1. green ink and sustainable alternatives
The deinkability of printing inks poses a major challenge when it comes to recycling paper and board. In this respect, the "Green Revolution" in the printing industry is leading to groundbreaking developments. One of these developments are so-called "green inks" based on vegetable pigments and natural binders. These inks are not only biodegradable, but also show significantly improved deinkability compared to conventional inks. In addition, they are often free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which further increases their environmental compatibility. At the same time, these inks offer the possibility of reducing the migration problem of components of printing inks into packaged foods, as they are often non-toxic and food safe. Because these inks tend to be more expensive, they are being used first by pioneers and frontrunners, not the cost-conscious companies. But as they become more common, the question will be whether the cost of the last three to five percent of the packaging justifies categorizing it as poor recyclability, or the other way around, the risk of image loss for a brand.
2 A logo for the landfill
Companies and designers:inside are increasingly aware that packaging must be designed from the outset with its entire life cycle in mind - and that includes recycling. This concept is commonly known as "eco-design" or design for recycling. It involves selecting materials and inks that optimize recycling. An example of ecodesign is reducing the number of inks used and using patterns that are easier to deink or produce a better recyclate, even if the ink cannot be deinked. There are also efforts to develop recycling-friendly logos and certifications that inform consumers which packaging is more environmentally friendly.
The big challenge is to develop consistent, easy-to-understand logos and emblems for international use. The EU seems to be working on a unified recycling logo, but that doesn't yet explain what is being recycled, how much, and how well. And even this new logo to be created will have to compete with all the other information on the packaging.
3. separated with energy
Technological development in the field of deinking contributes significantly to improving the recyclability of packaging materials. One such technology is the use of enzymes to remove printing inks. Some companies and research institutions are using biotechnological processes to develop specific enzymes that effectively break the bond between ink particles and paper fibers. These enzymes are capable of making the deinking process more environmentally friendly while maintaining the quality of the recycled fibers. Another concept that is not yet fully developed is the use of laser and ultrasound technologies in the deinking process. This is where precise energy streams are used to selectively separate color particles from the fibers without using harmful chemicals or damaging the fibers. Such a multi-stage process is also being tested for multilayer films, which can produce pure, deinked materials. These materials can then be reprocessed separately.
While deinking is an important process for recyclability and good recyclate quality, it is only one step in recycling. Most importantly, can we use the well deinked materials to produce high quality recyclates that can be used in sophisticated packaging for food and cosmetics or pet food? Or do they offer more possibilities in recyclate use through transparent colors and less odors? Because only then does a higher recyclate price justify the higher costs for deinking.