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Special Report

Now there is Proof– Foil Can be a Sustainable Choice

by Jeff Peterson

November-December, 2008
Brand packaging managers today have to balance a great deal when analyzing their packaging choices. They must balance cost factors and environmental/sustainability issues, while still providing eye-catching graphics to get their product noticed. Most experts believe that the sustainability issue is not a fad that soon will disappear but instead, is a long-awaited movement that is here to stay. Many large retailers have sustainability initiatives in mind or in place. One large big box retailer has introduced a scorecard, where products are evaluated against a number of metrics ultimately leading towards eco-friendly reductions in the use of natural resources and carbon dioxide output. With the focus on reduce, recycle, reuse, and renew, conscious choices are changing the way packaging is designed and produced and how it will be utilized in the future.

Understanding that the landscape for folding cartons and all packaging is changing drastically, the Foil Stamping & Embossing Association (FSEA) is taking a proactive step to aggressively market the use of foil and embossing as a sustainable (environmentally-friendly) choice to decorate cartons, labels, and other paper and board products.

Embossing is probably the most sustainable decorating process available, as the embellishment is accomplished through the stretching of the paper stock and no additional product, such as ink, coating, or foil, is added to the stock. Including an embossed image or type can enhance the look of a package or other product with little or no environmental impact.

To tackle the foil side of sustainability, a new study on the recyclability and repulpability of foil-decorated stock and board recently was commissioned by the FSEA through a third-party research firm – Pira International, Surrey, UK. The study was conducted utilizing several samples that were both decorated through the more traditional foil stamping process and through the cold foil process.

The 14-page study describes the pulping and screening methods used in the research, and provides a complete analysis of the reporting results from the testing methods. The main conclusion from the study validates the recyclability of paper products decorated by both the traditional hot stamp and the new cold foil processes. In addition, the study finds that neither hot nor cold foil-decorated products would give rise to problems found in other decorating processes that may render the decorated paper products unsuitable for recycling.

A copy of the complete study is now available for distribution through the Foil Stamping & Embossing Association. To obtain a copy or to receive further information, contact the Foil Stamping & Embossing Association at (785) 271-5816 or e-mail jeff@fsea.com.

What’s Next?
In addition to this initial study, the FSEA is working on other programs and partnerships to establish foil decorating as a clean, environmentally-friendly process. To do this, the next step is to work on the recyclable and/or reusable options for the polyester film foil carrier. Currently, the FSEA is investigating ways the foil can be completely removed from the carrier (after applied on-press) before it is re-rolled. Second, the FSEA is in the process of determining what types of recycling options are available with the used foil still on the polyester film carrier.

Additionally, the FSEA has been in contact with Channeled Resources Group, which has established a program that takes used hot stamping foil and utilizes it for decorative roping overseas. This type of roping is very popular in India where the leftover foil can be reused versus recycled. Interested parties for this application can contact the FSEA for more details.

The new recycling study and the used foil that ships overseas for a reusable application through Channeled Resources are two options that foil stampers now can utilize to confirm to a customer that its job will not create landfill waste and that the foil process is environmentally-friendly.

Get Involved
Recently, the FSEA has become a partner with the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). SGP was formed a little over one year ago by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, Flexographic Technical Association, and the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation. The alliance was formed in response to members’ and the entire industry’s requests to define sustainability as it relates to the printing industry. It is the goal of the organization to offer a benchmark and one-point source of information to both the printing industry, as well as to the customer-base regarding sustainable business practices for a printing/graphic arts facility. SGP recently has launched a SGP verification program that will verify printers, finishers, and binderies after meeting a strict set of sustainable criteria. The FSEA is working with SGP to set-up specific criteria that relates to a print finishing operation and to help SGP market this tailored verification process to the finishing/foil stamping community.

“Every member whether finisher or supplier has a vested interest in the quality and relevance of communicating the positive impact our industry can have on (foil-decorated) products in print. The association is playing a key role in assembling this knowledge for distribution and can do so with the resources made available by its members,” stated David Hutchison, CEO/managing member of BrightMARKS and FSEA sustainability committee member. “We all need to contribute what we can and look forward to an increased understanding of the total value that can be delivered from enhancements.”

Becoming a more sustainable operation goes hand-in-hand with becoming a more efficient operation. After all, who doesn’t want to become more efficient? The FSEA is working from many angles to provide its members and the industry as a whole with the most up-to-date information and guidelines on sustainability issues. The FSEA will utilize the results of the current study on the recyclability of foil stamped stock and board, as well as additional studies slated for the near future, to market the positive advantages of using foil and embossing. And of course, these studies will be used to fight those who have said that foil stamping is not an environmentally-friendly process. There is a great deal of work ahead, but the Foil Stamping & Embossing Association has come out fast and does not plan on slowing down.