Keywords such as microplastic and pictures of plastics pollution in the ocean are ubiquitous. They have changed consumers’ perception towards flexible packaging significantly in recent years, and, consequently, sustainability has become a priority throughout the packaging industry. This development was one of the topics at the congress “A Circular Future with Plastics”, which was organized by the European Plastics Converters (EuPC) and the German industry association for plastics packaging IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. The congress, which hubergroup supported as silver sponsor, took place in Berlin on June 13 – 14, 2019.

From a printing perspective, the event’s most interesting session was on packaging, with a focus on recycling. Speakers examined and discussed chemical recycling as a complement to mechanical recycling. While mechanical recycling is the traditional approach and recycles materials into secondary raw materials without changing their structure, chemical recycling breaks down waste to its building blocks, which are subsequently used to produce new plastic. Compared to mechanical recycling, the quality of the recyclate is equivalent to virgin material, but the energy input is much higher. Therefore, chemical recycling is recommended for materials, which cannot be recycled mechanically.

But what is the role of printing inks in this process? hubergroup’s Dr Lars Hancke, Manager Business Development Flexible Packaging, held a speech on sustainable packaging from an ink manufacturer’s perspective to discuss this question. “As printing inks are only a small part of packaging, they are often neglected in the recycling process”, says Dr Lars Hancke. “While inks should be compatible with chemical recycling, they may create issues in mechanical recycling – because the visual quality of the recycled films may deteriorate. Further mechanical performance criteria may be affected if the inks decompose during re-extrusion at temperatures well above 200°C.”

In general, however, information about the impact of printing inks on recycling is still rare, which is why co-operation between packaging and ink producers is required to receive further insights. In the meantime, ink manufacturers are already working on reducing their environmental impact through their raw material selection. “At hubergroup, we select our raw materials carefully. We comply with the EuPIA exclusion policy, i.e. we use no toxic, cancerogen, mutagen or reprotoxic substances. Additionally, we have an increasing number of inks with Cradle-to-Cradle certification – an initiative, which pursues a circular economy,” explains Dr Lars Hancke. “As our low-migration and cobalt-free inks prove, hubergroup has been setting ecological benchmarks in the printing ink industry for a long time. We will further expand these efforts in future to fulfil our role for a circular economy.”