Above and beyond

7 January 2020

Companies want to do right by their customers and the environment. One major focus area is in inks, how they can be separated in recycling and waste stream, and support environmental efforts rather than being part of the problem. Converting Today presents edited extracts from Sun Chemical’s ‘Going Beyond Environmental Claims’, to highlight what can be done.

Being ‘eco-friendly’ can certainly be good for business. After all, 56% of US consumers want more sustainable packaging, according to research by Asia Pulp & Paper. In fact, 42% of respondents said they were willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. But consumers today are savvier than ever, with all kinds of hard data right at their fingertips to investigate whether a green claim is true or not.

Brands need to do more than simply use phrases like ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ in their marketing. If a brand takes dedicated steps to vet and study in depth the environmental practices implemented by their suppliers and partners, they will be rewarded by consumers.

Striving for sustainable packaging is well worth the effort when meaningful eco-efficiency data can be shown to consumers as proof of green practices. This type of data will go a long way towards building trust and loyalty among consumers.

Industry programmes, such as the Sustainable Green Printers Partnership, certify printing facilities’ sustainability best practices, offering a third-party validation for the eco-efficiency and regulatory compliance efforts of converters.

Packaging printers, in particular, have to show a willingness to follow the guidelines and standards set by global retailers like Walmart/Asda, toom Baumarkt, Real, Target, Praktiker and Home Depot. These companies and others make it a priority to partner with brands that utilise printing converters that integrate environmentally friendly practices.

Much of the design and standards for packaging today are driven by retailers. Walmart/Asda, for example, wants packaging that is safe, affordable, recyclable, optimised and promotes sustainable materials. Target expects packaging to meet the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Greener Living Sustainable Packaging Program, utilising recycled or renewable content and no chemical of ‘high concern’. Most printers already work under extreme pricing and profitability pressures and are always looking for ways to be eco-friendly, cut costs, and keep expenses to a minimum. Lowering volatile organic compounds used in the pressroom, and using eco-friendly inks are just some of the ways converters are cutting costs while also becoming more sustainable.


Defining ‘Sustainability’
Using printing inks as an example, a converter’s definition of a successful ‘sustainable ink’ could be as simple as how well the ink and materials interact with each other to synergise the printing process. For example, inks that improve productivity on press or reduce waste could be seen in a converter’s eyes as green. That definition, however, is quite nebulous. The three key regulatory terms that are commonly used in the packaging industry are biodegradable, bio-renewable and eco-friendly.

Biodegradability is the ability of a material to be broken down by microorganisms. More relevant for sustainability is compostability, where that microorganism breakdown occurs within a set time, and with the important parameters of water, oxygen and temperature defined. Unlike industrial composting facilities (55°C to 60°C, EN13432), home composting conditions refer to environments where products compost at lower temperatures so they can go into any ordinary compost heap at home. The temperature in a garden compost heap is lower and less constant than in an industrial composting environment. This is why composting in the garden is usually a more difficult, slower-paced process.

According to the USA National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), a bio-renewable ink is derived from tree, plant, insect and/or animal materials. These can include resins, gums, oils, waxes, solvents and other polymer building blocks. NAPIM’s Biorenewable Content (BRC) programme assigns inks an index number, which gives an independent verification that an ink contains a certain percentage of bio-renewable content. An index number of 60, for example, means that the ink contains 60% bio-renewable content. For the purposes of the BRC programme, NAPIM also considers water as a renewable component in an ink.

For many years, the European Printing Ink Association (EuPIA) members have operated to an industry-voluntary “exclusion list for printing inks and related products”. Initially focused on the protection of the health and safety of personnel at printers in the workplace, it has now been extended to cover environmental protection issues. The European REACH Regulation (EC) 1907/2006 requires that all substances on the European market be assessed for their impact on human health and on the environment. Appropriate measures to ensure all uses are safe to human health and to the environment must be introduced. Bio-renewable materials can include tall oil fatty acids from pine, cellulose from wood, and modified biodegradable products to make bio-renewable materials.


Eco incentives
Eco-efficiency refers to sustainable materials management for packaging. Many programmes, such as the US Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred Programme, offer incentives for businesses to increase the usage of renewable agricultural resources in their products.

The degree of renewable carbon can be assessed by the C14 test method, which is usually used to determine the age of historic findings. ‘Old’ carbon is mainly comprised of synthetic organic pigments. To meet all of these regulatory requirements, retailer expectations and consumer demands, packaging inks are expected to be eco-friendly, bio-renewable, and biodegradable. It is important to note that an ink could be biodegradable, but for the converted packaging to be considered biodegradable, the printed substrate must be biodegradable. Inks that use a very high percentage of bio-renewable materials and are printed on such a substrate could also be considered compostable, with the appropriate testing.

Certifications confirming suitability for composting are available, including the TÜV AUSTRIA Group’s OK Compost labels and OK Compost Home certificates. Inks that meet these requirements should be free of or only have trace levels of heavy metals and reduce volatile organic compounds that are released in the atmosphere. They certainly shouldn’t include any EPA designated toxins, such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and chlorofluorocarbons. Additionally, inks should not affect the growth of different species of trees in a soil containing the ink as part of its composition. This is important to ensure that even if the printed products are mixed with the soil, they will not affect plant growth.

An environmental or green claim is the communication of the environmental attributes of a product, service or organisation. These claims can come in a variety of forms.

Some examples could include statements about environmental sustainability, corporate marketing campaigns and declarations about recyclability, energy and water efficiency, or labels on products. A claim may also include imagery such as landscapes and wildlife, or specially developed symbols, pictures or labels.

In order to comply with all the various industry sustainability demands and avoid misleading environmental claims, package printers should engage with ink manufacturers that strive to work with suppliers that can provide raw materials that will ensure a ‘greener’ ink.

For its part, Sun Chemical has responded to the industry challenges by rolling out a line of inks that meet eco-friendly, bio-renewable, and/or biodegradable standards that the industry, retailers and consumers are looking for.


Product design
On a macro scale, printers need to deliver packaging to their brand-owner customers that meets retailer green scorecard demands, including lower-weight packaging to reduce gas usage in trucks, extended shelf life and waste reduction, improved recycling streams, the ability to meet compostability standards and more.

On a micro scale, printers also need to do their part to show environmental stewardship by reducing VOCs and waste, streamlining processes and reducing inventory.

Many converters use a variety of ink systems for the different printing presses in their shop. Having a single ink that can be used on multiple platforms would not only help printers improve their environmental positioning but allow them to maximise pressroom efficiency and productivity, which ultimately improves the bottom line.

Reducing VOCs is a key way that a printer can become more sustainable; by reducing the amount of hazardous chemicals in their inks and print. Many providers are looking into effective reduced or VOC-free compounds in their inks.

Brand-owners and their supply chain partners have the responsibility to ensure safe packaging and compliance with all regulations worldwide. Focus on food safety is now at an all-time high, and brand-owners need to scrutinise their supply chain from all angles to minimise risk.

This applies to packaging as much as to product sourcing and preparation. Where food or sensitive cosmetics products are concerned, it is vital that brand-owners work hand in hand with their partner converters to ensure that the inks being used are suitable for the contents and pose no risk to consumers.

The term ‘migration-compliant packaging’ is commonly used to designate materials used in the packaging structure that don’t contain components that move from the packaging into the product. The levels of compounds that do migrate should be below the amount that has an effect on the properties of the packaged product.

This trend has continued with the recent launch of three new UV/EB inks for primary and secondary food packaging that are compliant with the strictest global standards in the marketplace, including Nestlé food packaging requirements and Swiss Ordinance chemical composition requirements.

The three inks meet the latest photoinitiator-safe packaging guidelines, are made with no bisphenol A (BPA)-based materials to meet the most stringent global standards, and provide low odour as well as very low residual extractables characteristics while maintaining the highest standards of pressroom performance at the very highest press speeds.


The takeaway
One of the techniques being used by many printers and their customers to help understand environmental impact is a life-cycle assessment. These analyses address the potential environmental impact of a product’s life cycle from raw material acquisition and production to customer use, and sometimes can include final disposal.

These assessments help provide meaningful data to printers that they can report in their effort to be eco-friendly. Some of this data could help quantify the greenhouse gases associated with the manufacturing and distribution phases of the ink’s life cycle and determine the carbon footprint for key products. It is also useful in helping ink manufacturers identify areas to target for improvement, such as water consumption, emissions and waste.

The full white paper is available at www.sunchemical.com.

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