4,082,331,330 kg/year, or 4.1 million tons. That is already a considerable amount. That is the number of printing inks consumed or used worldwide every year.
A world without ink would effectively be a world without color. Our lives and our environment, our products would be just black and white without it.
Reason enough that there is extreme dynamism and movement in the industry when it comes to sustainability.
Let’s take a look at the average composition of printing inks
10-20% is pigments, 5-10% is additives, and 75% is the carrier substrate. This means that 75% evaporates and pigments together with additives remain on the substrate. And these pigments account for around 907184740 kg, or about 910000 tons. And most of them are of fossil origin. Ink manufacturers are also becoming increasingly aware of this, as these 910000 tons correspond to around 17 million fully grown trees.
- Pigments: These give the ink its color and account for about 10-20% of the final product.
- Additives: These improve performance, such as smudge resistance and drying time, and make up about 5-15% of the product.
- Carriers: These transfer the ink to a substrate and then evaporate, leaving only the pigment and additive. They are the largest component of an ink, accounting for 70-80
To make the numbers a little more tangible: In Europe alone, we have a consumption of over one million tons per year. Worth three billion euros. Per inhabitant of Europe, that’s 2kg of ink/year. The gross value of all printed labels and packaging in 2019/2020 was around 90 billion euros.
Today, alternative environmentally friendly inks are already available in various forms, such as water-based, biodegradable, latex, UV and EB-curing inks, and more. Nature-based inks typically consist of a high percentage (60 to 90%) of renewable raw materials. This ranges from inedible plants to algae that are not part of the food supply. At the same time, these substrates can reduce the carbon footprint by consuming less water and energy.
The industry is not idle
As I said, the printing ink industry is not passive. New environmentally friendly printing inks and sustainability reports are appearing continuously.
- The hubergroup developed Cradle to Cradle inks and jointly implemented them in a pilot project with the Töpfer Kulmbach printing company and Carlsberg worldwide for the “Greener Green” line and introduced ECO-PERFECT-DRY sheetfed inks.
- Flint Group committed to the UN Global Compact for Sustainability and launched TerraCode, a sustainable range of water-based inks and coatings for paper and board.
- Siegwerk has engineered a recyclable printing ink system for flexo printing, launched a Circular Economy website, and developed the SICURA Plast SP offset printing ink with excellent deinking properties.
- Sun Chemical organized a strategic committee to drive sustainability in the packaging market and developed SunPak FSP offset inks for food packaging based on renewable bio-based materials.
- INX joined CEFLEX to introduce BSR-Bio, an environmentally friendly UV inkjet ink for corrugated packaging applications.
- HP set a goal to eliminate 75% of single-use packaging by 2025 and announced a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to restore and protect 200,000 acres of forest.
- And Heidelberger Druckmaschinen with its “Saphira Eco“ consumables line is also at the forefront. Heidelberg is continuously expanding its range of environmentally friendly materials. Always committed to the environment, Saphira Eco consumables are made from renewable raw materials wherever possible and/or contribute to the recyclability of end products. The Saphira Eco label stands for lower emission levels than most comparable products. In addition to the ecological benefits – such as reduced emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ammonia and particulate matter – Saphira Eco also stands for the use of fewer chemicals and less wastewater.
It is a growing market. The demand will increase and with it the need to look closely at sustainability. Because it’s systemic. And sustainability is not going to happen easily.
And anyone who cries out for cheap today will have to pay the bill very dearly in the end. Developments cost money, and sustainable developments in particular. Accompanied by a shortage of resources. Prices are rising, as we can see, and the entire label and packaging industry and its customers will have to face up to this reality.
Either cheap today and we all as a society pay the unthinkably high price tomorrow. Or the appropriate price is paid today and we don’t experience any nasty surprises. The entire supply chain is needed here. Brand owners and retailers, too. Because they need to understand that when you shout for sustainable packaging, it’s not without change and commitment.