Laser printing on fruit and vegetables avoids the plastic, glue and printing inks used in fruit stickers and the resulting contamination of home and commercial composting, a leading Australian packaging supplier says.
EcoMark labelling uses a laser to etch brand and variety information onto a wide range of fruit and vegetables. The label is a similar size and design to a fruit sticker, but without the associated plastic waste.
Michael Dossor is the Group General Manager at Australian packaging supplier Result Group.
Dossor says the technology was originally developed by German company EcoMark, as an ink-free option for identifying car parts used in the automotive industry.
Organic growers in Europe then adopted the approach as a point of difference from plastic labels. But interest in the waste-free, non-contact labelling option has been growing following moves by France and New Zealand to ban plastic fruit stickers, and plans to follow in South Australia.
Result Group has been investing in their own research and development to equip the laser technology to deal with a wide range of produce and to enable it to add a 2-dimensional product code (a new format which is a square code, a bit like a QR code, rather than a traditional bar code).
Dossor says the company’s extensive testing shows the EcoMark technology can now work well on both think and thin skinned fruits and vegetables.
“We haven’t actually come across anything at the moment that has stumped us,” he says.
Thick-skinned examples include avocados, pumpkin and watermelon. The laser removes the outermost layer of skin, exposing the contrasting colour underneath.
“All those products are really easy to work with. In saying that, there are some challenges with discoloration and creating contrast and scannable codes,” he says.
A different laser with a different wavelength is used for thin-skinned fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, kiwi fruit and cucumbers.
The company says the technology can be used on most foods which have a robust skin, including everything from apricots and mangos, to garlic and onions, to asparagus and chillis.
Last week Cosmos reported on the sticky problem produce labels pose for home and commercial composting.
The EcoMark system offers one alternative which dispenses with the plastic waste and glues and solvents and avoids the down-stream contamination in home and commercial composting.
Dossor says when France banned fruit stickers the move “forced a lot of hands”, and as a result there are now about 50 machines now installed across Europe.
He says the laser label technology has been garnering interest in Australia and New Zealand given efforts to address single-use plastics, and Result Group has been working with government agencies, major brands, retailers and industry associations.
Beyond fruit stickers, the laser printing approach can be used to replace solvents and inks used for printing product information and use-by dates onto packaging.
“I’d like to think before the end of this calendar year, there’ll be machinery out in the field,” Dossor says.
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