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A focus on sustainability in packaging

Article by Thomas Pinnington, Technical Sales Manager - Newcode Partnership

Sustainable packaging is a key consideration for businesses looking to reduce their environmental footprint. investing in more advanced printing and production technology is crucial in helping manufacturers to achieve these goals.

Green initiatives have always been an important priority in the business world, but as the conversation around preventing climate change becomes more prominent, the issue has moved to the top of many corporate agendas. Whether they are retailers, manufacturers or service providers, businesses are now expected to demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship across all aspects of their operations. 

For companies that are part of the supply chain for physical products and goods, one of the most important steps they can take is to enhance the sustainability of their product packaging. This is becoming a key consideration for manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike, leading to growing investment in sustainable packaging methodologies such as recyclable materials and lean manufacturing processes.

The potential cost benefits and reduced environmental impact of making these changes can be considerable. Here, we will explore the reasons why businesses are investing in these innovative technological solutions – and the ways that improved marking and coding technology can aid these efforts.

Why has sustainable packaging become such a priority?
Every business has a responsibility to react to and deliver on the priorities of its customer base, as well as the prevailing legal and regulatory frameworks within its industry. In recent years, manufacturers, lawmakers and consumers alike have developed a clear consensus on the need for more sustainable packaging and a reduction in preventable packaging waste, and it has become essential for businesses to act on this.

Numerous high-profile campaigns and initiatives have sprung up around the impact of discarded packaging on the world’s oceans and landfills, leading to a strong public outcry. A 2021 report from Trivium Packaging indicated that 67% of consumers see it as important that the products they buy come in recyclable packaging, while 54% take this into consideration in their purchasing decisions. Moreover, 70% are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, with younger consumers placing a particular importance on this.

With regulators also taking action to incentivise companies to create more sustainable packaging, businesses are recognising that they have a duty to improve their performance on this front. Indeed, many manufacturers are pursuing technological solutions to make their packaging more environmentally friendly, including:

  • Using packaging that is recyclable or reusable wherever possible, and ensuring that the materials are biodegradable and compostable when disposed of
  • Ensuring that packaging can be easily recycled through standard channels – this is not always possible when using complex multi-material packaging
  • Using lighter, more flexible materials in packaging production to make them easier and less energy-intensive to produce and transport
  • Incorporating more recycled materials into packaging production
  • Eliminating unnecessary packaging wherever possible

All of these interventions are helping businesses to adjust their approach to packaging production in line with consumer expectations and regulatory requirements; this also has the benefit of helping these companies be seen as more desirable places to work, as many workers are also motivated by a desire to work for an employer dedicated to high standards of environmental stewardship.

Can new coding technology help to deliver better sustainability?
In order to achieve the very best sustainable performance from their packaging products, businesses must not overlook the impact that can be achieved by upgrading their marking, coding and labelling systems.

Every business that creates packaging and labelling for its products relies on printers and marking technology to encode vital product data and information, providing retailers, consumers, regulators and supply chain partners with essential safety, traceability and compliance data.

Whether businesses are printing barcodes, batch numbers, production details, sell-by dates or tracking ID numbers, this process is an essential part of packaging production. As such, manufacturers are investing in ways to make printing more efficient and sustainable, to deliver the best possible environmental performance across their supply chain – and, just like their consumers, are often willing to pay extra for a greener solution.

Businesses are looking to incorporate the following technological advances into their printing processes:

Eco-friendly inks
In the past, many of the inks used in product marking and coding were created using mineral oils and methylethylketone (MEK). There are various environmental and greenhouse gas impacts associated with the production and evaporation of mineral and MEK-based inks, as well as potential health issues that can arise when this type of ink is used in food packaging.

The European Union recently issued an official recommendation that mineral oil-based inks should be removed from packaging production, and many modern systems are now switching over to alternative eco-friendly options such as water, alcohol or vegetable oil-based inks, delivering the same printing results without these environmental risks.

Printing directly onto any type of packaging
Modern marking and coding equipment is able to print directly onto materials and packaging types that would typically present a challenge for older printers. Contact-free printing allows manufacturers to print barcodes and essential data on substrates such as plastic and metal with no difficulty, or directly onto curved or irregularly-shaped items such as bottles.

This allows manufacturers to reduce packaging waste by eliminating the need for physical paper or plastic labels, while also making it easier to switch to thinner, lighter packaging, as modern systems are optimised to print on even the most fragile surfaces.

Economical performance and automation benefits
Modern marking and coding technology incorporates numerous performance refinements and improvements to increase overall efficiency across the lifetime of the system, and are designed with the sustainability goals of manufacturers in mind.

Examples of features that help to improve sustainability include longer-lasting print heads that require less regular replacement, reduced energy usage, and cartridge designs that use every single drop of ink, providing more economical performance and less waste.

Additionally, since this technology is highly automated, production lines can run reliably without manual errors, and with no need for regular stoppages or reactive maintenance. All of these improvements help to ensure a smoother and more efficient production process for packaging, while unlocking benefits in terms of energy savings, carbon footprint and lower costs.

The trend towards more sustainable packaging is only going to accelerate in the next few years, so businesses must look for all possible opportunities to make environmental gains throughout their production processes and supply chains. By fully embracing the sustainability benefits offered by the newest marking and coding systems, businesses will be able to address these important requirements, allowing them to enhance their green credentials and meet the expectations of their customers, staff and regulators alike.

    Thomas Pinnington is the technical sales manager at Newcode Partnership, a specialist coding and marking solutions company. Tom joined in October 2021, he has extensive experience in manufacturing and automation roles, and has transitioned from mostly transactional responsibilities into larger-scale projects delivering sustainable commercial solutions for multinational clients. Tom is responsible for helping businesses from a wide variety of sectors to find the right printing solution for their manufacturing needs.

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