Flexible Packaging recently caught up with Jeremy Teachman, Sun Chemical’s field marketing manager, for a discussion on what constitutes a sustainable ink, the company’s latest innovations and more.

There seems to be a lot of debate about how to define “sustainability” when it comes to products and equipment. With that being said, just what do you think makes an ink “sustainable?”

There certainly is a lot of debate about how to define a “sustainable ink.” A converter’s definition of a successful sustainable ink could be as simple as how well the ink and materials interact with each other to synergize the printing process. For example, inks that improve productivity on press or reduce waste could be seen in a converter’s eyes as green.

The three key regulatory terms that are commonly used in the packaging industry are biodegradable, bio-renewable and eco-efficiency. Biodegradability is the ability of a material to be broken down by microorganisms. More relevant for sustainability is compostability, where that microorganism breakdown occurs within a set time and with the important parameters of water, oxygen and temperature defined.

According to the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), a bio-renewable ink is derived from tree, plant, insect and/or animal materials. These can include resins, gums, oils, waxes, solvents and other polymer building blocks. NAPIM’s Bio-derived/Renewable Content (BRC) program assigns inks with an index number that gives an independent verification that an ink contains a certain percentage of bio-renewable content. An index number of 60, for example, means that the ink contains 60 percent bio-renewable content. For the purposes of the BRC program, NAPIM also considers water as a renewable component in an ink.

Eco-efficiency refers to sustainable materials management for packaging. Many programs, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred Program, offer incentives for businesses to increase the usage of renewable agricultural resources in their products.

In general, are you hearing from customers that they want more environmentally sound options when it comes to ink? Please explain. Talk a bit about the future of inks as they pertain to sustainability compared to where they are now. What types of things can be done to improve in this arena?

Brands are taking dedicated steps to vet and study the environmental practices implemented by their suppliers and partners. In fact, some brands in the fast/quick food service industry have gone so far as to push forward initiatives that focus on using all-natural packaging. This has led to a push for greener inks with a higher level of bio-renewable content. Brand owners want these bio-renewable inks to maintain the same quality and performance requirements of a non-renewable ink, keep to a cost that is competitive with non-renewable inks and comply with the standards outlined by the brand and a variety of regulations, including California’s Proposition 65 and the European Union’s Toy Safety Directive, among others.

Sun Chemical has responded to the industry challenges by rolling out a line of inks that meet eco-friendly, bio-renewable and biodegradable standards that the industry, brand owners, retailers and consumers are looking for. Formulated with significantly higher levels of bio-renewable resin content compared to other previous market offerings, the new SunVisto AquaGreen water-based inks deliver the required critical performance attributes needed across a range of paper packaging applications. The inks can be blendable using varnishes and standard water-based pigment dispersions and do not compromise end-use or on-press performance. They also offer outstanding print fidelity and ink resolubility on press, quick setting for in-line converting and high levels of resistance properties to rub, abrasion, water and grease.

Sun Chemical’s R&D and compliance teams from Europe, North America and South America spent a year and a half replacing chemicals with natural products to ultimately provide an ink solution that was comparable in cost, delivered the required performance attributes, and met all the standards and regulatory compliance requirements.

Can you describe your company’s most sustainable ink(s) or role in sustainable ink formulation?

Providing customers with enhanced sustainability of their processes and end products is the ultimate goal of Sun Chemical’s sustainability policy. In order to reach that goal, Sun Chemical uses rigorous development processes and analytical tools to evaluate and improve the eco-efficiency of both its manufacturing procedures and products. This data-driven approach in the policy means Sun Chemical will be able to set improvement targets for its processes on energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste emissions, as well as develop products with a structured approach that includes risk management and eco-efficiency improvements as criteria.

Sun Chemical’s sustainability policy underscores its proactive role in minimizing the lifecycle footprint of its products and its customers’ impact on the environment. There are several facets that encompass sustainability at Sun Chemical. These can include: the development of eco-friendly products, the creation of products designed to improve the eco-efficiency of processes, the formulation of products that comply with regulations and protect consumers, and responsible manufacturing and good manufacturing practices.

Our new SunVisto AquaGreen water-based inks discussed earlier is one good example of the development of eco-friendly products. Our SunUno Solimax ink system is a good example of a product designed to improve the eco-efficiency of processes. That’s because many converters use a variety of ink systems for the different printing presses in their shop. Having a single ink that can be used on multiple platforms would not only help printers improve their environmental positioning, they could maximize pressroom efficiency and productivity, which ultimately improves the bottom line. Finally, the company’s SunUno Solimax inks are a solution that provides a single platform that can cover multiple end use applications.

Sun Chemical pays close attention to regulations worldwide and works to ensure that its customers comply with the strictest of standards. It also takes a leadership role in helping converters achieve regulatory compliance. For example, we recognized that the issue of migration compliance and food safety would grow in importance and with foresight, launched its InterTech Technology Award-winning SunPak family of migration compliant offset inks and solutions well ahead of the recent food and pharma packaging concerns in North America. SunPak low-migration inks and coatings offer a comprehensive solution to brand owners and converters who are required to address chemical migration concerns in food, pharmaceutical, personal care and tobacco applications by exhibiting very low migration of chemicals that may affect the odor, flavor, taste, irritation and safety of those sensitive consumer products.

Sun Chemical feels it is the company’s responsibility to be involved in the communities where its facilities are located and to use manufacturing processes that demonstrate environmental excellence through reduced waste generation, lower energy and water usage, and strong safety performance as measured by several key metrics like greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water consumption, carbon footprint and safety record.

We’ve heard before that “any ink can be used in an eco-friendly manner.” Do you agree with this statement?

The statement that “any ink can be used in an eco-friendly manner” is misleading. Our customers and the marketplace are looking for much more than the standard sustainability rhetoric like this. They want to know what their suppliers are doing to improve their sustainability performance. At Sun Chemical, we’re digging deep to get specific numbers to use in evaluating opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint as well as support our customers’ efforts to meet their sustainability goals and initiatives.

When it comes to ink development, is it possible to be both innovative and sustainable?

Ink development should be both innovative and sustainable. They go hand in hand. Our research and development teams actively study current market trends and work closely with customers to provide the next generation of products and services that offer clear advantages in terms of productivity, quality and environmental acceptability. 

One example of how Sun Chemical sees market trends to develop a product that is both innovative and sustainable is our recently launched SunLam De-seaming Technology. The project started because consumers and brand owners alike expect PET bottles to be recycled, but far too many ended up in landfills because the label wouldn’t come off. Upon learning of these concerns, Sun Chemical initiated a major project to solve this industry-wide challenge. The new technology helps to solve this challenge. The de-seamable adhesive helps recyclers improve recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) yield without process changes or investments in new equipment. It enables the removal of the shrink sleeve label from the container during the whole bottle wash step, prior to sorting, in the wet recycling process.