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FLEXO Magazine : End of Year 2008
10 Sustainable FLEXO YEAR END 2008 www.flexomag.com Protein resins have limited application in water inks because they have poor water resistance and poor compatibil- ity with other resins that may be need- ed to modify specific performance characteristics. Consequently, acrylic resin is the most prevalent resin used in water-based inks. Acrylic resins are petro-chemically based materials. There are a wide variety of solvents used in flexo inks. The most sustain- able is obviously the water used in water-based inks. We also see ethanol derived from grain sources used in solvent-based inks. But, all other solvents are petro-chem- ical based The additive class of materials is mostly based on petro-chemical feedstocks; although there are a few natural waxes which are used. THE MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY Almost daily, ink suppliers are asked, "So, which inks are the most environmentally friendly?" As you can see from the informa- tion above, there is no easy answer. Solvent-based inks have resin and some solvents that come from renewable resources. Water- based inks have resins that are petro-chemically based. Radiation- cured inks are 100 percent solids, but also are petro-chemically based. Water-based inks contain some VOCs, which may be ex- hausted into the atmosphere. Solvent-based inks can be printed in a pressroom fitted with a collection and incineration system that destroys all VOCs before they can be emitted to the atmosphere. It is certainly a very complex, and complicated, subject. So maybe we need to look at the impact ink has on the package rather than looking at the sustainability of the inks themselves. Sustainability, biodegradability, and compostability for inks and coatings are all complex subjects. There is little scientifically based lifecycle analysis research in this area. But, we have seen testing which indicates the mass of ink present on most packaging is so small that it does not interfere with substrates that do biodegrade or compost. Wal-Mart has exempted inks, coatings, and adhesives from the scorecard activity at this time. Again, it recognizes these materials make up a very small portion of the mass of the entire package. Ink will represent less than 1 percent of the mass of many packag- es. It makes little sense to expend significant effort and resources to make changes to a material that will have a minimal overall impact on the sustainability of the package. In addition, inks are the visible part of the package the consumer sees. Inks have a significant impact on the final performance and esthetics of the pack- age. The recycled content of paper can be changed and the consumer will like- ly not notice the change. A film can be down gauged and the consumer may not see a change. A branded product must be very careful in making a pack- aging change. If a change is perceived, the consumer may wrongly believe the product has also been changed. For all of these reasons inks may be a high- risk change, and are well down the list of items that will be changed based solely on sustainability. But, this doesn't mean that we can't, or shouldn't, look at what can be done to improve sustainability as it relates to inks and coatings. If a printer is inter- ested in addressing the sustainability of inks and coatings, I suggest looking into the following items. Review if water-based inks can be 1. used for your application. Choose inks as low in VOCs, HAPS and SARA reportables as possible. Reduce the ink film thickness and print stronger inks to con- 2. sume fewer materials, and the print will dry with less energy consumption. Good inventory management of press returns will reduce the 3. amount of inks being scrapped. Only order, or make up, enough ink for the job. Too much ink 4. made for a print order often ends up as waste. Adjust setup procedures to minimize the wash materials be- 5. ing used and the inks left in the press being washed out. Monitor additive usage to ensure inks are not altered in a way 6. that makes them unusable for current or future pressruns. Ensure inks are stored in such a manner where their qual- 7. ity will not be negatively impacted. Used containers should have lids on tight. Inks should be stored inside at moderate temperatures. Recycle leftover inks. 8. Dispose of all materials in the most environmentally sound manner available. There are other issues that can be looked into, but the key is reducing the amount of materials being used, and the amount of materials being wasted. By doing so, we will make our operations and products more sustainable; and we will reduce costs. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has said, "Currently, there is no such thing as a completely sustainable package." The goal is to incrementally improve sustainability. We can also say there is no such thing as a completely sustainable ink. We need to balance the competing requirement to provide the most sustainable and best performing inks at the most economical cost. Remember, there are responsible ways to use all inks and coat- ings. As suppliers to the printing industry, and as printers in the in- dustry, we can make small incremental improvement individually; and collectively make significant gains in the sustainability of the products we supply. n ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Impastato is vice president of business development for Flint Group. He has more than 25 years experience in the flexo- graphic industry, and is highly active in numerous printing associations. Presently, he serves on the FTA/FFTA Board of Directors and Board of Trustees. Role of Ink & Coating in Packaging • Decorates the package • Informs the consumer • Be unaffected by the environment and conditions of use during the lifespan of the package • Add functionality to the package • Ink formulation is always a compromise COST END USE / PRESS PERFORMANCE SUSTAINABILITY Inorganic: •Titanium Dioxide •Iron Oxides •Metallic •Clay Organic: •Carbon •Diarylide •Pyrazolene •Disazo •Naphthol •Pthalocyanine •Quinacridone PIGMENT CHEMISTRY Figure 3. Figure 4.