Sustainability in packaging: How digitally printed packaging can drive efficiency.

Through petitions over plastic straws, to them being replaced with non-recyclable options, packaging has never been in the spotlight and scrutinised as heavily as it is today

The timely shift in our thoughts around packaging comes at a time when individual waste levels have reached alarming heights; in 2016 alone 170 kg of packaging waste was generated per EU inhabitant.*

While consumers are surrounded by plastic on a daily basis and headlines are quick to point the finger at the brands falling out of line, there are reasons to be optimistic when it comes to consumer packaging.

Clear advantages of digitally printed packaging

Sustainability has a key role in each part of the production process. Further onus has been placed on manufacturers improving sustainability to reduce the amount of waste accumulated at source. Including in this is the production of plates for printing, water-intensive plate cleaning and disposal, as well as disused packaging due to design changes, outdated materials or overestimating quantities. But with so many constraints around traditional printing processes, are these goals really attainable?

For many companies, it’s not. Traditional printing produces a high level of waste, likely impacting just how successful a brand’s environmental policy can be. That’s why an increasing number of firms are turning to digital printing in an attempt improve their sustainability credentials, with added brand benefits to boot.

Digital printing not only renders plates unnecessary, reducing environmental harm from the outset, but it also allows companies to minimise the amount of packaging they produce at the back end. Additional benefits include reduced run times and set up, plus a more responsive and flexible process that allows package adaptations to be made along the way.

Whether green goals are a driver for choosing digital printing or simply an add-on benefit downstream, it offers clear advantages over traditional methods.

Environmentally-friendly future

Traditional printing has significant environmental impact throughout the process, including:

Plate production
Plate cleaning (with high water requirements)
Disposal of plates after use
Wasted packaging due to higher print runs and changes needed

Digital printing not only renders plates unnecessary, reducing environmental harm from the outset, but also allows companies to minimise the amount of packaging on the back end.

From this, additional digitally-printed packaging solutions have been designed to help further reduce the impact every project has on the environment. This can help companies decrease the labels of waste required for each print as well as recycling, recovery and reuse programmes for supplies and hardware.

These programmes are continuously developed and expanded in efforts to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing lines, with an emphasis on sustainability in the packaging industry.

Get to market quicker with increased customisation or packaging 

Digital printing allows companies to respond to market needs and the ability to get products on shelves faster because there’s no need to go through the process of creating physical plates.

Companies are also seeing significant return on investment in terms of the range of materials they can print on (paper, plastic, metal, foil, for example) and the ability to optimise their supply chains.

There are benefits, too, when it comes to retailer and consumer engagement, product/brand awareness, and even sales. In overcoming the constraints of traditional printing, digital has enabled many brands to create more effective, engaging and visually compelling campaigns.

While benefits to the bottom line are no doubt an attractive prospect for brands, improved sustainability should be a major player when it comes to digital uptake. According to a study by IDC, 30% of a company’s inventory is destroyed annually as a result of bulk production methods – highlighting exactly how digital printing can pave the way to an environmentally-friendly future for packaging.

Though some organisations may struggle to fully realise their green ambitions, the quest for sustainability can be a truly rewarding journey for those flexible, responsible and ambitious enough to pursue it.

To discuss how you can make your packaging more flexible and environmentally friendly, talk to one of our packaging experts here.

* Packaging waste statistics.
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