Sustainable packaging is all about using less material, making it reusable, or easier to recycle or compost so that packaging is less of a drain on the environment. The Sustainable Packaging Alliance (SPA) defines sustainable packaging as effective, efficient, cyclic and safe.
With general environmental awareness against unnecessary packaging continuing to grow, and as recycling has become more challenging with China banning the import of plastic waste, the need for more sustainable packaging will continue to rise and so will the regulation of it.
As an example, the European Commission caused quite a stir in the market by laying out aggressive targets for packaging to become more sustainable, with 65% of all packaging to be recycled by 2025 and 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030. That will include consumer flexible packaging, like wrappers, snack packages and pouches, which currently are difficult to recycle, leaving about 4 million tons of these materials going to landfill or incineration each year in Europe alone.
Inks and coatings only contribute a small percentage of weight to packaging, but they can play a significant role in enhancing or disrupting its sustainability attributes. It’s a long process to convert to sustainable packaging and needs to include everyone involved—plastic and packaging suppliers and producers, product manufacturers who must consider redesigning their packaging to make it sustainable, and consumers/end-users.
While there are challenges, there are also tremendous opportunities to create sustainable packaging with the same performance characteristics as the original packaging. In the food industry, which is adopting flexible packaging for more and more types of consumer packed goods, performance characteristics are very important. Here, the safety of food, shelf life of food, how the food is transported and cooked are all impacted by the performance of the packaging.
Enhancing Sustainability Attributes
- Exploring inks and coatings with a composition that includes bio-based materials rather than fossil-based materials.
- Using inks and coatings to contribute to barrier performance, protecting packaging contents from water, gases, grease, odors, etc. This can simplify packaging material by removing other layers without affecting the functionality of the packaging.
- Coatings can enable packaging to be redesigned so it’s more recyclable. For example, using coatings to help separate out the layers in the package can make them easier to reprocess. Also, replacing plastic with coated paper or board could enhance recyclability.
One example where Lubrizol products help make packaging more sustainable is lacquers for metallized labels used on returnable glass bottles. Specially designed lacquers enable printed metallized labels to be quickly removed from the surface of the bottle without ink contaminating the wash water. Bottles can then be efficiently washed and reused by drink manufacturers.
While challenges exist with current packaging systems, inks, and coatings can be an important part of reducing, reusing, recycling and rethinking packaging to be more sustainable.
To learn more about Lubrizol capabilities for packaging, visit go.lubrizol.com/packaging.