In the past few years, businesses from every industry have become increasingly aware of the need to demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship across all aspects of their operations.
One important way manufacturers and retailers can improve the sustainability of their products is through investment in greener packaging options. Most will be aware of the potential cost benefits and reduced environmental impact of switching to recyclable materials, but fewer have considered the role improved marking and coding solutions can play in enhancing efficiency and sustainability across supply chains.
Let’s examine the reasons why businesses are investing in more sustainable packaging solutions, as well as the ways that marking and coding technology can aid these efforts.
Delivering Sustainable Packaging
In recent years, manufacturers, lawmakers, and consumers developed a clear consensus on the need for more sustainable packaging and a reduction in preventable packaging waste. Numerous high-profile campaigns and initiatives surrounding the impact of discarded packaging on the world’s oceans and landfills created a strong public outcry, and businesses recognize they have a responsibility to improve their performance on this front.
A 2021 report from Trivium Packaging indicated that 67% of consumers find it important that the products they buy come in recyclable packaging, while 54% consider this when making purchasing decisions. Additionally, 70% said they are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.
With regulators also taking action to incentivize com-panies to create more sustainable packaging, manufacturers are pursuing numerous methods to make their packaging more environmentally friendly, including:
- Making sure packaging is recyclable or reusable wher-ever possible or biodegradable and compostable when disposed of;
- Ensuring packaging can be easily recycled through standard channels, which is not always possible when using complex multi-material packaging;
- Creating packaging using lighter, more flexible mate-rials to make them easier and less energy intensive to produce and transport;
- Incorporating more recycled materials into packaging production; and
- Eliminating unnecessary packaging on some items.
These interventions are helping businesses to make their packaging production more sustainable—in line with consumer expectations and regulatory requirements. However, they may be overlooking the impact that changes to their marking, coding, and labeling systems could have.
Coding and Labeling
Every business that creates packaging and labeling for its products relies on sophisticated printers and marking systems to encode vital product data and information, including barcodes, batch numbers, production details, sell-by dates, and tracking ID numbers. This provides retailers, consumers, regulators, and supply chain partners with essential safety, traceability, and compliance data.
Because this process is an essential part of packaging production, manufacturers are looking at ways to more efficiently maximize their sustainability gains. This is leading to a growing demand for coding systems designed to deliver better sustainability performance over time, and businesses are often willing to pay more upfront for products that can achieve this.
These technological innovations enable manufacturers to deliver on these goals in several ways.
In the past, many inks used in product marking and coding were created from mineral oils, including those derived from petroleum and methylethylketone (MEK). There are many environmental impacts associated with the production of mineral and MEK-based inks. Additionally, various potential health issues may arise from the use of this type of ink in food packaging.
With the European Union having recently issued an official recommendation to remove mineral oil-based inks from packaging production, many modern systems are embracing alternative eco-friendly options. Water, alcohol, or vegetable oil-based inks allow companies to achieve the same printing results without the same environmental risks.
Printing Directly Onto Packaging of all Types
One of the key capabilities of modern marking and coding equipment is its ability to print directly onto mate rials and packaging types, which would typically present a challenge for printers. Contact-free printing allows manufacturers to print barcodes and essential data onto substrates such as plastic and metal with no difficulty or to print directly onto curved or irregularly shaped items such as bottles.
This allows manufacturers to reduce packaging waste by eliminating the need for physical labels. It also ensures companies making the switch to thinner, lighter packaging can still print onto these materials, as modern systems are optimized to print even on fragile surfaces.
Economic Performance and Automation Benefits
Modern marking and coding technology incorporates numerous performance refinements and improvements to increase overall efficiency and reduce energy usage across the lifetime of the system. From longer-lasting print heads that require less regular replacement to cartridge designs that reduce waste by using every single drop of ink, these systems are designed with the sustainability goals of manufacturers in mind.
Additionally, because this technology is designed to be highly automated, production lines can run reliably without manual errors and with little need for regular stoppages or reactive maintenance. These improvements help to ensure a smoother and more efficient production process for packaging, delivering benefits in terms of energy savings, carbon footprint, and lower costs.
These technological advances come at an essential time when packaging producers have seen the desire for greater sustainability among customers and regulators grow more akin to an obligation. This trend 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 latest generation of marking and coding systems, businesses will be able to address these important requirements, enhance the green credentials of their organizations, and contribute to the vital environmental stewardship objectives every business in the world has a part to play in meeting.
Thomas Pinnington is technical sales manager at Newcode Partnership, a marking and coding company based in the United Kingdom.