May 5, 2022 

Printing With Environmentally Friendly Ink: Key Considerations and Best Practices

Box printing with environmentally friendly ink

Year after year, consumer surveys show that eco-friendly business practices significantly influence the public’s buying habits. Major consumer segments—Gen Z (those born between 1996 and the mid-2000s) shoppers in particular—are willing to pay more for sustainable products and are more likely to exhibit brand loyalty towards environmentally friendly companies. Corporate surveys also show that companies who prioritize sustainable practices are often better at boosting customer engagement and improving internal processes.

While sustainability can be rather abstract in practice, the concept is simple. Sustainable manufacturing and packaging techniques focus on minimizing environmental impact while maintaining (or even exceeding) operating quotas. Due to the open-ended nature of sustainability, implementing sustainable practices looks different from business to business. 

For example, many companies boost sustainability by:

  • In-housing certain manufacturing/packaging processes to reduce transportation needs
  • Relying on renewable energy to offset pollution 
  • Reducing waste with the aid of in-house recycling and upcycling

Although the above practices are common, they do require a daunting amount of work, particularly for companies with well-established operations and larger production facilities. 

In contrast, one of the simplest ways to boost sustainability is to utilize environmentally friendly ink formulas to complete packaging applications. Environmentally friendly inks have increased in popularity across the globe, as they are capable of delivering great code results without reducing material recyclability. Some countries even require by law the use of such inks.

Let’s take a deeper look at printing with environmentally friendly ink and what to consider before making an ink purchase. 

Considerations for Printing with Environmentally Friendly Ink

If you’re looking to switch from traditional inks to environmentally friendly formulas, below are a few ways to make your transition as successful as possible:

Stay Well-Aware of Any Relevant Ink Legislation

Environmentally friendly inks don’t simply boost sustainability—they can also replace formulas that have become banned or highly regulated in certain countries due to their ingredients. 

For example, many countries regulate formulas containing methyl-ethyl-ketone, a solvent more commonly known as MEK. MEK is a key ingredient in many industrial ink formulas. As a quick-drying compound, MEK is particularly valuable when formulating inks meant to mark non-porous materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Once a MEK-based ink is applied to a material’s surface, the solvent quickly evaporates, leaving behind the pigment, dye, or resin that makes up the code. 

Many countries, however, have regulations in place that strictly limit how much MEK can be present in packaging inks. These regulations mainly exist for two reasons:

  1. Many countries have classified MEK as a hazardous air pollutant many times (although the United States no longer officially considers MEK an environmental hazard, other countries do).
  2. MEK can be used to produce illicit drugs, leading certain governments to strictly limit who can import, handle, and produce the material.

In response to these regulations, ink producers have worked to make bio-based environmentally friendly inks that share the same application compatibility as MEK-based formulas but don’t have the same negative qualities associated with MEK itself.

Similarly, many European countries have grown increasingly critical of mineral oil-based inks in recent years. The shift has led some experts to speculate that the European Union could ban such inks in the future. Consequently, it is important to consider how switching over to a sustainable ink could benefit your company in the future. 

Pay Attention to Formula Properties

As more and more companies turn to environmentally friendly inks to increase sustainability and comply with changing laws, ink developers have expanded their formula offerings to meet different coding needs. 

If you’ve searched for environmentally friendly inks before, you’ve likely discovered parts of this growing market, which includes formulas made from:

  • Soy.
  • Algae.
  • Flex.
  • Castor.
  • Canola.
  • Safflower.

With increased variety often comes confusion regarding what applications these bio-based inks work well with. The application specialties of popular solvent- and water-based inks have existed for decades, so finding something like a traditional corrugate compatible formula is often easy. 

Many bio-based inks, however, are relatively novel, so it can be more difficult to determine which suits your needs. Working with a trusted ink developer can expedite this search.

Purchase from a Trusted Ink Manufacturer

Given that the sustainable ink market is still fairly new, few product reviews exist to guide those switching from conventional solvent-based formulas to bio-based options. Moreover, it will be harder to find resources directly comparing the properties of newer ink types with established formulas.

As such, if you’re transitioning into the environmentally friendly ink market, you should begin your formula search with trusted names. Companies like Kao Collins, Inc, Videojet, and InkJet, Inc. have been making bio-based inks for years now, and all offer experienced advice to customers switching formulas. 

By working in tandem with a trusted ink developer, you can make sure that your new formula will continue to deliver consistent code results and keep your product code compliant.

Want to learn more about environmentally friendly ink? Stay connected to C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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