Laurel Brunner: Recycling PET
Since drupa 2016 and even prior to that show, there has been a lot of interest in packaging printing. Several manufacturers have introduced digital presses for this application, most notable EFI and HP. Printers can be confident that they will have solid support if they decide to get into this business. But all parties should be aware of the tightening regulatory framework and in Europe this means the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD).
The PPWD has recently been reviewed and it is likely that the 22.5% recycling target for plastic packaging will be increased when the EU publishes its update. The increase is part of the EU’s drive towards green development and circular economies. We can only expect these targets to get more restrictive over time.
More than any other print application, design matters for packaging. Graphic designers not only have to think about colours and content placement, but they must also take into account functionality, the nature of the package contents and how the packaged goods will be transported. Designers also need to think about their choice of inks and substrates and how well the materials can be expected to perform at extremes of temperature and pressure. For graphic designers to also factor in regulatory compliance, recycling and environmental impact makes packaging design even more of a challenge.
The European Federation of Bottled Waters (EFBW), the European Association of Plastic Recycling and Recovery Organizations (EPRO), Petcore Europe, Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) and the European non-alcoholic beverages association (UNESDA) are trying to help. They obviously want to encourage responsible use of plastics and to ensure that packaging materials comply with the PPWD. Together they have come up with the European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) which consists of a group of technical experts operating across Europe. The experts evaluate new technologies and use proprietary test procedures to assess impacts on PET recycling processes. The tests confirm whether or not a PET bottle can be recycled without causing any difficulties, such as discoloration, during the recycling process. The platform can also be used to measure the environmental impact other forms of packaging, particularly those involving recycled PET materials.
The EPBP also supports packaging designers who need to design for PET so that it can be recycled. They must for instance consider the use of additives and barrier materials, and the recyclability of label substrates and ink deinkability. The EPBP has developed guidelines (see http://www.epbp.org/design-guidelines) for how to design the body, cap and label of a bottle, according to average expectations for recycling. Given that plastic bottles are such a widespread source of pollution, this can only be a positive step and one that could soon apply to other forms of packaging such as films and flexibles.
This article was produced by the Verdigris project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.