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Thinking Outside the Box – Materials and Printing for Sustainable Labels

Thinking Outside the Box – Materials and Printing for Sustainable Labels

When making a product, it’s always important to keep the user in mind. This target audience could be quite specific for a medical device or broad for a consumer product. However, as the effects of climate change continue to emerge, product designers and OEMs must consider a much larger audience – all 7.6 billion people in the world. Improving the sustainability of products and packaging plays a significant role in reducing the environmental impact that will affect us all and future generations. 

Why sustainable packaging and labels are on the rise 

There are several drivers in the shift to more environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging and labels, including:

  • Consumer demand. As awareness of climate change increases, consumers are looking for more sustainable packaging from their products. In fact, sustainability is impacting purchasing habits and preferences. According to Trivium Packaging’s 2021 Global Buying Green Report, 64% of those surveyed said that packaging containing recycled content was a priority in their buying decisions. This trend is only showing signs of increasing, as 83% of those under 45 years of age were willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. 
  • Corporate responsibility (and pressure). In some cases, manufacturers are transitioning to more sustainable packaging to appease large retailers. For example, Walmart aims to make 100% of its private brand packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. Of course, many companies are also embracing environmentally friendly options to align with their own values and goals. 
  • Lowering costs. There’s also a financial incentive to “going green.” Smaller, lighter packaging typically results in lower transportation costs and less wasted material. For those concerned about the costs, these savings can offset the potentially higher price tag of sustainable materials – and may even help reduce overall costs in the long run.  

Sustainable label materials

For most product designers and OEMs, it’s easy to understand the merits of sustainable packaging. The more challenging part is knowing where to start. While significant attention is given to the container (box, bottle, etc.), it’s essential not to overlook two other facets of sustainable packaging – the label material and adhesive.

There are several methods for creating a more sustainable label without sacrificing the quality or performance of your product. During the material selection process, you can choose raw materials with an eye toward reducing energy consumption, water usage, or waste production.

When selecting sustainable materials for your label, a few features to consider are:

  • Thinner, lighter materials that require less energy for transportation
  • High-value recyclable material
  • Post-consumer recycled content
  • Materials made from renewable resources
  • Low additives
  • Safely incinerable   
  • Solvent-free adhesives, which use less energy to produce and release fewer air pollutants

If all of this sounds confusing, you’ll be happy to know there are straightforward ways to choose more sustainable materials. First, many suppliers now have sustainable product lines that are easy to identify and understand product differentiation. Second, you can also look for specific industry certifications such as Forest Stewardship Council®-certified paper and film. Finally, when in doubt, talk with your manufacturing partner, who should be staying apprised of all the latest, greenest material options. 

Printing consideration for sustainable labels

While material selection plays a prominent role in creating a more environmentally friendly label, it’s not the only factor to consider. Many are surprised to hear that some printing methods are more sustainable than others. When it comes to industrial digital printing, mechanical dry toner requires less energy and water usage than chemical toner.

There are a few other points to consider for sustainable printing:

  • Recyclable – Can the printer be used with recycled paper?
  • De-inkable – Can the ink be easily removed from printed material so the label can be recycled after use?
  • Hazardous – Is the toner non-toxic so that it can be disposed of safely?

Manufacturing partner for sustainable packaging and labels

At Tapecon, we are committed to minimizing the environmental impact of our work, and we appreciate partnering with like-minded customers. In addition to our internal sustainability practice, we can help you achieve a more environmentally friendly product through expert material selection and using the most advanced, sustainable printing methods currently available. 

Let’s make something great 

With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our labels and decals applications. 

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