Sustainability is a topic in itself. In reality, it is a stimulating topic on which opinions differ in many respects. Particularly when it comes to the concretization. Just a few years ago, the industry, and the packaging industry in particular, put the topic into the green corner as an isolated necessary evil. For image reasons, everyone wanted to be a little sustainable.
Fragmented and moderate, people were content to play number games with CO2 values here and there, and the indulgence trade with CO2 certificates experienced its heyday. In other words, I’m allowed to have emissions, but in return I plant trees in Peru. This absurd idea was a morbid and systemically illogical entity from the outset.
These times are over now. Sustainability has arrived in the middle of society. The epicenter is once again the public awareness, which will pose massive challenges to supply chains – especially in the FMCG – if they do not simultaneously impose the transformation of entire industries, if industry itself does not make efforts to generate intelligent solutions, and if it does not see sustainability as transparent and holistic.
With the increasing pressure on sustainability, consumers, CPGs and governments are pushing for sustainable packaging (e.g. sustainability commitments from companies, increase in regulations and policies – plastic and disposable bans).Governments in all countries are already responding. On the one hand, to increase recycling, and on the other hand, to issue regulations to reduce plastics. As a result, there are already 52 laws passed in the USA in this regard. In addition, 90 more similar bills are pending for adoption in the next three years. For example, the EU wants to increase the recycling of plastic beverage bottles to 90% by 2029.
Largest end use
Food products account for about 50 percent of consumer packaging and are growing thanks to the increased demand for convenience. A CAGR of about 1.2 percent is forecast, which will expand this end use to 70 billion US dollars and a North American packaging market share of 32 percent by 2022f.
Within the beverage segment, the largest category, bottled water, continues to be the main driver of beverage packaging and supports demand for PET bottles. Niche categories also continue to outperform the overall mass market, which prefers metal cans. However, beverage packaging is shrinking overall, mainly due to the decline in carbonated soft drinks in response to health concerns. With a growth rate of -0.2 percent, consumption is expected to stagnate at $22 billion between 2017 and 2022f, with North American market share at around 10 percent.
At around 3.5 percent, healthcare is the fastest growing end use, favored by the increasing demand for healthcare products for an aging population. North American consumption is projected to increase from USD 9 billion to approximately USD 10 billion, representing a North American market share of about 5 percent.
CONSUMERS ARE ACTIVE NOW
Looking at Google’s trends over the last 12 months, we see an all-time high on a scale of 0-100 that is above 75-100, with the exception of the COVID-19 incident in the spring. People inform themselves, search actively and deal with the topic. And when it comes to packaging, we are seeing a new and more obvious trend.
Above all, results must be delivered that are measurable and based on a uniform evaluation method. And it won’t happen overnight, and not everything that is obviously sustainable is really sustainable in the end.
The packaging industry is the number one target. The fast-moving goods in the food & beverage, cosmetics and detergent sectors generate a large part of the packaging volume.
To what extent will this influence the printing industry in the area of label and packaging printing and what adjustments will be necessary to enable a supplier – as a quasi interface between substrates and the CPG company – to maintain its position?
Let’s take a closer look at the figures to make it clear that it will not be possible in the future to continue to operate in this way. We are facing a dilemma. Our global economic system is geared towards productivity and therefore constant consumption. In other words, growth. Not organic growth, but consumption growth. Consumption, i.e. the consumption of goods that we do not always and necessarily need or not at all in this diversity.
Well, this is where the problem begins. In the post-war years we had a consumer goods industry. There was a need to catch up. Industries emerged that were institutionalized. Jobs were created. The vicious circle began. More and more goods, more and more unnecessary goods with an immense rotational speed. The economy flourished. The resources seemed to be infinite and above all cheap.
Now we see that the resources are not infinite. Better to say, that the way we use these resources is a massive intervention in a self-regulating system. The system is changing, and day by day it is depriving the foundations of human existence. That sounds dramatic? By no means does it sound dramatic – it is dramatic. It is simply reality, which is sometimes wiped from our field of vision by other catastrophic events in everyday life, such as wars, terror or the like.
And on the other hand, we in the developed countries boast that we are all recycling world champions after all. In that we simply export the garbage. Especially in countries where the processing plants are undersized and do not cope with the volume, we export our wealthy waste. A few data should make us aware that sustainability cannot be a battle of paper versus plastic substrates. Sustainability means that over the next few years, for a transition period of 10-15 years, we will have to examine our processes in more detail and identify the weaknesses and start here in order to dramatically reduce resource consumption. At the same time, we must reduce the ecotoxicity of the materials used to a minimum. However, this would only have enabled us to achieve a partial goal. Because we have to rethink entire industries and put products and their usefulness to the test. If the industry does not do this on its own initiative, it will be crushed by tooth time.
To make it better visible: If you had the opportunity to save 105,000 tons of CO2 in a city where you only drink tap water, you would do it, wouldn’t you? Correctly heard! The city of Berlin alone could reduce its CO2 emissions from 105,000 tons of CO2 to 17 tons of CO2 per year by eliminating mineral water transports only in this small area. This begs the question, what would happen to industry and supply chains?
If the drama of climate change increases, the measures will also become drastic. It is therefore well advised to look at sustainability in processes and to take a closer look at the interaction of supply chain products.
But here we are purely a knowledge center for the printing industry. Especially for packaging printing. And as a packaging printing company, you are dependent on substrates such as film, paper, inks, coatings, etc. If these are good and ecological, however, they may produce poorer environmental values in the process (printing press). In addition, the printing process itself is not completely free of emissions. The question therefore arises as to what the contribution of print shops could be (apart from the use of exchangeable substrates that are available to everyone)?
When you are faced with the decision of whether to purchase a new press or retrofit, it is necessary to consider not only productivity but also sustainability.
Let’s take a look at some examples
The whole thing is then called: Life Cycle Inventory
Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) involves the compilation and quantification of inputs and outputs for a product system throughout its entire life cycle. Various sources of information were used to create the inventory. Regarding the manufacturing processes, information was collected from manufacturers and suppliers.
It will always be the case that the GWP (Global Warming Potential) will be predominantly in the substrates used. This is in the nature of things. However, it should not be overlooked that a quarter and up to a third are in the printing process and only 8-12% in the area of transport.
Per ton of printed material, the range of total emissions can be between 845 and 2,300 kg. And 25-37.5% of this is only in the printing process. And this is where the printer can start.
In addition to raw material production, printing also has a significant environmental impact, accounting for 25% of the total GWP. In most cases, the electricity consumed during printing is a hotspot (6%-8%). Other relevant activities are the chemicals used in the process (10%). The introduction of energy management measures in printing plants could reduce the environmental impact. However, a 20% reduction in electricity consumption only leads to a 2% reduction in GWP.
As far as printing inks are concerned, some LCA studies consider them in the raw material phase, while others consider them in the printing phase.
The toxicity assessment shows a high relevance of printing in the categories human toxicity, terrestrial and freshwater ecotoxicity due to the chemicals used in this phase, while emissions of metals contribute additionally. The observed effects of terrestrial ecotoxicity are attributed to herbicides and insecticides that are produced during the manufacture of printing inks. This, together with the high eutrophication effects during ink production, underlines the need to study the overall impact of mineral versus bio-based materials.
The amount of solid waste generated during the production of one ton of the product is approximately 340 kg. Most of it is either recyclable or combustible. Landfill waste usually includes ash from pulp and paper production and mixed waste from the printing facility. A small amount of hazardous waste is also generated. This represents 0.5% of the total waste production. The most important type of waste is paper waste (80% of the total amount), which goes into paper recycling. The current study assumes that a 50% reduction in print shop waste could lead to a 4% reduction in GWP.
Printing is also related to the generation of VOCs and other emissions to air and water. Metal emissions cause effects on the human toxicity and ecotoxicity of fresh water. Emissions to water of the three metals cobalt, nickel and vanadium account for more than half of the freshwater ecotoxicity burden. Additional measures to mitigate the effects can be decided during the product development phase. You can determine the amount of paper and printing ink used and the use of other materials.
Overview of measures and effective range
Relevance/Impact on GWP
|Origin||Use of recycled fibres||
|Energy consumption||Energy consumed during the pulp and paper production|
|Certification||Consider other type I ecolabels, regional ecolabels or other standards||Medium- high|
|Inks||Origin||Preference for vegetable inks or water-based inks instead of mineral base inks||Medium- high|
|Recyclability||Adhesives accepted in the recycling process||Medium- high|
|Best available techniques||Use of methods with less environmental impact: dispersion adhesives, hot-melt adhesives…|
|Other chemicals||Toxicity||Use of chemicals with lower toxicity to the environment and higher biodegradability||
|Best environmental performance||–|
|Design||Eco design strategies||Selection of some parameters such as proper paper formats||Medium|
|Emissions to air||NOx, SO2, TSP and VOC||
|Emissions to water||Chemical oxygen demand, total nitrogen and phosphorus, total suspended solids|
Energy and water consumption
|Energy sources||Use of renewable sources of energy||
|Energy consumption||Energy consumed during the printing process|
|Best environmental practices||Implementation of an annual energy reduction goal|
|Water consumption||Water consumed during the printing process||Medium|
|Waste||Inks and toners||Collection and treatment of inks and toners||
|Washing agents||Collection and treatment of washing agents|
|Unsorted waste control||Avoid unsorted waste|
|Waste water||Treatment methodologies of waste water|
|Packaging||Quantity||Avoid unnecessary packaging: eliminate, reduce or replace the packaging of the product||Medium|
What the printer can do here is pretty much to the point
He has moderate influence on the substrates offered to him. Here he has the choice of using a more environmentally sustainable one or not. However, there is considerable potential in the printing processes and equipment. That is where the printer can actively take action. Sustainable production processes can also give printers competitive advantages. Especially since, from 2025, the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) will be used to measure the total emissions of a product. This will determine how much tax and duty will then fall on the end product.
And you can take my word for it. Printing an ecologically sustainable product as a substrate does not always mean that the final environmental footprint of this product will be good after the printing process. It depends on the overall process. If you would know and understand the values, sometimes a worse value could result. A lot of knowledge and, above all, a lot of new process knowledge is required here.
What consequences will public pressure have?
This increasing pressure from the public, regulatory authorities and the industry itself encourages companies to move towards more sustainable packaging solutions. As a result, both leading retailers and FMCG manufacturers have made bold sustainability statements and commitments for the coming years, for example
- Reduction of packaging material in terms of size, weight and thickness – varies from 20 to 33 percent in terms of weight
- Improved recyclability, reusability or compostability of packaging material – with most targets aiming at 100 percent
- Increased use of recycled plastic in packaging material – between 9 and 100 percent depending on material properties
- Further obligations to design for recycling and to educate customers about proper waste disposal.
However, while FMCG manufacturers and retailers may have pursued a stringent sustainability agenda for packaging, focusing primarily on “lightweighting”, new challenges in waste management and recyclability pose challenges beyond the capabilities of traditional tools and strategies. The biggest and most worrying discrepancy is probably between the declared desire for sustainability and the willingness of consumers to pay. Most evidence suggests that consumer willingness to pay has so far been limited.
For packaging companies, the pressure for sustainable packaging will require investment and a major expansion of innovation capacity to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, comply with regulations and meet consumer demands. For example, one implication is that more converters will deliver fully recyclable packaging with little compromise on the barrier properties of the material; another is that more packaging will have a high proportion of recycled material. Efforts are already underway and several packaging products are now being introduced as part of fully sustainable systems. In the future, packaging companies will need to focus more than ever on cost-effective sustainability solutions.
Ecological economy is possible, you just have to find the right switches and adjust existing processes or, in the case of future investments, team up with the right partners. A close cooperation along the value chain is necessary. The motto is not customer and supplier, but business partners at eye level with a common goal.