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COVID-19: Shortages of ethanol and n-propanol could hurt Europe’s food packaging sector

March 26, 2020
Chemical Value Chain

The UK printing industry supply chain has called on the UK government to ensure the necessary supplies of ethanol, n-propanol, and other relevant raw materials are maintained for the ink and printing industries so they can fulfill their role in producing food and other essential packaging throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Printing ink manufacturers across Europe are reporting reduced availability of ethanol and n-propanol, key inputs into the production of printed packaging inks and other materials, such as varnishes, which, in turn, are vital in the production of consumer product packaging.

Members of the British Coatings Federation (BCF; Coventry, UK) say that things will come to a head within a matter of weeks because of increased demand for food and other products, and hence increased packaging demand. Availability issues are arising because ethanol, along with other industrial alcohol solvents such as n-propanol, is also used in the production of disinfectants and sanitary products such as hand gels. With the increased demands for sanitary, medical, and pharmaceutical products as a response to COVID-19, resources are increasingly being diverted into this area, at the expense of other sectors and products. There are concerns that some countries may introduce restrictions on ethanol, limiting supplies exclusively for health and pharmaceutical purposes. However, if allocation of resources is diverted entirely to those sectors, there will be knock-on effects elsewhere, including on vital printed packaging for food and pharmaceutical products.

Tom Bowtell, CEO of BCF, said, “In the past few days, BCF members have reported that prices for ethanol and n-propanol have risen by up to 350% since last week, adding thousands of pounds a week in additional material costs. There are greater concerns that supplies will dry up completely in future. BCF has already been in touch with officials at the department for business, energy, and industrial strategy to make them aware of members’ concerns and how these shortages of supply may affect the availability of food packaging and packaging in other critical areas, like pharmaceutical products.”

“Ethanol is a vital raw material for printing inks used for flexible food packaging, a vital part of the food supply chain. We urge the UK government, and governments across Europe, to take action to ensure supplies of essential raw materials continue to be made available for the purposes of essential packaging manufacturing,” said Debbie Waldron-Hoines of the European Flexographic Industry Association.

By Natasha Alperowicz

Source: Chemical Week

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