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Sustainable practices for screen printing and labeling product packaging

A McKinsey & Company study found that 55% of US consumers are extremely or very concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy. With this growing consumer awareness, businesses must find ways to integrate sustainability values into their practices. One great way to achieve this is by adopting more eco-friendly options in the product packaging decoration process.

In this article, we’ll focus on sustainable practices used in three product packaging decoration methods: screen printing, pressure-sensitive (PS) labeling, and shrink sleeve labeling. 

1. Screen printing

Many aspects of the screen printing process can be made more sustainable.  

Eco-friendly inks

Instead of using solvent-based inks, businesses can opt for more eco-friendly ink alternatives, such as plant-based inks. Plant-based inks are made from renewable plant sources, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. They are nontoxic, biodegradable, and offer excellent color saturation, ensuring both visual appeal and sustainability.

Another eco-friendly alternative is water-based inks. These inks are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contain lower levels of hazardous substances compared to solvent-based inks. This not only reduces air pollution but also minimizes health risks. In comparison to solvent-based inks, water-based inks require less energy during the drying process, leading to a lower carbon footprint.

UV LED ink-curing technology

Ultraviolet light-emitting diode (UV LED) ink-curing technology can significantly reduce energy consumption in the screen printing process. LED lamps are approximately 98% more energy efficient than mercury lamps, which are traditionally used for ink curing. They also require minimal power input and can be plugged into standard wall outlets. Unlike mercury lamps, LED lamps emit little to no heat, so there is no need for elaborate cooling systems. 

Moreover, LED lamps do not emit ozone, a compound that can be harmful to human health and the environment. By eliminating ozone emissions, companies can contribute to improved air quality and reduce their environmental impact. LED lamps also have a longer life span than mercury lamps, resulting in reduced waste generation and fewer replacements.

Waste reduction measures

There are several strategies that businesses can employ to reduce waste in the screen printing process. First, they can use a colorimeter when mixing colors to ensure that the correct proportions are used, which can prevent waste from overmixing or undermixing colors.

Businesses can also improve the accuracy of registration, which is the process of aligning the screens so that the correct image is printed. Using precise registration techniques can reduce waste by preventing ink from being wasted on areas that are not supposed to be printed.

Finally, they can reuse screens and frames as much as possible. When screens and frames are no longer needed, they can be recycled or donated to a local screen printing school or organization.

2. Pressure-sensitive (PS) labeling

Here are several ways to make PS labeling more sustainable:

Material selection

Businesses need to be more discerning when it comes to choosing the type and amount of materials they will use for PS labeling.  

  • Recycled materials: Paper, polypropylene, and polyethylene can be recycled, making these ideal PS label stock materials. Alternatively, businesses can opt for stock materials composed of post-consumer recycled content.
  • Decreased material usage: Businesses can reduce the label size or use thinner PS label stocks to reduce the amount of raw materials used.
  • Water-based adhesives: Water-based adhesives have a lower environmental impact as they contain fewer harmful chemicals and are easier to remove during the recycling process.

Energy-efficient label application

Businesses can keep their PS labeling equipment at peak performance by conducting regular machine maintenance, which involves cleaning the equipment, replacing worn parts, and updating software. Doing so reduces energy waste and extends the life span of labeling equipment.

If financially viable, it’s better to invest in advanced PS labeling machines that have energy-saving features, such as efficient motors and intelligent control systems. 

Waste reduction

To minimize waste, businesses can establish label-liner recycling programs. Label liners, which are typically made of silicone-coated paper or film, can be collected separately and sent to recycling facilities that specialize in processing them. This way, label liners don’t end up in landfills and are instead recycled into new materials.

3. Shrink sleeves labeling

The shrink sleeve labeling process can also be made more sustainable by adopting the following practices.

Material considerations

Businesses can use shrink sleeves made from recyclable materials, such as polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, and polylactic acid plastic. Alternatively, they can opt for bio-based sleeves, which are biodegradable and made from renewable materials, such as cornstarch or sugarcane. There are also bio-based shrink sleeves that can be composted in industrial composting facilities.

Moreover, it’s best to choose water-based inks or coatings instead of solvent-based ones. Water-based inks are made from water and other nontoxic ingredients. This makes them a more sustainable option than solvent-based inks, which are made from petroleum products. Water-based inks and coatings are also less likely to emit VOCs.

Recycling

Businesses can improve shrink sleeve recyclability by designing sleeves that are easy to remove from containers. They can incorporate perforations or other mechanisms that allow consumers to easily separate the sleeve from the packaging without causing damage. This ensures that both the sleeve and the container can be recycled separately, maximizing the recycling potential of each material.

Also, businesses can collaborate with recycling partners to make it easier for consumers to recycle shrink sleeves. This can include providing drop-off locations for shrink sleeves, educating consumers about how to recycle shrink sleeves, and working with recycling companies to develop new recycling technologies.

Our team of experts at Pro-Motion Industries is ready to help you make your next screen printing or labeling project more sustainable while still achieving high-quality and visually appealing product packaging. Get in touch with us at 856-809-0040 to get started.

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