Industry ready to embrace sustainable label printing - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The market is on the rise, and there are myriad processes and materials to manufacture labels to woo customers, whether offset, digital or flexo. But one thing is certain. It’s time to embrace sustainability in the label printing ecosystem. As a speaker on the second day of the LMAI Conference at Jaipur explained, by 2025, all packages will be sustainable. What the internet is to smartphones, sustainability will be to packaging. In the Part-I of the series, Team PrintWeek/WhatPackaging? analyses the proceedings at LMAI Conference held in Jaipur on 20-22 July 2023. Read more

23 Jul 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

In his impassioned and rousing presentation on Day Two of the LMAI Conference held at Hotel Leela Palace from 20 to 23 July, Pawandeep Sahni, managing director, Omet India, asserted the importance of sustainability, saying that it will be the Tesla moment for industry, and the early adopters of a sustainable printing process will have the advantage. 

Later, Manish Jain of Loparex quoted the results of recent studies, saying that both developed and emerging economies are showing an increase in support for sustainable business. According to Jain, in one survey, 66% of all respondents, and 75% of millennial respondents, said they consider sustainability when making a purchase.  

He added that in India, sales of organic items have increased by 13% since 2018, and the market for ethically and sustainably derived goods in the UK was worth Pounds 41-billion in 2019. In the UK, this sector’s value has increased by almost four times in just 20 years. 

Seeking sustainability
It’s not when, but how we are going to achieve sustainability, that is the question. There are technologies and solutions available, but there are also hurdles, the major being the brands’ unwillingness to pay extra for sustainable printing.

Vinod Vazhapulli of Jindal SMI said that for a converter today, adherence to Industry 4.0 is a must. For, data is a goldmine and without data, you cannot formulate a strategy. So, the first step towards setting up a sustainable operation is to achieve digitisation. The second is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Meanwhile, Sahni added, “Material science is the key to disruption and leadership. For this, you need an agile solution.”

It’s time for label converters to step up and become a solution provider than a manufacturer. 

Umesh Kagade of HP Indigo has the same advice for the label converters – be a complete solution provider. 

“Label converters often face the challenge of diversifying into new packaging formats, requiring significant investments in equipment and technical expertise. However, they can overcome this challenge by making a single investment that enables them to expand into various packaging segments.”

This investment, of course, is HP Indigo.  

In his presentation, Kagade showcased examples of successful label converters who have transitioned into providing solutions for shrink sleeves, pouches, cartons, in-mold labels (IML), and lamitubes, and demonstrated the potential for label companies to become comprehensive packaging solution providers. 

In his presentation, Ranesh Bajaj of Vinsak suggested five filters or tools towards achieving sustainable packaging transformation – elimination filter, green filter, technical filter, cost filter and change filter.

“It will be a key game-changer on how to approach the markets now,” Bajaj said. “The DNA of any manufacturer is to create a machine for customers so they will have an asset that brings them many advantages (performance, quality, sustainability, cost-efficiency) but also an open solution.”

Generally speaking, it is clear that labels and packaging, more than ever, must have a purpose — literally, by being more functional, or metaphorically, by being designed to not only do its job but also to serve the broader purpose of advancing sustainability.

Bajaj agreed. He said, “Aesthetics may be important but functionality will always score over aesthetics. Hence, functionality is always important while designing a label or a package. And, sustainability is a new dimension which has been added. All brands are now under pressure to follow sustainable practices and communicate this effectively to the consumer. This adds a more formidable challenge to the packaging development team, and this is where we help brands in achieving sustainability successfully.”

Our world needs sustainability and balance. Sustainability requires the end of planned obsolescence and environment-friendly technology. “From farm-to-fork or cradle-to-grave are no longer enough,” Bajaj said.

Circular economy
As Bajaj explained, machine manufacturers from pre- to post-press, as well as substrate and consumable providers have stepped up to offer sustainable solutions.

Hrishikesh Kulkarni, regional sales manager, Miraclon, said, “Brand expectations and market dynamics continue to influence the shift of print-packaging to flexography as the process of choice.

He added, “Sustainability in the print environment is not just about the use of sustainable substrates or greener inks, but being able to also reduce production waste, press downtime and make-ready times, so there is greater resource utilisation and higher profitability. This will also feature strongly in the talk-track, as Miraclon believes using the right technology in the optimum way is the biggest enabler to producing sustainable print packaging.

Unsurprisingly, the circular economy is gaining popularity, generating value by reducing waste and maximising product use, which challenges traditional ideas of competition. So, what does this mean for the brands, labellers and packagers?

Avery Dennison’s segment development director - LPM, South Asia, Priyanka Singla, said, “We are committed to promoting a circular economy, and keeping this need in mind, we have successfully developed and established a footprint with our Cleanflake portfolio for recyclability of PET substrates and WashOff portfolio to enable reuse in the glass bottling industry,” said Singla.

Avery also runs well-entrenched matrix and liner recycling programmes to its customers and brands, aiming to minimise waste generation in the ecosystem and facilitate the transition to a more sustainable and circular business model. 

“In parallel, we endeavour to keep innovating with products that revolutionise the industry in terms of sustainability, such as the AD XeroLinr DT, which has eliminated the liner waste for the user while saving substantial cost and energy along the way,” added Singla.

Vazhapulli added, “The focus on sustainability and innovation in packaging materials has increased tremendously in the last few years. Brand owners are expected to be at the forefront of this transformation to more sustainable and circular packaging solutions and are expected to articulate these changes to the consumers.”

In line with these thoughts, Jindal SMI has introduced two new products. One is polyolefin base conformable PP. Polyolefin film delivers outstanding conformability and flexibility for label applications with excellent converting characteristics. It is 40% thinner compared to usual PE films which will help add value in sustainability.

The second one is PCR PP. It is made with mechanical recycling technology with the same properties as standard PP films, and these PP PCR films can cut their footprint by decreasing the amount of virgin materials used at the same time. PCR PP with 30% post-consumer recycled content consumes fewer resources, helping to keep plastic out of the waste stream.

“Both the products are available in both clear and white finishes and will add value to the sustainability. Brand owners and converters can benefit from these multi-functional labelling solutions,” Vazhapulli said.

Taking the concept of reuse further, Niraj Muni of Maxcess announced that the company has initiated a programme to offer repairing services for magnetic cylinders, anvil cylinders, hydra jack, and adjustable anvils.

He explained: There are 1,200 flexo machines in India. Every machine will have an average of eight magnetic cylinders and two anvils. This comes to 9,600 magnetic cylinders and 2,400 anvils. 

Every year, there is an addition of about 70 new flexo presses. This comes to 560 magnetic cylinders and 140 anvils. 

So, in 2023, the number of tools was 12,000 tool. It will increase to 12,700 in 2004 and to 13,400 tools in 2025. 

According to a recent audit by Maxcess, 3,200 magnetic cylinders audited, 35% were OK to use; 50% needed repairs and 15% needed replacement.

“You can repair and reuse the same tools instead of buying new ones, resulting in sustained use of tools and cost savings,” he said. “It’s imperative for label printers to save time and material wastage by maintaining their tools in perfect condition.”

Industry for sustainability
Rajesh Nema
, president, LMAI, said, “Labels have the power to embrace creativity, which further spurs innovation. Inline with sustainability, the label printing landscape has changed.”

Saurabh Agarwal, vice-president and general manager, Avery Dennison, in his keynote address, stated, “Sustainability is at the centre stage. This forefront is driven by consumer preferences and government regulations.”

“Replacing QR codes wherever possible will make labels do wonders, improve track and trace along with consumer engagement,” said Agarwal.

To this, Singla, added, “Sustainable packaging is the key to circularity. ESG guidelines will change the sustainable landscape. By 2030, Avery will reduce scope-3 GHG emissions by 30% (since 2018) and vote for circularity.”

Alexander Uwe, global product manager, Heidelberg Gallus, spoke about sustainability from a different angle. He mentioned Gallus One as a reliable solution, which is further important for total cost of ownership (TCO).

Flint Group shed light on its two new products in its sustainable portfolio. Deinking primer, adaptable to shrink and caustic-resistant varnish, for PSL applications. “These solutions help ink manufacturers reduce carbon footprint,” said Marc Heylen, global R&D and technical director, Flint Group.