Two packaging experts chat about sustainability and share ways to formulate inks with more bio-renewable content

Whether it’s recyclable linings, biodegradable straws or bio-renewable inks, the packaging industry is constantly buzzing with ideas to improve the sustainability of products. In spite of all the innovation out there, performance and cost are still two of the biggest barriers for manufacturers and formulators who want to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

BASF’s Simon Foster, Industry Marketing Manager for printing and packaging, and Jennifer Rigney, Technical Specialist in water-based resins for printing and packaging, discuss the sustainability barriers ink formulators face in the packaging industry — and the steps they can take to introduce more bio-renewable content into their products.

What’s driving sustainability in the packaging industry?

Simon Foster: There’s a general consumer sentiment around wanting to buy things that are more sustainable and have a better environmental profile. As a result, companies such as McDonald’s have made commitments to bio-renewable, recyclable or compostable packaging.

What are the barriers to sustainability for formulators?

SF: Packaging ink formulators and manufacturers are trying to increase sustainability as much as they can, but they also want to limit any adverse impact to performance. Oftentimes, when you blend in more bio-renewable materials, you either lose performance or increase the cost. This can be difficult in such a competitive industry.

To combat those issues, BASF recently released JONCRYL® 662.

What is JONCRYL 662?

Jennifer Rigney: It’s an acrylic colloidal emulsion, which is used for formulating corrugated ink or as a thickener in other formulations. Colloidal emulsions are interesting because at low pH, the polymer chains are coiled up on themselves and the product has a low viscosity, but when the pH is raised, the chains extend and form a solution with a much higher viscosity, which allows inks to be made with lower amounts of polymer. JONCRYL 662, specifically, is used for printing on corrugated boxes, non-corrugated packaging, kraft paper and labels.

SF: The big difference is that 50 percent of the solids in JONCRYL 662 come from renewable sources. It addresses the struggle to add bio-renewable content, or BRC, to a formulation. We offer the product as a more sustainable alternative for customers who want to add BRC without sacrificing performance or cost efficiency.

How do formulators demonstrate bio-renewable content in their products?

JR: Bio-renewable content is studied and evaluated by ink manufacturers and reported by NAPIM, the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers. This is an industry group with an accounting system that calculates the amount of BRC in your formulation. You can then put the number on your label to show the ink has 20, 50, 80 percent BRC — whatever the case may be — based on this formula established by NAPIM.

It allows ink manufacturers to demonstrate bio-renewable content in a standardized way. And JONCRYL 662 makes it easier for them to achieve higher percentages.

What sort of performance is expected in packaging inks?

JR: Because these inks are used on the outside of packages, you want a good-looking ink that will print cleanly and run for a long time on a press without dirtying up the printing plates. You definitely want good color strength.

There is a subset of high-quality corrugated printing called pre-print corrugated, which involves printing the paper sheet and then gluing it to the flutes to create a corrugated board. This method exposes the ink to a lot of high temperatures and abrasion, so you want an ink that can stand up to that kind of abuse.

To sum up, the ink needs high color strength, clean printing, heat resistance and abrasion resistance.

Does BASF have more plans to add bio-renewable content to products?

SF: We’re committed to finding more ways to add BRC into our products, whether it’s with JONCRYL 662 or part of a broader portfolio. One part of that is blending, another is evaluating actual production using raw materials.

And there are other initiatives currently in focus. There’s a BASF concept called ChemCycling, which is an effort to take back plastic packaging and, essentially, melt it down to its chemical building blocks and reuse it as a raw material. That’s one element.

Another element is called biomass balance. We have a range of JONCRYL biomass balance products that let us create a formulation with X amount of hydrocarbon that would either come from oil or natural gas. That same amount of hydrocarbon is offset using a bio-renewable sourced raw material. It’s a way to offset or eliminate a product’s CO2 emissions.

Manufacturers are looking into these concepts more because they want sustainable products, but they don’t want to sacrifice performance. Beyond those options, we are constantly looking for the next big development to see what else we can provide to the packaging industry.

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