Pillar of sustainable strength31 August 2020
Flint Group Packaging Inks, one of the largest consumable suppliers to the global packaging industry, has identified four strategic pillars key to successfully achieving its sustainability ambitions. The four pillars includes ethical management, reduced ecological impact, responsibly built products and designing for circularity. Converting Today presents an edited version of Flint Group Packaging Inks’ white paper, ‘Flint Group Packaging Inks Sustainability Strategy in Focus’.
Packaging sustainability has become an increasingly important issue over the past few years around the world. As heightened awareness of the human impact on the environment has evolved, consumers have become increasingly concerned about packaging, and its role in wasteand pollution. Now they, along with governments, NGOs and the industry, are seeking ways to achieve a more circular economy. As a result, brands and their supply chains are investing in innovative ways to meet the challenge of developing sustainable packaging solutions that meet the needs of society and the environment, now and into the future. By 2023, the market is forecast to grow to 3.6 million tonnes and $44.7bn, a 9% growth in volume and a much higher growth in value of 14%.
A strategy of sustainability
As a responsible supplier of printing consumables for the global packaging industry, sustainability is deeply ingrained in Flint Group Packaging Inks’ values and the way it does business. Accordingly, it has established a sustainability vision to guide its activities: to support packaging markets with responsibly built products and sustainable solutions designed for circular economies.
Flint Group is fully committed to environmental well-being and the growth of the packaging markets. It knows that the fundamental role of packaging is to protect and preserve goods in the global supply chain, ensuring that they reach their final destination with minimal damage and waste.
Printed packaging also fulfils a valuable role in consumer communication. It presents important information to the end user about the packs, contents, use, safety or application and ultimately has a direct impact on health, safety and hygiene standards around the world. Inks are, therefore, essential to packaging design and Flint Group is keen to develop solutions to mitigate the impact they could have on the environment. The company has, therefore, created a sustainability task force to drive its sustainability strategy, with four strategic pillars to align with its initiatives and efforts.
The group recognises that maintaining a high degree of economic, environmental and social sustainability is fundamental to delivering value for its key stakeholders – its customers, suppliers, employees, investors and communities. Accordingly, it has signed the UN Global Compact and committed to adhere to its sustainable development goals.
A set of ten core principles addressing human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, and the company’s commitment to this internationally recognised standard, assures its focus on excellence in ethical business management and provides a framework for company-wide development. In ensuring it meets its goals, Flint Group’s procurement and supply chains are designed to connect its key sustainability themes – socioeconomic growth, green economy and socio-environmental progress – with elements of the UN Global Compact and sustainability goals. For example, it has rolled out policies on human rights, anti-discrimination, established green engineering and waste management projects, as well as tackled anti-corruption and equal opportunities practices. As well as abiding by key human resources, safety and well- being directives set out by governments wherever it operates, as a responsible and ethical supplier,
Flint Group has also ensured complete supply chain transparency by employing stringent global standards across its supply chains. Any new supplier to Flint Group must pass a comprehensive sustainable supplier assessment. This includes passing a supplier selection process, communicating on health, safety and environmental considerations, being subject to quality and regulatory auditing, and completing a sustainability assessment that incorporates a questionnaire based on the UN Global Compact standards. All of its suppliers are also subject to regular audits to ensure ongoing compliance.
Reduced ecological impact
Flint Group operates sustainably, as well as supporting its customers’ environmental objectives. The company is on a continuous sustainability improvement journey with a company-wide programme of clear targets established in 2016 to reduce energy consumption (-20%), greenhouse gas emissions (-20%), water consumption (-10%) and landfill waste (-30%) by 2020. The business is on track and it is currently assessing its performance and targets for the future, with a plan to release the next sustainability performance report in mid-2020, with updated goals for 2025.
It has also committed to achieving ISO14001 – the international standard that specifies the requirements for an effective environmental management system – at a number of its sites around the world. Reflecting its long-term commitment to reducing its ecological impact, Flint Group has been accredited since 2010 and now 17 Flint Group sites are certified globally, with more in the pipeline to be accredited in the future. Reducing ecological impact means supporting customers in achieving their sustainability goals too. Flint Group has implemented the XtraMile programme, an initiative to help printers boost connectivity, reduce waste and drive their operational efficiency. By identifying waste reduction opportunities, its print experts provide insight to optimising set-up and make-ready times, as well as the best use of printing inks on press. It also helps its customers to drive operational improvements through implementation of extended gamut printing, and reuse and reworking of post-run inks, wherever possible.
Responsibly built products
The third pillar of the Flint Group’s sustainability strategy addresses the building blocks of ink formulation, regulatory compliance and the environmental impact associated with their use. By building products responsibly, it ensures that its products are designed in accordance with the latest regulatory requirements around the world. For example, in Europe, it follows the EuPIA exclusions policy in determining what materials it will and won’t select for ink formulation. Furthermore, it is aligned with key trade associations and complies with appropriate environmental certifications – such as Cradle to Cradle, Ecolabel, Sedex and EcoVadis – to assure its customers and their customers of its commitment to both industry and regulatory requirements. Importantly, its technical teams are actively developing new sustainable ink formulations utilising non-fossil fuel-based raw material sources that do not compete with food resources or contribute to deforestation. Biorenewable inks are already available – TerraCode, a water-based paper and board ink range, for example, is based on biorenewable raw material technology offering three levels of design – bio, hybrid and balance – to meet a variety of print needs. For solvent-based inks, Flint Groups’ research and development teams are testing specialist raw materials with a C14 isotope method, driving 60–80% biorenewable content for nitrocellulose-based ink with the same performance as standard ink formulations. In addition, a range of mono-solvent inks has been commercialised for gravure applications in combination with solvent recovery systems, as well as low-ethanol content versions to support VOC reductions. Finally, for compostable packaging developments, which have come to the fore asbrands seek alternative solutions for non-recyclable flexible packaging laminates, the company has delivered a range of flexo and gravure inks compliant with OK Compost DIN EN13432 compostability standards. This makes it easy for converters to achieve overall compliance for final printed compostable packaging designs.
Designed for circularity
The final strategic pillar is designing inks for the circular economy; ensuring it is doing its best as a company to remove the linear ways of thinking that has dominated the past. Its focus is on contributing to the development of fully recyclable packaging solutions with minimal waste creation. In addition, on understanding and developing recycling technologies– the current feasibilities and obstacles – as well as the impact of printing inks on these systems, its ultimate contribution is designing packaging ink solutions that minimise any challenges to the recycling of packaging. There are a number of technologies that can support these efforts already in use, including the use of water marks in graphics, taggants in ink formulations to alert systems and use of other printing ‘markers’ to support material collection and separation.
However, Flint Group is investing in innovation to move this issue forward faster. Along with a range of solvent and water-based inks for films that are mono-material – supporting the move of the flexible packaging industry to mono-material design to enable recycling – these inks have been cleverly designed for mechanical recycling, avoiding the use of chlorine that creates gassing and damage to extruders. Moreover, it has developed a range of accredited low-VOC inks that are fully de-inkable, supporting the physical recycling process.
In terms of designing for circularity, Flint Groups’ most recent innovation is the ZenCode NCG range of shrink label inks, certified to the Association of Plastics Recycling (APR) quality criteria in the US. These solvent-based inks complement commercialised ranges for floatable OPP mono-web labels and sinkable shrink PET labels, designed to minimise impact on the physical traits of bottle flake recyclate.
Flint Group has also worked in collaboration with CADEL DEINKING in Europe. Providing an approved flexo solvent-based ink designed for hygiene, collation shrink and outdoor surface printed-packaging applications, the CADEL system enables the removal of ink from plastic substrates before they are recycled. This technology results in recycled products with a similar quality to that of virgin plastic. Finally, in support of fossil fuel-based plastics reduction in packaging design, Flint Group launched a comprehensive range of new barrier coatings to replace the functionality that plastic films often offer to food, beverage and personal care packaging applications. Coatings, incorporating barriers to oxygen, moisture, aromas and light enable packaging designers to reduce their use of fossil fuel-based resources, metals and save waste and energy. The journey to sustainability and a circular economy will not be easy, but Flint Group has the vision, innovation and commitment to succeed. To ensure its ongoing progress, in 2019 it appointed a dedicated sustainability task force to work with industry bodies, customers, suppliers and key stakeholders to deliver a programme of objectives and milestones in four strategic pillars – responsibly built products, design for circular economies, ethical management and reduced ecological impact. Its vision and commitment are clear, and it has invested in the resources to drive both organisation and those of its key stakeholders forward