New research from independent consultants Smithers shows how on-demand inkjet labelling can save European businesses significant energy, reduce massive material and ink waste and make labelling operations far more efficient and sustainable.
If European businesses switched to using on-demand inkjet labelling, energy savings of 28.7 million kWh could be achieved each year, the equivalent of lighting 95,960 homes and equal to a reduction of 6.7 million tonnes of CO2. On-demand inkjet printing can also eliminate 180 million square metres of label waste, the equivalent covering of 25,264 football pitches, and will cut ink waste by an estimated 619 tonnes, the equivalent weight of 41 double decker buses.
Smithers undertook research to compare and evaluate the sustainability of different print processes and how they can be deployed by brands to help achieve their sustainability goals. It analysed businesses using a range of commercial, thermal transfer and in-house colour inkjet printing processes and calculated the sustainability impact from label stock to application across 5 key categories: energy, waste, consumables, storage & transportation and release liner.
It concluded that using inkjet to print labels inhouse could have major commercial and operational benefits but also demonstrable environmental benefits including significant reductions in energy, waste, and consumables, which could help companies meet the following UN sustainable development goals:
– SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy
Inkjet is a far less energy intensive process and can use just 1% of that energy for the same area printed.
– SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
Inkjet printing can provide cost efficiencies and margin improvements for label users.
– SDG 9 Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
Innovative inkjet technology can reduce waste of label materials and stock obsolescence.
– SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production
There are significant reduction waste materials (e.g. ribbons) during inkjet printing vs thermal transfer printing.
Ciaran Little VP, Information Division from Smithers commented: “The label printing market is undergoing significant change as businesses look to leverage new digital technologies and respond to growing consumer demand for personalisation and just in time delivery. As a result, the digital label printing market is growing rapidly at the expense of analogue printing processes. Brands are increasingly aware of the benefits of an inhouse label printing solution for improving speed, flexibility and quality while decreasing waste, obsolescence and delays.
“On-demand inkjet colour label printing is often now the most sustainable and operationally efficient choice. It eliminates the traditional problems of thermal overprinting with no more delays, disruption, waste or inconvenience. No more pre-printed label inventory, production downtime, lost orders, or late shipments. It also improves visual identification, efficiency, and flexibility.”
Frank Maeder, Epson’s head of product marketing, commented: “Labels are a business-critical consideration for brands in a wide range of sectors. Selecting the right label printing process can provide significant commercial advantages in terms of speed to market, flexibility, and quality all of which can positively improve the customer experience and drive sales. Now, more and more brands are switching to inhouse inkjet on-demand colour label printing as this can make a significant contribution to achieving a company’s sustainability goals as well as improving its business operations.
“Selecting on-demand inkjet label printing can significantly reduce overall energy consumption, minimise waste through reduced scrap and obsolescence and reduce consumable use, in particular ribbon from thermal transfer but also ink. Optimising supply chains and future innovations in release liners as well as the growing adoption of recycling of ink cartridges can further enhance the sustainability benefits of switching to inhouse inkjet.”
The report reveals how commercial print processes are energy intensive with a traditional flexo label printer using around 39 kWh p. 1000 square meters of labels printed. If that label has variable data printed using thermal transfer the combined energy use is 41 kWh p. 1000 square meters. Inkjet is a far less energy intensive process and can use just 1% of that energy for the same square meters. If the total addressable market for on demand labels made the switch this could save 28.7 million kWh a year, enough energy for over 9 million miles in an electric vehicle or lighting 95,960 homes for a year.
Smithers estimates that up to 11% of label materials are wasted from label stock to final application. This can be as a result of start up and make ready or simply the result of print errors. Both of these can be eliminated by switching to on-demand colour inkjet. Smithers calculates that if the market made the switch to inkjet, material savings per year could amount to 180 million square metres, the equivalent of 25,264 football pitches.
One of the key sustainability challenges in thermal transfer printing is ribbon usage. For every square meter of label printed, a significant amount of ribbon is also used regardless of the ink coverage. This can only be used once and cannot easily recycled. If the thermal transfer process is used to generate two or more colours then two more ribbons will need to be used further adding to the amount of ribbon used.
The disposal of the ribbon is not often considered as part of brands overall sustainability footprint. However, if all current thermal transfer printing for labels were to switch to inkjet the savings could be significant. If businesses made the switch to inkjet on-demand label printing savings of 109 million square metres of ribbons (15,333 football pitches) and 619 tonnes of ink (41 buses) could be achieved.
The full report can be downloaded here. All numbers included in the release are provided by Smithers, reference its White Paper ‘Sustainability in Label Printing’ dated May 2021.
 Calculated using standard conversion of 0.233 kg of CO2e per kWh of electricity.