Recyclate Initiative’s Sustainable Flexographic Printing Ink System

The German company Werner & Mertz has once again contributed a sustainable packaging and print advancement to the print community. With their partners Siegwerk, EPEA Switzerland and Mondi, their Recyclate Initiative has developed a flexographic printing ink system for flexile sheets.

The German company Werner & Mertz is known for its innovative approaches to sustainability and environmentally sound business methods, not only for their products themselves but also for its packaging. In cooperation with their Recyclate Initiative partners, they have now pioneered yet another step towards fully recyclable packaging: a flexographic printing ink system for flexile sheets. After winning the German Packaging Award and World Star Award for their completely recyclable stand-up pouch, the StripPouch, with which they created optimum conditions for their technical cycle, Werner & Mertz wanted to achieve the same for the biological recycling cycle.

Cradle To Cradle Certified

With their Recyclate Initiative, Werner & Mertz is working on new packaging techniques and materials developed in accordance with the Cradle-to-Cradle® principle, meaning it is designed from the start to go into a closed material cycle and to pose no risk to human health and the environment. Because of this, using sustainable and healthy raw materials for every part of their packaging is just as important as the packaging’s recyclability after its use. Therefore, sustainable printing inks are critical for a product’s overall recyclability. 

To comply with this principle, the company focused on developing a printing ink able to hold up to their sustainable approach to their packaging materials. With their partners, the ink manufacturer Siegwerk Druckfarben AG & Co. KGaA, the EPEA Switzerland GmbH (Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency), and the global packaging and paper company Mondi, the German cleaning products maker has developed a recyclable printing ink system for flexography which has been awarded Material Health Certification (MHC) GOLD. The use of sustainable printing inks is a significant step in optimizing packaging according to the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard.

Going with Recyclate Initiative’s Open Innovation approach, the certified ink series calles ‘NC 270’ is not patented and is encouraged to be used by other companies, according to Torsten Haar, Packaging Developer at Werner & Mertz.

A Sustainable Approach

Receiving the Material Health Certification, the safety of their new solvent-based printing ink NC 270 is now officially confirmed scientifically for biological cycles, once again attesting to Werner & Mertz’s success in giving the packaging industry a new, more sustainable option to work with. According to the MHC, gold certification is only awarded to products that “do not contain carcinogens, mutagens or reproductive toxicants with plausible exposure routes.” Albin Kälin, CEO of EPEA Switzerland, an accredited assessment body for Cradle-to-Cradle Certified™ and MHC Standard, is impressed by their results:

„The New Green Deal of the EU Commission calls for safe and reliable plastic packaging that is sustainable for coming generations and the environment. This project is the guide to that goal. It has been confirmed by an independent third-party with the only certification system for cycles.“ 

Back in 2017, his company already worked on a similar project with Werner & Mertz and Siegwerk, when they developed a sustainable UV ink for offset printing. They saw an urgent demand for action, as many pigments used in the standard process did not comply with the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ requirements for certification and therefore needed to be improved. The UV offset printing ink series, which also received MHC GOLD status, is now in use for the labels of the Frosch brand Citrus Shower & Bath cleaner.

The Next Step

The new ink series NC 270 marks the second important step in the printing process for packaging. The flexographic printing ink system can be used to print polyolefin plastic sheeting such as polyethylene and polypropylene. It also is well suited to the stability and resistance properties required for the stand-up pouch.

„We are proud that we could contribute an element to the development in this outstanding groundbreaking project. Now that a solvent-based ink for flexographic printing with MHC Gold certification is available, many 100 percent recyclable packaging solutions based on this single-layer PE stand-up pouch can be realized for the food and non-food sectors,“ 

said Dr. Stefan Häp, Brand Owner Collaboration Team at Siegwerk. Werner & Mertz’s stand-up ‘StripPouch’ pouch was also the one sparking the idea for a sustainable flexographic printing solution, as Mondi uses only flexographic printing for the StripPouch. In 2017, the partners were honored with the German Packaging Award and the World Star Award for that project, which yielded the first pouch that can be recycled at a high quality level, thanks to the monomaterial and removable printed panels. According to the independent Institute Interseroh, the stand-up pouch has „very good recyclability that cannot be optimized any further.“ But that wasn’t enough for the Recyclate Initiate, they wanted to go one step further and achieve optimum conditions for the biological recycling cycle as well. So, the cooperation partners from 2017 came together again and drew on their earlier work to develop sustainable printing inks for yet another printing system, taking another big step together toward the circular economy and packaging solutions that are designed with sustainability in mind.

The Future Is Green

Siegwerk has already concluded successful trial runs, in-house and with off-site printers, utilizing Werner & Mertz’s original packaging materials, and by the end of 2020, the new Siegwerk NC 270 printing inks will be used in series production of the first stand-up pouch for creme soap for the Frosch Senses brand.

There is no getting around it, the future of print, in every sector, is green. Since 2017, there have been remarkable efforts made from many companies in our industry, to go with customers‘ demand for a greener, more environmentally friendly approach to print and packaging. Just last year, the company Living Ink developed an algae-based ink that could turn out to be the sustainable alternative to petroleum derived products. Compared to traditionally used carbon black, it results in a decrease of carbon dioxide emissions by 200 percent. For their development, they were awarded the “Product Breakthrough of the Year Award” by the Algae Biomass Organization.

Innovations are numerous in the field of sustainability! What’s your favorite green print alternative? And what do you think needs to still be improved? Leave a comment below.