‘Green’ packaging along with natural and organic products

28 June 2018

Viktor Puzakov, global marketing manager at Videojet Technologies, discusses why beverage consumers are leaning more towards natural and organic products. He also explains how ‘green’ packaging options that reduce food and packaging waste are changing coding and marking operations.

According to a recent report by research giant Mintel, packaging is set to play a vital role in reducing global food and product waste. For a long time, it was seen as something that could be discarded, but attitudes are changing rapidly as society becomes aware of the damage caused by carbon footprints or not recycling. A move towards a circular economy, where packaging is recycled and effectively returned to producers from consumers, is gathering momentum, creating a greater understanding of best-before and use-by dates to change consumer habits. The components used to create packaging have also evolved, and consumers are increasingly turning to products that use sustainable, natural and organic materials in their composition.

An efficient beverage industry is essential for fighting against waste. One global manufacturer, for example, sees more than 50% of its carbon footprint from packaging. To minimise the effect this has on the environment, several initiatives have been introduced. First, the company tries to use less elements by making its containers lighter and thinner. Secondly, it integrates recycled and renewable materials wherever possible; for example, some of its PET bottles are made with up to 30% plant-based materials. And finally, the business encourages consumers to recycle packages after consumption.

To improve environmental sustainability, another major beverage manufacturer constructed a PET blow-moulding production line at one of its production facilities, which makes a bottle from blow-mould preforms. This eliminates the need for shipping, storing and sterilising pre-made bottles, therefore reducing the environmental impact of a single facility, which transported items across 600,000 miles annually.

In addition, a recent study conducted by Dr Lorna Harries, associate professor in molecular genetics at the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK, suggests that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound commonly found in plastic, can cause changes to the expression of oestrogen-responsive genes and the regulation of hormones. This serves as evidence that exposure to the chemical may be associated with poorer health in men and women. Hence, ‘going green’ is a great way to address a number of issues. Eco-friendly drink bottles can not only make production more sustainable and green, but also potentially reduce the chance of developing diseases, such as breast or prostate cancer.

Packaging types

Using plastic has been a contentious issue over the past few years, especially with critical levels of waste making its way into the world’s oceans. As a result, a number of environmentally friendly plastics have been developed that fall into three different categories.

Bioplastics are made from natural materials, like corn starch, and making bottles with this material requires a third of the energy needed to produce a PET bottle. Some forms of bioplastics look and feel identical to petroleum-based products, and, despite being indistinguishable, this type of plastic breaks down without leaving any harmful residues. Biodegradable plastics are made from petrochemicals, but are designed to decompose faster. Although this type of plastic does break down quicker than traditional versions, it leaves behind some harmful deposits, which means it is not 100% eco-friendly.

As the name suggests, recycled plastics are made from recycling old plastic. Doing so is a good thing but it still poses certain challenges. Bottles made from this material, for example, will often not be able to make more because of properties that are lost during the recycling process. Instead, they will most likely be converted into other products that require lower-grade plastic, such as public benches or playground equipment.

The coding and marking challenges

There are two major obstacles associated with coding and marking on eco-friendly beverage packages. Firstly, ‘green’ PET bottles have much thinner walls than traditional ones. When using a continuous inkjet (CIJ) printer there is no issue, as it simply adds a layer of new material (ink) to a container’s surface.

However, CIJ dramatically changes the way laser-marking technology operates, as a laser removes a layer of substrate to create a code, which increases the chances of burning through a bottle.

To solve this problem and prevent deep engraving, Videojet Technologies created a new laser tube that delivers a beam with a wavelength of 9.3μm, rather than conventional 10.6μm. In addition, the company created a specific non-crossover font that prevents the laser from burning through the same spot twice; for example, the number eight and the letter X. Instead of passing through the centre twice, it would jump over an existing line.

Secondly, bottle formats made from sustainably sourced wood fibre or paper pulp are on their way. When they enter circulation, both will almost certainly pose new coding challenges for CIJ and laser-marking machines. Ink can bleed into the fibres of the substrate, producing a substandard code, or laser coders could easily burn right through. To combat this, it will be essential for manufacturers that are looking to adopt this type of packaging to work closely with coding and marking experts, in order to achieve the optimal coding solution via testing.

Inks and fluids

The need to use natural materials in ‘green’ products extends as far as the inks used to create the necessary coding and marking required for compliance, such as batch and use-by dates. Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) is frequently used as a solvent in inks because it carries the dye and the resin. MEK has many advantages – including fast drying times – and is not classified as a hazardous air pollutant or an ozone-depleting chemical. However, there are some areas in which MEK-free inks are preferred, such as the food and beverage sector.

It is important to offer fluids that provide a number of options for customers who require chemical-free materials. The quality of codes produced by MEK-free inks must also remain intact. It is possible to do so by working tirelessly to develop new products that meet the stringent quality guidelines required by customers and in-house standards.

The key is to partner with an expert coding and marking supplier that will test packaging materials under laboratory conditions to provide solutions of utmost quality. This is particularly important for new products, as getting coding and marking configurations correct first time will save time and minimise the risk of product line waste.

Bioplastics boast natural ingredients that allow a cleaner, more efficient biodegration.

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