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Special Report

GreenBlue® Reports on Sustainability of Decorative Processes on Paperboard

by Staff

August-September, 2011
GreenBlue®, a non-profit organization developed to equip businesses with the science and resources to make products more sustainable, has recently released a suite of reports that provides technical guidance on how to design packaging to be compatible with common recovery methods. Separate reports have been developed for aluminum, steel, glass and paper packaging.

Closing the Loop: Design for Recovery Guidelines for Paper Packaging (the Guidelines) provides information that is necessary to assess the potential recyclability of a new type of package before it is released into the marketplace. According to GreenBlue® Project Leader Elizabeth Shoch, “The goal of the Closing the Loop project is to improve the overall recovery of packaging materials, primarily by connecting two parts of the supply chain that rarely interact: packaging designers and recyclers. The hope is that if designers are aware of the impact they have on packaging recovery, they may change their practices and design with the end in mind.”

Shoch further explained that specifically for paper packaging, the Guidelines’ primary purpose was to examine the various treatments that are applied to paper packaging, assess their purpose in packaging and try to determine how each treatment impacts the recycling or composting process – the two beneficial end-of-life options for paper packaging in the US. “To our knowledge,” said Shoch, “this information has not been previously collected anywhere.”

As it relates specifically to the application of different decorative processes applied to paper packaging, the report provides a detailed definition of the specific process and where it is found, as well as details on composting and recycling. Specific areas covered include adhesives, foil and metalized paper, inks, overprint varnishes, coatings and multi-laminate cartons. According to FSEA Executive Director Jeff Peterson, “The Foil & Specialty Effects Association believes the GreenBlue report to be the most accurate source published on the sustainability of metallized finished products and more, supported by precise data relating to the processes our constituents perform.” 

Jeff Peterson (FSEA) and David Hutchison of BrightMARKS, LLC (current chairman of the FSEA Green Initiative Committee) worked closely with Shoch on the development of the Guidelines for paper packaging in the areas of foil stamped board. Through information the FSEA provided GreenBlue® (which included the study commissioned by FSEA on the repulpability of foil-decorated paper and board), as well as other sources utilized in the report, the information published creates a very accurate description and analogy of metalized decorating methods.

“The Guidelines and accompanying resources, having been thoroughly researched, broaden the information available to print/finishing sales people, designers, package engineers, sustainability managers and brand owners so that print and packaging projects can move forward with appropriately selected, high-visibility metallic effects,” Hutchison further explained.

The 66-page report has an entire section on foil and metallized paper, which includes a full definition of foil stamping and cold foil processes. The Guidelines includes specific information from the FSEA independent Pira study, pointing out that both hot and cold foil-decorated paper samples repulped successfully and did not cause problems with adhesives (stickies) during the repulping process. The Guidelines go on to point out that the foil particles should be easily screened out with the proper screening equipment (centrifugal or cyclone cleaner screen). However, it was noted that foils could pose problems for paper recyclers, depending on the type and efficiency of the screening equipment at the mill, the paper grade produced and the proportion of foil-coated paper in the feedstock. The Guidelines also provides information on the recyclability and non-recyclability of paper laminated with metalized film.

As far as metallic effects processes, Shoch explained that foil stamping is probably the most easily understood by the sustainability community, and Met-poly film also is quite familiar as a packaging treatment. “However,” she continued, “I am not sure the packaging community actually understands the mechanics of the metallization process. The differences between all of the foil and metallization techniques are not well understood in general, especially the difference between metallized paper and foil-laminated paper – which seem really similar on the surface.” The Guidelines is intended to explain, in brief, the mechanics of these processes and the differences between their techniques.

“The hope is that these guidelines will help educate packaging designers on the impact their decisions have on the recyclability of the packaging they design and put in the marketplace,” Shoch concluded. “It seems apparent (results from the Paper Recyclers’ survey in the appendix) that neither designers nor recyclers know much about the other’s purpose or process.” A FREE downloadable copy of Closing the Loop: Design for Recovery Guidelines for Paper Packaging is available here.