A host of industry-led projects are currently underway to discover bisphenol A (BPA) alternatives for metal packaging – but a viable option is unlikely to reach the market for several years, said a leading US trade body in an exclusive interview with FoodProductionDaily.com.
Dr John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), revealed that a huge amount of research has already been set in motion to find a universal substitute for the controversial chemical used in the epoxy linings of food and beverage cans.
“We are all working to find innovative alternative solutions and doing so in a highly competitive and demanding market environment,” he said.
Developments are being kept a closely-guarded secret, with companies seemingly intent on shunning partnerships in favour of solo projects.
“Individual companies are conducting their own research and development activities, independent of one another,” said Dr Rost. “I am not aware of any partnerships formed for the purpose of finding new coating formulations.”
But he said that no complete solution was on the horizon that could match BPA in terms of performance and safety.
“There is a great deal of research underway at this time, but the fact remains there is no readily available alternative to BPA for all the types of metal food and beverage packaging currently in use,” said Dr Rost.
He said he was unable to share information about the ongoing initiatives - either in terms of how many alternative substances were in the pipeline, their composition or progress on the road to commercialistion.
“Given the proprietary nature of each company’s individual research and development activities, information about types of materials being tested or their stage of development is not readily available,” said the NAMPA chairman.
‘Still years away’
Stringent development, testing and approval procedures means that it can be more than seven years from conception of a new coating until the time it is given the green light by federal authorities and finally reaches the market.
“The breakdown of that time period includes approximately one to three years focused on coating development; approximately two and a half years for application trials and pack testing; and another six months to two years for commercialization,” he explained. “Although many coatings developments are well under way, a full market conversion is still years away.”
What else is out there?
He said that while any breakthrough BPA alternative may not be available in the near future, the only other option for manufacturers are coatings that have already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are currently four generally recognised alternatives including vinyl, acrylic, polyester and oleoresins, he said.
“While each offers some of the needed characteristics for use as an interior can coating, none of them meet all the performance and safety characteristics currently met by BPA-based epoxy resins and therefore have far more limited manufacturing flexibility,” said Dr Rost.
Asked about the economic viability of current and developing alternatives, he said this depended on a number of factors – including the type of can and products to be packaged.
But he warned: “The true economic impact will likely be felt from an increase in food costs stemming from the decreased shelf life of food products whose expiration period is shorter as the result of new coatings materials”.