Ganesh Angne: Only 20% of the food packaging market has altered their practices

For six years, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has been working to update the IS 15495 standard for printing ink for food packaging. In June 2020, BIS revised the printing ink standards for food packaging as per IS 15495: 2020. Ganesh Angne, an industry veteran and ex-director at Micro Inks (now Huber), talks to Ramu Ramanathan about the IS 15495 implementation

20 Apr 2023 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ganesh Angne: Unless a few legal cases are registered, there will be no effort to implement IS 15495

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): What is the background to the IS 15495 standard?
Ganesh Angne (GA):
During Covid-19, BIS introduced IS 15495 due to concerns related to food safety. As per BIS, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) which is the apex food regulator of India under Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, should enforce IS 15495 in food packaging.

RR: Many well-established brands have been enforcing usage of toluene-free inks even prior to this law being passed ...
True. However, the authorities are still not vigilant in ensuring that all food manufacturing companies meet this new standard of ink usage. Also, most of the print-converters consider usage of toluene-free inks as being expensive.

RR: So, what is the current status of IS 15495 implementation?
Perhaps the pandemic could be one of the reasons for the poor implementation of IS 15495 because inspections and audits were restricted. Another reason could be the lack of awareness of such a law by the brands. However the printer-converters are fully aware of it. An effort by the trade magazines such as WhatPackaging? and the respective governing body would help in spreading awareness. More importantly, it will enforce the change and ensure the safety of our citizens.

RR: What is the extent of implementation?
In truth, only 20% of the food packaging market has altered their practices. I feel 80% are yet to implement the new IS 15495.

RR: That's contrary to everything else one hears at technical seminars and conferences.

RR: What is the update about NIAS (non-intentionally added substances)?
The NIAS is at draft level at BIS. Global standards regulating NIAS are not very clear as of now.

RR: In what way?
Testing methods for these materials and deciding limits for such materials are the big challenges. It is absolutely essential to focus on the usage of toluene-free inks in food packaging.

RR: I see. Now to address the elephant in the room. Is the high cost of toluene-free inks a major bottleneck to follow the new IS 15495?
Well, IS 15495 is applicable to food packaging. And food packaging material is usually flexible packaging material. It is mostly printed by flexo and gravure processes internationally. In India, flexo is about 10 to 15% and gravure printing is about 80 to 85%. Flexo demands toluene-free inks by default. Therefore there is partial compliance to IS 15495. There is no solvent restriction in gravure as a process. Therefore the usage of toluene in inks and on the press is a five-decade old norm in India.

RR: But the major modification in the new IS 15495 is to use toluene-free inks ...
Yes, so, using toluene-free inks and avoiding usage of toluene while printing in food packaging material is a challenge for gravure print-converters.

RR: What is the way forward?
There are always many ways to reduce printing cost if one believes that quality always reduces cost. I feel it is absolutely essential for any enterprise to follow the law of the land. One can print everything by flexo and gravure. There is no restriction on processes as far as printing on different substrates, films and materials are concerned.

RR: What about the consumables in this process?
Flexo demands alcohol as the major constituents for inks and toluene or ethyl acetate is considered harmful for flexo plates. So, if everything is printed by flexo then there is no issue about an ink technology to implement IS 15495. Internationally prices of ethanol and toluene (being products of crude oil), always move in tandem. So, alcohol is the most suitable and competitive replacement for toluene.

RR: Why is toluene such a problem?
Toluene is a known carcinogenic product of crude oil base. However ethanol is the product from maize and sugarcane with a very low toxic potential to humans. So, the replacement solvent, for instance, alcohol is available at a similar cost with renewable sources. Therefore it should never become a point of contention for implementation of new IS 15495.

RR: Makes sense.
Yes, it does. However, there are no efforts by any stakeholders to modify flexo inks and use alcohol-base PU inks to follow the new IS 15495 standards.

Ganesh Angne says that using toluene-free inks and avoiding usage of toluene while printing in food packaging material is a challenge for gravure print-converters

RR: How much do ink constituents change as per the solvents deployed in the ink?
At present, solvent is also used on the press. The ratio of ink to solvent is almost 1:1. So there is a potential to reduce solvent emission by making high strength low viscosity inks. These inks may require changes in cylinder depth which will be useful in achieving cost reduction by reducing solvent consumption, hence emission. This is one more way to reduce printing cost. So, one can work - simultaneously - on reduction of solvent consumption to implement IS 15495, if the user feels toluene-free inks are costly.

RR: The Indian food packaging industry is growing with a CAGR of 15% per annum, hence there is going to be investments in large capacities. In addition to machine and factory investments, how do we address this?
There is a possibility to invest in solvent recovery to increase profitability and improve the sustainability quotient by recovering solvents. Inks and solvent which are deployed during printing is about 85% of the total reduced ink on the printing press. So, the payback period of solvent recovery could be less than one year. Establishing solvent recovery in one’s plant means reducing 50% printing cost of inks and solvent. In this case the cost of ink and solvent is absolutely immaterial. So, the challenge of solvent recovery percentage will become a major issue and mono-solvent inks can be used by the print-converters to work on efficiency of solvent recovery.

RR: What is your take about water-based inks?
Whenever one thinks of the cost of solvent, one gets attracted towards water-based inks. These inks have also been available in the Indian market for the last 15 years. Only issue with these inks is the requirement of supporting hardware on printing machines for desired speeds and productivity.

RR: Noted. Final thoughts?
It's time to implement IS 15495 the hard way.

RR: Okay, what are the advantages?
Implementation of IS 15495 in its true spirit will increase the export worthiness of inks and packaging material. Also the printed packaging material is getting exported to developed nations from India but the same is not the case for inks as yet.

RR: Sounds very sensible. Why is this not getting translated into reality?
According to BIS, they are responsible for creating a standard while FSSAI is responsible for the implementation. Now FSSAI does not seem to have the organisation  to implement and control IS standards across India. So, FSSAI could collaborate with other government organisations to implement the BIS standards to improve export worthiness of India.

RR: So you are saying the FSSAI should monitor the printing and packaging industry. As you are aware every time the government frames and implements stricter regulations of their guidelines, it creates a fresh set of problems for the stakeholders.
I do not know the legal complications of not following the standards prescribed by FSSAI or BIS. So unless a few legal cases are registered, there will be no effort to implement IS 15495 or any new standard. 

RR: Disruptive suggestion.
I feel, the thought process among many stakeholders is, there are no legal implications on anyone since the last 2-3 years. Therefore nothing will happen in the future too. Which is why they continue to work in the same old way with toluene.

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