Historically, flexographic printing plates have been difficult to recycle. In the U.S. alone, more than 20 million pounds of the plates end up either being landfilled or used in waste-to-energy processes every year.
This compelled MacDermid Graphic Solutions (MGS) based in Atlanta to develop technology to expedite a renewable and sustainable way to eliminate this waste by focusing on total reuse.
MGS has partnered with Sustainable Solutionz, LLC, to develop a new patent-pending process to recycle flexographic printing plates. Trials on the technology were expected to start by the end of 2023.
The basic premise is that used plates are collected at the printer site in an “as is” condition: dried ink, intact, and no pretreatment by the customers at all.
The used plates are then shredded and ground into fine particles, which can be separated as needed—depending upon the finished application—by size. That typically means the larger particles are mainly the printing plate backing mylar and the smaller particles, pure photopolymer rubber.
This new “raw material” is then formulated and manufactured into various foam chemistries to yield products such as flexographic printing cushions or rigid foams. The rigid foams can be used in wood replacement applications for various construction needs, acoustical panels, and many other potential options.
“Our industry identified a responsibility to repurpose flexographic plates and corrugated carriers that occupy landfills,” says Gerry Mounsey, co-founder of Sustainable Solutionz, which develops chemistries to displace petroleum-based technologies with sustainable and renewable products.
Sustainable Solutionz was founded in 2023 in Pensacola, Florida. The key figures have over 30 years of experience in urethane foam production and flexographic printing—very heavily in the corrugated sector of the market. This includes prior development of cushions for corrugated printing, as well as product sales and support of photopolymer printing plate materials.
“The development of the new technology will be a meaningful way to reduce the packaging industry’s carbon footprint,” Mounsey adds.
MGS, a global manufacturer of photopolymer plates and equipment used in flexographic printing, is a division of Element Solutions Inc., a diversified global specialty chemicals company.
“The new technology is an example of progress toward reducing the carbon footprint,” says Michael Goralski, executive vice president and head of industrial and specialty at Element Solutions Inc. “Actively managing environmental issues is our responsibility as a good corporate citizen.”
Ryan Vest is director of innovation at MGS.