Mellbin, Ecolean AB, 46-42 450 4500,

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