By Cassandra Balentine
Sustainability is in demand. Within the print industry there are many ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. One area prime for improvement is the packaging of consumables, particularly inks. Ink containers are changing to become more eco-friendly, pouches in favor of cartridges and increased ink volumes within a single container to help reduce the need for excess packaging materials.
The move to sustainable packaging for inks comes from all sides.
“We see the main demand to move to sustainable packaging from OEMs,” shares Pedro J. Martinez, CEO, Afford Inks. He points out that in some countries legislation forces end users to reduce residues and puts pressure on legislative compliance or the reduction of disposal costs.
“OEMs demand more sustainability and this is good because most end users will follow. End users can’t change the packaging easily at their end in many cases,” adds Martinez.
Ken Parsley, product manager, Mutoh America, Inc., feels the push to more eco-friendly ink packaging is massive, stating that many ink manufacturers are “moving to large-volume ink bags and we as printer manufacturers modify our equipment designs to accommodate.”
He says demand is a joint effort by many different areas within the print industry. “Ink manufacturers receive pressure from governments to reduce waste, print providers want maximum uptime at a lower cost, and there are many environmental and sustainability-conscious end users or brand owners that specifically request a better solution.”
Customers are also a driving factor. Nikola Juhasz, global technical director, sustainability, Sun Chemical, says many ask for more sustainable packaging, including moving away from small-format plastic packaging. She sees a gradual change from rigid plastic containers to thinner membranes such as pouches, sometimes within recyclable cardboard containers—or a bag-in-box solution. “This trend makes it more affordable to ship due to the lighter weight of the packaging used and potentially means that trucks shipping the product use fewer carbon emissions, but most important is that much less plastic is used.”
For now, Juhasz shares that the shift from rigid plastic to flexible membranes and cardboard containers does make it more sustainable in many ways. “We expect to see this trend continue over the next few years, but there are challenges with these alternative formats in terms of durability, filling, and emptying. Suppliers of the different components are still emerging; it is a fairly new area.”
The demand for more eco-conscious packaging is mostly visible at converter facilities. “This is where the visibility of incoming packaging is greatest, as well as what needs to be disposed once the ink is removed,” offers Juhasz.
Specifically focusing on packaging that holds more ink, sustainability as well as productivity plays a role in updated packaging designs.
“Higher volume formats can be more efficient from a productivity and sustainability perspective. It would be logical that sustainability is driving much of the current interest in alternative ink packaging, especially since current packaging is largely plastic and not generally recyclable,” admits Juhasz.
Martinez believes the productivity benefit holds most of the attention for now.
“Productivity is driving the demand for larger ink volumes. Fewer ink changes mean more production and consistent color throughout the run. Cost is a large motivating factor, as larger ink containers are typically less per milliliter (ml),” agrees Parsley.
Time for Change
As a result of the sustainability—and productivity—push, there are changes in the way ink is packaged.
Parsley believes that as a society, we are more aware of the side effects excessive waste presents and are trying to find ways to shift the balance to be as self-sustaining as possible. “This is not a new concept but it’s one of those things that is starting to ‘come to a head.’”
“We all want to reduce our use of materials to a minimum, but we must still assure the functionality. The lighter the packaging is, the smaller the residues for the end user,” agrees Martinez.
For example, Afford Inks is doing more pouches versus packages for new OEM developments, according to Martinez. The company is also getting some of its packaging materials from a recycled origin in order to minimize its footprint. It has also changed its external packaging to assure better transport performance and less weight per kilogram.
Parsley says Mutoh has gradually moved away from cartridges over the past decade. “Ink bags reduce cost and material waste while allowing increased ink volume per bag,” he shares.
This change is driven by the print providers’ desire for greater ink volume per bag as well as Mutoh’s desire to reduce the amount of non-sustainable packaging.
For its Streamline eco-solvent ink packaging for wide format printing, Sun Chemical follows the packaging formats used by OEMs to ensure compatibility with the various digital presses. “The industry standard for most wide eco-solvent format printers has been a 440 ml cartridge for many years, but we are seeing a trend to supply a larger version ink package with one- or two-liter foil packs becoming more popular. In these cases, a high-volume ink feed system is required to fit onto the printer,” says Juhasz.
She explains that before the transition to one- or two-liter foil pouches, the company also offered inks in plastic, one-liter bottles with refill open-tank ink feed systems that were retro-fitted to the printer. “These bottles are still widely used but are becoming less popular now due to a potential risk of air getting into the ink causing micro bubbles that can stop the printhead jetting correctly. The open tank systems, refilled from bottles can also start to look messy with ink drips from refilling in a rush,” comments Juhasz.
Additionally, foil pouches are typically also degassed using Sun Chemical’s SEPAREL modules to remove air. “Degassing allows for faster jetting/print speeds with modern printers, so there are also performance advantages to selecting the foil pouches as well as economic and sustainability benefits. The packaging required for one two-liter pouch ink package, for example, will be substantially less than five 440 ml cartridge packages as the alternative to use the same approximate volumes,” she explains.
That being said, Juhasz feels that packaging and container redesign has been and continues to be a development project with increasing. “There is no single solution to our current packaging; the alternatives have different benefits and drawbacks.”
Sustainable and Efficient
As the world considers the environmental effect of its tried-and-true methods of operations, advancements are abound. In the print industry, one area seeing changes is in the way ink is packaged and shipped. Larger volumes and a move away from plastics are key trends we expect to see more of in the future.
Jul2022, DPS Magazine