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Printing inks - sustainability impact explored

In the evolving landscape of sustainable packaging, the intricate relationship between printing inks and the recyclability of plastics emerges as a critical focal point. This post delves into this nexus, presenting a comprehensive analysis that is imperative for stakeholders across the recycling and packaging industries. This exploration is not only timely but pivotal in addressing the challenges posed by the European Union's ambitious recycling targets.

There are two main categories of printing inks: nitrocellulose (NC) based and polyurethane (PU) based inks. Each type possesses unique characteristics and applications, influencing their presence in the recycling stream. NC-based inks, known for their rapid drying properties and vibrant finishes, are widely used in packaging, posing specific challenges in the recycling process. On the other hand, PU-based inks offer robustness and flexibility, making them suitable for a range of substrates but similarly complicating the deinking process.

1- Regulatory considerations

Regulatory considerations are a significant driver of the discourse on ink selection and recycling practices. The European Union, through its Circular Economy Package, sets forth stringent recycling quotas, compelling the industry to innovate in the realm of ink formulation and recycling technologies. This regulatory backdrop emphasizes the need for inks that not only meet the aesthetic and functional requirements of the packaging but also align with the overarching goal of enhancing material recyclability.

2- Deinking process

Deinking, the process of removing ink from plastics during recycling, is identified as a cornerstone challenge. There are varying success rates of deinking methods, contingent on the ink type and the recycling technology employed. The efficacy of deinking technologies not only affects the purity and quality of the recycled material but also its market value and applicability in new products. Innovations in this area are critical, with research focused on improving the compatibility of inks with emerging recycling technologies.

3- Holistic packaging

Beyond the technical aspects, there is a need for a holistic approach to packaging design, one that integrates considerations of end-of-life recyclability from the inception of product development. This perspective encourages the selection of inks and substrates that facilitate easier recycling, ultimately contributing to the reduction of waste and the promotion of a circular economy.

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