Thinking about the box: the role of digital printing in packaging sustainability, the consumer experience



Brands have a powerful voice and scope of influence; By leading by example in digital packaging innovation, they can not only reduce their impact on the environment, but also be heroes of change and inspire others to take positive action.

200 years ago the French government offered a cash prize to the inventor who could create the best container to store food for
Napoleonthe army of. The competition featured the tin can, and arguably introduced the concept of “packaging” to the world. From Napoleon’s tin cans to today’s milk cartons and bubble wrap, packaging has grown into a massive $ 900 billion industry (McKinsey, 2019) which uses huge amounts of resources – energy and raw materials.

“The packaging is necessary. This is an important part of how we transport products safely and hygienically around the world. But we can – and must – do more to reduce the impact it has on the planet, ”says Jose gorbea, global head of brands, agencies and innovation in sustainable development at HP Graphic Arts.

According to a
speak Center for International Environmental Law packaging accounts for 40 percent of global plastic demand – and that plastic ends up everywhere. Packaging waste pollutes coasts, obstructs waterways and, depending on the World Economic Forum, costs the global economy
$ 120 billion every year.

Where there is waste, there is an opportunity. New technologies are revolutionizing the packaging industry and making it possible to achieve significant environmental savings.

“The secret to reducing packaging waste is to produce only what you need, without creating unnecessary excess,” explains Gorbea.

Digital printing uses technology to transform the outdated and clunky process of analog printed packaging. By digitizing the printing process, it removes tedious steps, dramatically improving speed to market and eliminating the need for minimum order quantities.

Gorbea refers to research carried out by the International data company this shows that digital printing can reduce supply chain waste by up to 26 percent and reduce the carbon footprint of printing by 65 to 80 percent.

There is an impressive list of advantages of digital printing. The process requires less ink and paper than conventional offset printing, which uses rubber or polyester plates; each copy or design change requires a new plate. Each time a new plate is mounted, the press must be realigned. In a traditional print job, at least 15% of the paper is wasted during testing. Digital printing reduces this waste to 5% and design changes have very little material impact.

Conventional printing uses oil-based inks, which requires chemical solvents to clean printing presses. Digital printing also uses less ink. In addition, the solid toner is water-based and soluble, and eliminates the need for cleaning chemicals. The chemicals and inks in offset printing also release gases (volatile organic compounds or VOCs) that can harm human health.

Digital printing also improves the color quality of the print. Offset printing uses combinations of four basic colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black or CMYK) to match any color in the spectrum. Digital printing uses five to seven different toners and offers much better color coverage. HP digital Indigo

can reach 97 percent of a Pantone – the industry standard for color identification – color.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of digital printing, however, is that it fits the concept of “just in time” that governs today’s manufacturing and distribution processes. Traditionally, packaging is produced in volume to benefit from economies of scale. The boxes are stored in warehouses awaiting manufacture and shipment of the products. Often, substantial portions of this inventory are ultimately destroyed or recycled because products, regulations or marketing campaigns change. Just imagine the impact of authorities requiring additional information on a food label.

Digital printing is fast and flexible. It is not necessary to pre-print the excess inventory. The price per item may still be a bit higher compared to the cost of high volume offset printing, but this expense is more than offset by the reduced use of materials and energy. Studies show that in the long run, companies can reduce their packaging manufacturing costs by up to 50%.

Gorbea observes that digital printing can also bring together marketing and sustainability priorities within companies: “Brand marketers sometimes feel disconnected from the sustainability dialogue. But innovation in packaging is good for the planet, the people and the bottom line.

The packaging is no longer just a container. It enables content marketing, storytelling. Chocolate maker
Hershey started an interactive
#She she

to celebrate women and encourage an important conversation about gender with shifting, digitally printed packaging. The campaign increased consumer engagement while reducing the company’s impact on the environment.

In South Africa, liqueur maker Amarula – known for the elephant on its labels – used digital printing for a special campaign to raise awareness of the dangers elephants face from ivory poachers. Consumers could design individual labels to show their support.

Digital printing enables personification. Coca Cola launches a special ‘share a coke with a friend’ campaign using the 150 most popular names in different states of the we. The flexible process also allows the packaging to be adapted to the seasons – the same candles, for example, can be wrapped differently for Valentine’s Day or Christmas.

At HP, the ultimate goal is to make packaging a totally personal experience. Today, packages arrive at our doors like Russian dolls – a box within a box within a box. The shipping and product boxes might become one and contain a specific and relevant message to the recipient. Imagine your new hiking shoes arriving in a box with a recommendation of popular hikes near you, including trail descriptions and maps.

Technology is rapidly transforming the packaging industry. “Packaging is where brands and sustainability goals can come together to generate real change and impact,” says Gorbea.

The secret to reducing packaging waste is faster printing – you only produce what you need. And digital printing offers both cost and time efficiency gains. This may vary by brand, but a typical example would see analog print cycles of six to eight weeks reduced to one to two weeks, simply because you don’t need to calibrate or produce much of the physical materials. (plates and cylinders) used in packaging printing.

Take Hershey, for example, with #She she. The confectionery giant has used digital printing to create a truly creative and engaging marketing campaign to celebrate women, while digitally printing its packaging in a more sustainable way and reducing the company’s impact on the environment.

The role of brands in meeting the sustainability challenges we face is truly global. It concerns all facets of a business. And packaging is where many of these leaders can come together to drive real change and impact.

Brands have a powerful voice and a scope of influence; and by leading by example in digital packaging innovation, they can not only reduce their impact on the environment, but also be heroes of change and inspire others to take positive action.

This interview first appeared in the Sustainable brands ’21 San Diego program, printed on stone paper through Kamp Solutions. Get a free sample of Kamp Solutions magazine



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