Sustainability dominates paper debate

By Carol Houghton | Read later

Brigl and Bergmeister hosted its ninth Label Conference in October. Carol Houghton highlights some of the key discussions

Sustainability was on everyone’s mind at Brigl and Bergmeister’s ninth annual Label conference, held in Bad Hofgastein, Austria. The event attracted 180 printers and industry suppliers from 27 countries. 

In his keynote, Brigl and Bergmeister CEO Michael Sabltanig said it is essential to make companies more sustainable in a time of global economic instability and tumbling stock markets. But there are positives – the purchasing power of the middle classes in emerging markets is growing. In developed markets, meanwhile, changing consumer behaviour is presenting its own challenges – particularly as environmental awareness impacts on packaging requirements.

But Sabltanig noted that sustainability must have an economic base, and this means the converting industry needs to improve its cost base needs and its management of raw materials, energy and transport costs, all of which require cooperation throughout the supply chain.

Sabltanig called on the industry to better communicate the benefits of paper. ‘Oil based materials are not sustainable, with some experts predicting the age of oil is past its peak, and in Europe, wood-based materials volumes are growing once again.’ Paper consists of 95 percent renewable raw materials, mainly pulp, so is well positioned in environmental terms.

David Ravnjak, F&E Papirnica Vevce, Brigl and Bergmeister, looked at the development of ‘smart’ printed features on paper – biosensors/activators and interactive labels.

Ravnjak also emphasized the technical performance characteristics of paper. For example an 80gsm label paper can withstand up to 200kpa (kilo/pascals) pressure and in terms of stiffness, can support up to three kg weight. As wet strength, papers can also incorporate properties such as flame retardance and can act as a barrier for oxygen, vapor, liquids and grease. These properties can be built in through coating design, through base paper design – choice of fiber type, additives and paper recipe – and the design of processing steps including conditioning and coating.

It is also easy to forget how adaptable paper is in terms of surface design, said Ravnjak. ‘It is flexible and adapts to the shape of the canister.’

Sebastian Schwarz, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, used his presentation to explain how sustainable manufacturing can deliver to printers operational and economic and well as ecological benefits, while Douglas Hutt from SAB Miller, the world’s second largest brewer, gave an end users’ perspective on sustainability as consumers become better educated and more informed.

Post press technology

Georges Bachtold, CEO of label finishing specialist Blumer, assessed the technical trends in post-press wet glue label production.

In 2010, the total world demand for labels was 43 billion square meters, at a growth rate of five and half percent. The Asia Pacific market took the biggest share at 33 percent, with Europe taking 31 percent and North America, 24 percent.

In terms of label technology, in the same year 41 percent was glue applied, 40 percent self adhesive, 12 percent sleeving, two percent IML and five percent was accounted for by other technologies. The Chinese and Indian markets were the main drivers for growth.

Bachtold said there remains a lot of potential for glue-applied labels if companies concentrate on optimizing automation in print finishing, production workflow, quality control, logistics and administration. He identified integration of data from prepress and press to the post press operation as a key to future productivity gains. At the same time, wet glue converters must learn to concentrate on profitable segments of the market, becoming proactive in offering innovative designs and substrates to customers.

Metalized papers

Paul Van Emmerik, CEO, AR Metallizing, said the paper industry should be promoting metalized papers as a sustainable alternative to aluminium foil, with the potential to replace up to 10 percent of the 800,000 tonnes of aluminium foil used every year in Europe. This would significantly reduce CO2 emissions and the material is fully recyclable. He said paper provides better performance than metalized plastics such as BOPP and PET in terms of better ink retentiveness and reduced glue consumption and bottling waste.

The metalized paper industry has seen continuous growth – except for in 2009 – at a typical annual rate of five percent. It is expected to continue growing at the same rate, thanks to the importance of shelf impact and a rise in disposable income globally, said Van Emmerik. There is also currently a rise in in-mold metalized paper labeling, replacing PET/board laminates and increasing shelf life in some applications by several days. 

Although AR Metallizing’s core markets are beverage, beer and spirit labels, Van Emmerik identified packaging as a growing market. ‘Optimizing packaging can generate economic value and environmental benefits’ he said.

Adhesives

Marc Van Damme, CEO at CPH Deutschland, discussed the sustainability profile of adhesives. A wide range of environmental factors are taken into account when developing new formulations, including safety, use of renewable resources, CO2 emissions, energy consumption, waste management, biodegradability and total cost of use for inputs such as water and energy. The industry needs to ‘consider the cradle to the grave.’

Van Damme said the development of biodegradable adhesives has gone hand in hand with the development of biodegradable plastics, and noted the possible application of hydrolysable (water soluble) adhesives for bottling.

Labels get a new look

Rowland Heming, director at brand development specialist Design Board, looked at how consumer ‘mega trends’ impact label design, with the key values being ‘convenience, exploration, connection, value, indulgence, authenticity and ethical choices. Packaging provides a way to communicate these values to the consumer.’

Localization will be another key trend as increasing petrol prices encourage consumers to shop locally. This will encourage shorter print runs of local consumer-focused designs at the expense of globalized products.

The internet has shifted power to the consumer, potentially leaving brands exposed. ‘We now have access to what manufacturers don’t want us to know.’

Brands will need to react to these trends and to the ability of the consumer to react instantly through social networks. Heming cited an example of interactive packaging from South Korea, where Home Plus, a South Korean/British discount store retail chain – jointly owned by Samsung and Tesco – set up an on-screen virtual store at a train station. Shoppers use their smart phone to scan QR codes of the products they wish to purchase whilst waiting for their train. The idea is to turn waiting time into shopping time, enabling consumers to shop without visiting a physical store.

Heming said he tries hard to persuade his clients of the importance of the pack and label. ‘The cost of a label, after all, is a fraction of the cost of a 30 second advert and its impact continues after purchase every time the product is seen in the home. Consumers today are less loyal to a particular brand and more susceptible to bright, eye catching packaging.’

For this reason brands need to make their labels ‘more iconic and less descriptive.’ Two thirds of purchase decisions are now made in store, said Heming. ‘People make choices in store, not in front of the TV. The fact that private label brands are growing proves that a product can thrive with only the packaging and labeling on its side.’

The price we’re willing to pay

In a Q&A session, Tony Knight, managing director of Brigl and Bergmeister’s UK agent Papico, raised the question of how ‘green’ is to be defined. Although certified forest schemes such as FSC and PEFC have helped, ‘the truth is, in our industry nobody can define exactly what is “green”. To some it is carbon footprint – the measurement of how much carbon dioxide is produced generating the energy used in producing the paper and delivering it. Does the mill take electric power from the national grid or does it generate its own from a hydro or solar system? There is a very big difference in the size of the respective carbon footprints! Brigl and Bergmeister, producing label paper in Austria, has its own hydro electricity plant at its mill in Niklasdorf and its papers therefore have the lowest carbon footprint on the label market.’

But Knight questioned whether end users will pay a premium for sustainability. Papico has just become UK agent for US company DaniMer, for example, which produces bio-degradable hot melt adhesives which will ‘totally disappear’ in normal paper or carton recycling. ‘However, the first comment from most people is, “I will not pay a premium for it, no matter how green it is”. The bottom line is, the greenest mills products must compete at similar price levels to those who pay the minimum attention to the environment.’

This article was published in L&L issue 6, 2011