Sustainability in print & packaging

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It is one of the main topics of our time: “Sustainability” is more than just a green buzzword, but with regard to the finite nature of fossil resources and the devastating effects of the CO2 emissions of the leading industrial nations, a necessary and central aspect of long-term and future-oriented corporate strategies.

The print and packaging industry is considered a pioneer in the field of sustainable innovations. Dependent on the use of raw materials, the print and packaging industry already uses energy- and resource-saving manufacturing methods and thus makes a decisive contribution in terms of environmental and climate protection. drupa 2024 provides information on what is important in the sustainable production of print and packaging solutions and what trends are emerging for the print and packaging industry.

What does sustainability mean in the industry?

Originating in forestry, the term “sustainability” today has many faces. Whether related to resource and energy consumption and the reduction of the ecological footprint, or to economic decisions as well as social justice, sustainability is equally concerned with ecological and economic issues. The print & packaging industry therefore has a responsibility, both as a labor sector and as a consumer of raw materials, to meet its sustainability obligations. Sustainability means actively supporting the preservation of our natural resources, strengthening the economy through modern technologies, and advancing social welfare.

In the print and packaging community, the focus is on the use of sustainable and degradable materials, the use of innovative print and packaging processes, and cutting-edge AI for optimal process control and increased efficiency. Thus, sustainability in the industry inevitably goes hand in hand with the digitalization of print and packaging companies – Industry 4.0 is the key to overall sustainable production in the print and packaging industry. The shift in customers’ purchasing behavior and information searches to the World Wide Web, as well as the ever-increasing regulatory environmental requirements, are doing the rest to further increase the demands on the industry – those who want to keep up here should look for sustainable solutions early on.

Sustainable production: Here’s how it can be made successful

In order to be able to produce sustainably, resource efficiency and the reduction of CO2 emissions play a central role. This means that the consumption of raw materials must be reduced and the return to the material cycle optimized, while at the same time increasing performance and maximizing energy efficiency.

Industry 4.0 with its digital technologies and processes is the key to achieving these goals. By means of AI-controlled, digitized production, the smart factory of tomorrow will be able to control the production process using simulations and algorithms in such a way that misprints can be minimized, work processes accelerated and materials used efficiently, resulting in lower raw material consumption.

In addition, tangible energy efficiency can be achieved with modern printing and packaging machines, whether through optimized drying processes, efficient servo drives with power recovery, or closed material cycles in which raw materials are recycled and solvents recovered.

Sustainable print products and smart printing processes – already present in the printing industry

Printing and environmental protection do not have to be a contradiction. This is demonstrated by the ingenuity and innovative technologies and production methods of the print community that spring from it. For example, there are already environmentally friendly alternatives for the two main materials – paper and printing inks – that are paving the way away from a linear consumption flow to a circular value chain. In addition to the “classic” of recycled paper, other natural and particularly fast-growing raw materials can also be used here as an alternative to wood fibers, including:

  • Grass
  • bamboo
  • hemp
  • cocoa seeds
  • bagasse

In addition, environmentally friendly vegetable oil-based printing inks can be used, which are completely free of mineral oil, plasticizers and heavy metals. Thanks to their excellent water solubility, these can be easily removed from the printed paper later in the recycling process and thus returned to the materials cycle without any problems.

By using artificial intelligence, ink consumption can also be greatly reduced without compromising on quality.

The print industry has also made an important contribution in terms of social sustainability since its beginnings: even in the age of digitization, school books, non-fiction books, and workbooks continue to be a basic element in literacy as well as education and training for people of all ages, and thus make an important contribution to social progress in society.

Packaging is the great weakness in environmental protection. Microplastics, heavy metals and other plastics pollute forests and oceans and drive species extinction. Added to this is the often poor ecological footprint due to the raw material extraction and further processing of petroleum, aluminum and other heavy metals. As a result, packaging-free products are currently experiencing unprecedented demand. But does this mean the end of the packaging industry?

Of course not, because modern and efficient packaging keeps perishable and sensitive foods and goods longer and protects them from contamination and damage in transit. They are therefore important in curbing product waste. Sustainable packaging solutions are therefore key in curbing product waste. By developing environmentally friendly, recyclable and reusable packaging, raw materials can also be returned to the recyclable cycle, helping to reduce the volume of waste worldwide. Sustainable packaging can be made of the following materials, for example:

  • Wood
  • Paper & cardboard
  • Grass paper
  • Cocoa paper
  • Bamboo
  • Cornstarch
  • Bioplastic
  • PLA & CPLA
  • rPET

Thanks to increasingly precise packaging machines, material consumption in packaging can also be significantly reduced – for example, the use of film thicknesses in the single-digit micrometer (μm) range is now possible, while research is working, among other things, on fine bio-coatings that make paper more resistant to liquids.

Once again, digitalization is helping to optimize the recycling process: by digitally networking all the players involved in the process chain, it is possible to track in detail which ingredients were used in packaging production and which additional substances came into contact with it during its use. In this way, further reuse options can be accurately identified and the recycling process simplified.

Sustainable production of the drupa exhibitor brochure

drupa is very committed to the issue of sustainability, which is also successfully reflected in the new exhibitor brochure. It was produced sustainably and climate-neutrally using most modern technology and environmentally friendly resources.

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