Report by Siegwerk: Why The Linear Economic Packaging System Has Failed

In the face of increasing efforts to create a sustainable industry, the printing industry must change its ways. Siegwerk has published a report on reconfiguring the packaging system. Read more about what the company has in mind.

It is a fact that many industries, including the printing industry, need to adapt to the challenges the world population faces by climate change. Siegwerk recently published a report on why we should rethink packaging and how certain printing inks could help lift the standards of sustainability. It suggests that the printing industry should move from a linear system to a circular one. Key components of that concept are reducing, reusing and recycling.

Solving The Plastic Paradox

According to Siegwerk, the linear economy system has reached its limits. Natural resources are sourced under increasing risks. Packaging waste is continuously littering the planet, especially the ocean and growing CO2 emissions are driving climate change. 

The linear economic system, Siegwerk says, has reached its limits. Natural resources are increasingly under threat. Packaging waste pollutes the planet and the oceans in particular, and growing CO2 emissions are driving climate change. Still, the need for packaging won’t just disappear. That’s why there have to be sustainable options which meet that need. 

Over the last few years, plastic has been the number one packaging solution for many things and has become the most popular packaging material. The contradiction between challenges and opportunities of plastic packaging is known as the plastic paradox. Among other things, that has led us to where we are now: A broken packaging system that needs to be fixed, as Siegwerk explains. The report states that in 2016, only 15 percent of municipal plastic was recycled. Around 41 percent (91 mm metric tons) of the annual municipal plastic waste has not properly been disposed of but rather leaked into the environment. While the current linear economy follows the principle of “take-make-use-dispose,” the circular economy aims to prevent waste and pollution, keep materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.

The report looks at the change not only from an environmental but also from an economic perspective and concludes that sustainability is not a trend but rather an unbeatable advantage for future business success.

How Printing Inks And Coatings Could Help Stabilize And Better The Packaging Circularity

The technical functionalities of printing inks and coatings can actively support all three levers of a circular economy: Reduction, reuse and recycling of packaging. Innovative inks and functional coatings could help close the technical performance gaps of certain materials, such as paper. Packaging made from multiple materials can thus become packaging made from a single material while retaining its original function. Possible applications include sealing coatings for converting of packaging, barrier coatings, and scratch-resistant inks and coatings based on renewable resources. For packaging reuse, special ink and coating systems can meet the different packaging requirements, which require different ink properties for each use cycle. While the best-before date needs to be changed with each use, other information, such as the brand name, needs to be more resistant compared to single-use packaging. Here, inks and coatings play a crucial role in ensuring reusability at maximum cost efficiency and achieving economies of scale. In terms of sustainability, the recyclability of packaging must be as high as possible, regardless of the material it is made of. One important criterion for recyclability, for example, is deinking. In the future, the printing industry must identify and actively promote fields of innovation in which printing inks play an important role. However, not only printing inks, but also the behavior of the materials to be printed should be taken into account.

Improving Sustainability is a Team Effort

A single industry sector within the value chain cannot move the entire system in the direction of a circular packaging industry. On the contrary, all sectors along the packaging value chain must contribute with their own ideas and innovations. In addition, more joint research should be done in the printing industry. In the second part of our look at the Siegwerk report, we will focus on how the printing industry can work together to achieve a circular economy for packaging.

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