New Inking, new Thinking

Is collaboration the key to boosting water-based inks and driving sustainability?

Whilst sustainability is no new concept, particularly for the packaging world, the dawn of another new year seems to have summoned a gear shift in this ongoing plight and an increased urgency to effect meaningful change. With businesses worldwide edging towards looming environmental targets for 2025, a population newly energised by the recent ‘COP26’ UN Climate Change Conference and a consumer base calling out for change, it is no wonder that creating more environmentally friendly packaging is now the industry’s key driver for product development.1 With the added pressure of increasingly stringent environmental regulations, businesses are now having to look beyond substrates and put packaging inks under the microscope in their plight to go green.

Where the world of paper and board may have enjoyed the myriad benefits of water-based inks for some time, UV- and solvent-based inks have historically led the charge for printing on film and plastics. New developments, however, mean that the industry is finally seeing water-based inks that offer a comparable performance profile with an added host of environmental benefits, making the outlook for water-based inks particularly promising for the flexible packaging space. Indeed, analysts are already anticipating substantial growth in both substrate compatibility and the overall uptake of aqueous inks, 2 whilst industry giants such as one of the world’s leading chemical companies, BASF, are also throwing their support to water-based products.

2020 saw the inception of BASF’s initiative, the PRETHINK INK network: an alliance of pioneers in the printing and packaging value chain that aims to tackle existing challenges and champion the role of water-based inks to drive more environmentally-friendly solutions in flexible packaging. With sustainability as a key pillar of its business and a strong aqueous portfolio already thriving in other print segments, ACTEGA was amongst the first to embrace this movement.

As André Salié, Project Development, Digital Technologies, ACTEGA, explains: “Today, sustainability is more than a buzzword; it’s a key driver for growth in the market and core pillar for us a business. We’ve been listening to consumer and regulatory demands, and maximising the environmental benefits of water-based inks in paper and board for some time now, but as many applications still require flexible packaging by nature, we needed to do more. With expertise in both areas, we were ideally placed to extend our range of aqueous inks for digital inkjet printing on film – and now through the PRETHINK INK network, we have the ideal community to engage with other industry stakeholders and share these benefits far and wide.”

The network partners with businesses throughout the value chain, encouraging ink makers, printers, converters, and brand owners alike to explore the opportunities inherent to water-based inks, from advantages regarding regulatory aspects to reductions in VOCs and carbon emissions. “So many of the challenges and hurdles we face in the industry today can best be overcome by embracing collaboration,” continues André Salié. “By bringing together businesses that are like-minded and yet have distinct areas of expertise, we can facilitate an invaluable fusion of skills, knowledge and insight that enables us to deliver the very best solutions for our clients and for the wider industry. We truly believe this is the best way to drive meaningful change and lead the industry forward, together, towards a more sustainable future.”

Where traditionally, printers and packagers may have been hesitant to fully embrace water-based inks, ACTEGA’s unique insight as a provider of specialty coatings, adhesives and inks means that they are able to provide knowledge, support, and expertise throughout the entire packaging production line, as well as ensuring adherence to regulatory requirements. In this way, they are able to not only ensure optimal results, but facilitate a smooth transition to water-based technology, breaking down yet another barrier to entry for packagers coming into the digital inkjet space.

The digital difference

With digital’s share of the printed label and packaging market set to almost double by 2026 and inkjet leading this growth,2 the potential for water-based digital inkjet technology is substantial. Whilst water-based technology is moving the needle for sustainability, digital printing has been doing the same for customisation and production timelines, bringing fast, on-demand printing and mass customisation to the flexible packaging market and beyond. Effectively, digital printing equips brands with an arsenal of tools to enable differentiation in an ever-competitive market which, when combined with the environmental profile of water-based inks, provides a convincing impetus for change.

“Whilst consumer demand and regulatory pressures are, of course, important, and legitimate drivers for change, it is by working collaboratively with peers and partners throughout the value chain that you are able to extract the true value of both digital and water-based technologies together,” concludes André Salié. “By engaging with the PRETHINK INK network and partnering with key voices in the industry, we are not only able to leverage these disruptive solutions and share them on a greater scale, but we can also share our expertise, drive the adoption of water-based inks and help realize their full potential for consumers, brands and packagers alike, resulting in critical steps forward for sustainability.”

ACTEGA is a division of the internationally operating specialty chemicals group ALTANA. With production facilities in Europe, North and South America and China, ACTEGA develops, produces and distributes specialty coatings, inks, adhesives and sealing compounds with a focus on the packaging industry. Following the motto "Packed with Expertise", ACTEGA does not only offer technically sophisticated product solutions, but also meets the high safety standards of the food, beverages, pharmaceutical and toy industries. Whether for flexible and metal packaging, folding cartons or labels, products by ACTEGA provide packaging with a high-quality appearance and innovative functionalities.