Canadian Packaging

Seeing the Light: Why Laser Coding and Marking Is a Sustainable Solution

By Adam Krolak   

The new generation of eco-savvy consumers are demanding more sustainable packaging as part of concerted efforts to reduce manufacturing’s environmental footprint, particularly in the fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) sector – and this is driving the transition to more recyclable substrates.

Of course, manufacturers face many other challenges including, strict regulations around product traceability. Not to mention maintaining production levels, minimizing raw-material costs, and dealing with energy price hikes and disruptions to supply chains in the wake of COVID-19.

Now for the good news! Today manufacturers have at their disposal advanced laser coding and marking technologies that are specifically designed to address the challenge of printing on these new substrates. At the same time, they can deliver efficiencies which help companies meet their carbon-reduction targets.

Substrates are changing

First, let’s focus on these new substrates. More and more companies – especially in the FMCG space – are turning to more recyclable solutions, such as mono-material films and compostable packaging.

Many world-leading brands have unveiled ambitious plans to make 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or to substantially reduce the use of single-use plastics.

The impact of this drive towards increased sustainability is already being felt. Food packaging such as wraps and bags are increasingly being made using PET and PLA films as opposed to polystyrene, and mono-films (PE and PP) rather than multilayer/multi-material solutions. Food and FMCG brands are transitioning from multi-material composites to PP or PE mono-films, while rigid and semi-rigid containers, bottles and jars are increasingly made from mono or recyclable materials.

Why laser coding?

This global shift to sustainable and recyclable packaging materials is very welcome, but it in turn presents a new set of challenges around maintaining marking and coding print quality. Plus it is essential to ensure that the processes involved do not result in increased carbon emissions or slowing production.

Enter laser coding, which offers multiple benefits, not least in supporting sustainability goals on the production line by being chemical-free. Laser provides permanent codes and, using the latest innovations, reduces some of the associated energy requirements. It can achieve all this while still maintaining compliant, high-quality, permanent codes, even on some of the newest recyclable and sustainable substrates.

Recycling benefits

As the world moves towards a future where the majority of packaging will be recycled, laser marking and coding also has the potential to simplify the recycling process.

Needless to say, laser codes are permanent, a significant advantage when it comes to traceability, compliance and brand protection. However, permanent codes also have huge benefits in terms of the circular economy by making it possible to track packaging through the entire production cycle.

Let’s take the example of a PET bottle that has been returned to the manufacturer. Not only can the code be scanned, it can also be checked for the number of returns, cleaned and refilled for sale. In this brave new world of laser coding, the permanent codes facilitate the tracking of the packaging, ensuring it is reused as many times as possible, and equally importantly, that it is not overused.

A future of innovation

Laser’s advantages also extend to reducing energy consumption during the marking or coding process, and this is particularly evident in the latest iterations. Markem-Imaje’s new SmartLase C600 laser, for instance, offers energy savings of 50 per cent compared with traditional water cooling and 33 per cent compared with air cooling, thanks to its unique integrated cooling system.

Innovation is one of the most powerful weapons at industry’s disposal in the fight against climate change. Laser coding can help the packaging sector make a genuine difference – starting today.

Adam Krolak is the Product Marketing Manager at Markem-Imaje.

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