Sustainable packaging is quickly becoming a feature that consumers expect to see associated with their favorite brands.
In its article, “Booming Boards, Big Growth,” the July 2016 issue of FLEXO Magazine addressed this trend in packaging, stating: “Sustainability is no longer a just nice to have, but is now seen as a necessity for attracting consumers and protecting market share – i.e. it is now an expectation, not a differentiator.”
In fact, many globally-recognized brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo have already incorporated sustainable design into their packaging. McDonald’s announced that all of its cartons, cups, bags, napkins and tray liners will be sourced 100% from recycled or certified fiber-based materials.
Coca-Cola has been involved in the development of a 100% plant-based bottle, and PepsiCo, which had already introduced compostable packaging for its Sun Chips line, has been exploring the viability of edible packaging.
While these brands are committed to developing environmentally-friendly solutions to package their consumer goods, they also want to ensure that their branding on these packages remains consistent and appealing. That’s where the role of corrugated, flexographic, and gravure printers come into play.
For packaging to truly be sustainable, the printing on the cardboard, plastic, cellophane or other material must also be applied via sustainable practices.
So what are some of the best ways to ensure that your printing process is as environmentally-friendly as possible?
- Use soy-based inks: Nearly all packaging will be processed as trash at some point. Soy inks are designed to make disposal easier on the environment, as they degrade four times faster than petroleum-based inks, as noted in this article by CleanTechnica. Soy ink is also easier to remove during the recycling process than petroleum inks are.
Many commercial printers have already turned to soy-based inks for their applications because, in addition to the environmental benefits, many printers have found that soy ink can last longer for the same amount of printing, which reduces the amount (and cost) of ink needed.
- Switch to process-free plates: Process-free plates require no processing equipment or chemistry, meaning printers can go from platesetter to press without any processing or clean-out. Process-free plate technology has grown and developed over the years, so the qualities and capabilities are now similar to conventional plates.
While process-free plates may cost more up front, they do provide significant long-term savings through process reduction, faster throughput, and a greater ability to manage variables that impact quality and efficiency. The sustainable benefits of process-plates are recognized as they reduce the energy, water, and chemicals needed to complete print jobs.
- Control your viscosity: Actively controlling the viscosity of your ink will allow you to quickly correct any potential issues that could lead to color variations, excessive ink use, ink smearing, and a host of other problems that can lead to material and product waste, as well as rejects and poor quality in your finished product. (Check out another one of our blog articles, 10 Signs You Are Having Viscosity Related Problems, to see if your print issues could be the result of inadequate viscosity control.)
- Install a temperature control system: If you’ve ever noticed that the viscosity of your ink can differentiate from day to day or even morning to afternoon based on ambient temperature changes, then you should be able to benefit from a temperature control system. Temperature control solutions consistently maintain the ink’s optimal temperature. This reduces the need for adding solvents that aren’t always the most environmentally-friendly.
Temperature control systems can also save additional energy costs by reducing the need for additional heating or air conditioning to manage the facility’s ambient temperature.
As more brands and consumers push for more sustainable packaging practices, they’ll demand more environmentally-friendly practices from the operators tasked with printing on their labels, boxes and wrappers. By following the steps listed above, you’ll help to ensure that your process is ready to meet the sustainable packaging trend head-on.
Part of delivering environmentally-friendly packaging processes is ensuring your printing process isn't generating excess waste. Get your free copy of our Flexographic Troubleshooting Guide to learn how to solve problems that can lead to waste and quality shortcomings.