New Delhi: The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has decided to ban toluene, a highly hazardous chemical used extensively in printing of packaging materials used in food industry, for which a formal notification is likely to be made soon.

About 80% of inks used in printing of packaging materials in the packaged food industry in India are toluene-based. According to sources, besides toluene, some other chemicals used in printing of packaging materials may also be banned. These chemicals will be included in the existing exclusion list in the current standard.

Toluene is a chemical used in paint thinners and is known to migrate between layers of packaging and has the potential to cause cancer. Toluene has several acute as well as chronic effects such as eye and throat problems, breathing difficulties, increased risk to develop allergies and asthma, to name a few.  The chemical is banned in the food industry across all developed countries. Countries like Sri Lanka have voluntarily stopped use of toluene in the food industry.

This is to be noted that India has fast emerged as a global giant in the consumption of packaged food and, therefore, is more susceptible than before to contaminants from packaging inks like toluene, which is commonly used as a solvent.

Toluene globally has earned disrepute for its bad toxicological profile. The manifold adverse effects make it an issue related to consumer safety, occupational safety and environmental safety. Due to its developmental toxicity, toluene is classified as CMR category II (suspected of damaging the unborn child). Moreover, residual toluene in packaging also impacts the organoleptic properties of the product, thus leading to food quality and safety issues.

Since toluene is cheap and easily available, a host of Indian companies still widely use it in their printing and packaging processes. Global markets like Europe and US do not manufacture any toluene-based inks. And to help save India from its dreadful effects, multiple industry players have taken the plunge to come forward and address this critical issue.

Siegwerk, a German company, is one such company which has taken the initiative to manufacture only toluene-free inks and discontinue any manufacturing of toluene-based inks in India, understanding the fact that consumer safety doesn’t change across geographies. The company has its plant in Bhiwadi (Rajasthan).

Siegwerk India CEO Ashish Pradhan said: “We stopped using toluene voluntarily in our Bhiwadi plant two years ago. The good thing is that the entire industry is on the same page and is making efforts to make the ink toluene-free. It is going to be a big step which will move the industry towards healthy and safe packaging.”

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