It’s highly likely you’ve heard these terms sometime in the past ten years as the U.S. and the world work toward more environmentally-friendly ways of living and doing business. It’s a simple way of looking at a complex issue. And it’s a great place to start when developing a sustainable packaging strategy:
Reduce, where possible, the amount of material used to create packaging
Reuse whatever you can – from finished products to process waste materials
Recycle those packaging materials that can be recycled
Generally, the focus has been on recycling. It’s a process most people are familiar with, and there’s a tangible metric that can be recognized; like XX tons of material recycled annually. But the first leg of this sustainable triad – Reduce – can often provide the biggest “bang-for-the-buck” when it comes to sustainable packaging. After all, material not involved in the production of packaging will never need to be reused or recycled. Pretty basic, right?
Life Cycle Assessment is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process or service. In the case of a manufactured product – like a label or package – the LCA examines everything from raw material extraction, processing, product manufacture, distribution, and final use. You can learn more about LCA here.
Here’s a brief, high-level LCA to demonstrate the impacts made by a label material reduction strategy.
Consider a packaging label used to decorate a bottle of your favorite beverage. This label covers a specific area (Length x width) of the package. Now let’s say we were to make some minor adjustments to the label size, making it just a little bit smaller. There may be little change in the package visually as a result of this alteration, but the benefits could be many:
At the print stage, the label takes up less space on a press. In the case of a flexographic print scenario, this may allow for one more label to run across the width of the web, resulting in a reduction of the material needed to produce the same number of labels. The length of the entire press run will go down.
Let’s make an adjustment to further reduce the material used by employing a ‘thinner’ material for our label (called ‘down-gauging’). Again, the change will be hard to recognize on the finished package, but from a sustainability standpoint there’s a payoff. A thinner label stock requires less raw material to create, whether it’s synthetic film or paper. That’s a win right out of the gate. In the finishing process, the thinner material will allow more labels to be wound to the same roll diameter specification as a thicker label. Sustainability gains are realized right down the line.
Less material has been used – Reduction in materials consumed will result in a proportional reduction in waste generated. There less material that needs to be recycled at all, or that will end up in a landfill.
Less transport packaging is needed – With fewer rolls required to yield the same number of labels, fewer shipping cartons will be required. That many fewer cartons will need to be recycled or potentially end up in a landfill.
Shipments will weigh less – Since the number of cartons has been reduced, the amount weight transported will decrease is well. That means every truck shipment will be more efficient, and fewer trips will be needed to deliver the same number of labels.
Reduction in fuel used – Fewer deliver trips will result in less use of finite fossil fuels. Less fuel burned in combustion means a reduction of CO2 released into the atmosphere – a good thing indeed.
You can imagine the sustainable gains made when you extrapolate the above scenario out over a couple of years. Just think of the environmental benefits of doing this to an entire product line, or when more and more brands do the same thing.
Taken a step further; let’s assume the material we’re using is tree based – either paper fiber or a tree-based synthetic film. The trees left out of the equation (don’t get cut down!) in our reduction scenario are still doing their thing by soaking up CO2 in the atmosphere. Yay trees!
If you’re looking to move toward more sustainable packaging but not sure where to start, consider label material reduction options. The experts at AWT can help with this, and all the other sustainable options for your label and packaging needs.
Everybody is talking about sustainability lately. It’s certainly a buzzword in commerce, and companies are clamoring to communicate how ‘environmentally-friendly’ their processes and products are. But what does it really mean to be ‘sustainable?’ Let’s take a look at it from a packaging perspective, since that’s our business!
We at AWT have recently developed a flexible package which meets many sustainability requirements. Primarily, this package is capable of being recycled, allowing the plastic material to be used again as another package or something else. So you’d assume that once the “recycle ready” package has served its purpose and is ready to be discarded, you could plop it into a recycling receptacle and all would be right with the world. That would be wonderful, but we’re not quite there yet! Here’s why.
Recycling is a process handled largely at the municipal level in the U.S. by local material recycling facilities (MRFs). Without getting too deep into the complexities of single and multi-stream MRF processes, there are very specific materials that can be handled by each facility. Materials outside of the capabilities of a given facility will sometimes be sent to a secondary sort facility, where a broader range of recyclable materials can be handled. But just as often, the first facility is the last stop before remaining materials are sent to landfills, unless the package recycle status is clearly identified.
So our package needs to be ‘directed’ to the proper stream in order for it to live up to its recyclable claim. The end user, which in the case of our package will be a consumer, will need instructions as to how this package should be prepared, and where it should go in order for it to be recycled. Fortunately there are a good number of excellent resources providing this direction. One of these standards is How2Recycle (www.how2recycle.info). This organization has developed a standardized labeling system to clearly communicate recycling instructions to the public. Depending on the package type and the material composition, How2Recycle will provide the necessary instruction to get the package into the proper recycling stream. Take our plastic flexible pouch, for example. Ultimately one of our customers will employ this pouch as a package for one of their consumer products. After going through the process to have this package evaluated, and assuming they have gone through the necessary steps to become a How2Recycle member, they will be provided with a graphic similar to this to be printed on the package.*
As you can see, this graphic clearly indicates to the consumer that the package will need to be cleaned and dried prior to being introduced into the recycling stream. It also informs the consumer that ‘Store Drop-off’ is the preferred destination to ensure the package gets into its proper stream. Obviously this label only applies to bags made of plastic, but there are labels pertaining to metal cans; glass bottles and jars; paper packaging; and most other conventional packaging methods.
This seems like a lot to have to do in order to ensure a package gets recycled. But consider how far recycling technology has come, and the benefits of recycling to our environment. Most consumers have no problem doing what they can in order to ensure a healthier planet, and will gladly participate if they know what to do. It will be nice when the technology advances to the point that anything capable of being recycled can all be sent to one process, but until then we need to all pitch in.
AWT offers a variety of sustainable materials capable of being recycled, as well as compostable and bio-degradable materials. Our experts can help you decide which options are right for your packaging strategy, and make sure you are communicating the sustainable benefits of your package and/or label. Visit our web site for more information about sustainability options – www.awtlabelpack.com
*Only members of ‘how2recycle.info’ who have submitted package specifications can feature the label on their package.
Historically, companies selling implantable medical devices in Europe have not been required to provide patients with device-specific information. In the event of a medical emergency, not having immediate access to this critical information predisposes the patient to a variety of unnecessary operational risks.
That changed with the European Medical Devices Regulation (MDR) modifications approved by European Council and European Parliament in 2017. These modifications expose the risks to Europeans receiving implantable medical devices without traceability of device-specific information. To address this major concern, Article 18 states that over the next three years, any implantable device being sold into Europe will be required to print specific manufacturer and device information onto an “implant card”, which will then be given to the patient/recipient. This will allow the recipient to have immediate access to critical and potentially life-saving information.
Medical Device Resource Group member BSi, notes that this modified MDR, which replaces two previous directives 1, addresses concerns over the assessment of product safety and performance by placing stricter requirements on clinical evaluation and post-market clinical follow-up, and requiring better traceability of devices through the supply chain.
To aid understanding, we organized the requirements of Article 18 into three sections:
Patient information, such as contact information specific to the patient receiving the device is handwritten or printed on the implant card by one of the hospital’s medical professionals. It’s worth noting that the materials selected for the implant card’s production should be able to support smudge-free pen or printers.
In conclusion, the new European Union Medical Devices Regulations (MDR) requirements are critical to ensure the safety of the patient as well as the general traceability of the implantable device. Hopefully, this breakdown helped provide a baseline understanding of the new requirements as well as expectations of the information that will need to be provided.
Contact the experts at AWT Labels & Packaging to get started on your implantable device patient card projects. Please consult with your Regulatory Affairs department about how to comply with the regulation.
1 (Medical Devices Directive (93/42/EEC) and Active Implantable Medical Devices Directive (90/385/EEC)
Shrink continues to grow! Use of Shrink-sleeve labeling is poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2% until 2025.* It’s a cost-effective way to decorate complex shaped packagin, and utilizes the full 360° of the container. Shrink-sleeves add a lot of shelf impact to brand packaging.
So what are the trends in the world of shrink-sleeves? Here are some things our experts have identified as potential drivers of shrink-sleeve appeal in the near future.
Take a closer look at some of the canned beers and premium sodas on the market. You’ll notice a good number that appear direct printed but are actually decorated with shrink-sleeves. Small to mid-size companies often cannot afford the cost of buying large stocks of pre-printed cans, given the high minimum quantity requirements. Because of this, many are opting to purchase smaller volumes of blank cans and decorate them with shrink-sleeves. In addition to being an economical packaging option, shrink-sleeves provide some versatility in decoration. Blank cans decorated with sleeves allow smaller companies to easily switch between brands or varieties. And the shelf-appeal of sleeved cans is turning heads.
As the technology advances, sustainable shrink materials like PLA will become more prevalent and cost-effective. PLA (Poly-lactic Acid) is a corn-based material, so it comes from a renewable resource and decreases dependence on petroleum-based raw materials. It is also compostable, so these labels don’t end life as solid waste in a landfill.
Shrink-sleeves are a great decoration option for those liquid products that’ve turned the package on its head – think Heinz Ketchup and all manner of shampoo and conditioner products. It’s not only a practical way to deliver liquid products, but also an eye-catching package presentation. More products will undoubtedly migrate to this top-down package configuration to take advantage of gravity, and shrink-sleeves will most-likely be the decoration of choice for many.
There are a LOT of healthy food and drink choices on the market, and new ones are appearing every day. These products need a good deal of space to make their nutritional claims and to list their dietary benefits. And let’s not forget the ingredient and other regulatory information required in this sector. Shrink-sleeves provide a lot of package real estate on which to print all of this, along with the branding and consumer appeals that marketing demands. If you need more room, think shrink!
Beverage companies struggle at times with pre-printed can and bottle inventory which has become obsolete for any number of reasons. A recent trend has seen these companies turn to shrink-sleeves to ‘cover-up’ the existing decoration and outdated verbiage. Rather than having to discard obsolete packaging and swallow the loss, the cans or bottles get new life with shrink-sleeve decoration.
Let the experts at AWT tell you more about shrink-sleeves and how you can add some pop to your packaging.
*Research and Markets (www.researchandmarkets.com)
Managing a business provides a lot of things to worry over. There’s the continual pressure to meet short delivery deadlines; the fretting over cost increases; and the concern for the overall health of the business, to name just a few. Carrying large finished goods or component inventories has its own unique set of business issues to keep you up at night. Managing inventory can tax an organization in a number of ways, and steal time and effort which could be better used toward building the business.
If you are not familiar with the term ‘cash-to-cash’, it is quite simply the time interval between the point a product is paid for, and the time payment is received from your customer for the goods delivered. A company’s ‘cash-to-cash’ situation is negatively impacted when paying for production runs of items that are shipped to you and placed in your inventory. Payment is made either when the product is shipped or in accordance with the credit terms established. In the case of an overseas supplier, the product may not be delivered for weeks. Factor in the time it takes to transport the goods from the entry port; convert the final product; deliver it to the end customer; and finally receive payment and you’ve tied up a lot of money with no return potentially for months instead of weeks.
Consider these additional drawbacks to holding inventory:
Supplier Managed Inventory (SMI) can remove some of these worries!
A SMI program is not going to solve ALL your business problems, but it can improve cash-flow and reduce the number of things you need to focus on. Quite simply, SMI relieves businesses of the burdens associated with ordering and managing large inventories. A typical SMI program calculates an organization’s total finished goods quantity requirements on a part by part basis over a set time-frame, and then determines a schedule for the production and delivery of smaller quantities of those items at established intervals.
A well designed and managed SMI program has many benefits, including but not limited to the following:
Label and package printing are areas where end users can readily benefit from SMI programs. Graphics and text on labels and packaging are constantly changing. When shorter production runs are occurring at set intervals, these changes can be made at a point where little or no existing inventory is deemed obsolete by the altered graphics or text copy.
SMI programs are custom-tailored to each specific business, according to that business’s particular operational usage patterns. The goal is to go from ordering large amounts of inventory a few times a year based on longer business cycles, to a scenario where smaller amounts are delivered on a ‘just-in-time’ schedule at more frequent intervals. Whether that is semi-monthly, monthly, or weekly all depends on how the business will be best served. Automation ‘triggers’ can be set to alert customers when inventory on hand is low, or to automatically order more of the depleted stock.
There’s a lot more to SMI and the benefits it can provide any business which currently carries large standing inventories. We at AWT Labels & Packaging would appreciate an opportunity to evaluate your current inventory model, and demonstrate the benefits an of an SMI program. We’ve become an industry leader in deploying SMI programs for our own customers unique labeling and packaging strategies, and we’re currently managing over 50 such programs. We’re ‘experts’ in giving you fewer things to worry about, and giving you back time and resources you can invest in more valuable pursuits.
Packaging is having some fun lately. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Beer, Wine and Spirits sector. Among the growing number of craft producers in these markets are companies fearlessly breaking the mold when it comes to branding, marketing and traditional rules for what goes on a label. Just look at some of the names on craft beers lately and you’ll get the idea. Brands like “Robohop” and “Geriatric Hipster Club” are just a couple, the likes of which you would have never seen or heard of even 15 years ago. So it should come as no surprise these brands want a unique package to go along with their personal style.
Here’s the skinny on what’s hot when it comes to decorating packaging in this arena:
Appearing old and established is definitely a trend in this sector. Many of these brands are choosing specialty paper stocks to provide a weathered or ‘distressed’ look. Rough finishes are being used to add a tactile aspect to the label, further enhancing consumers’ experience with the package. Specialty label stocks, inks and coatings are all ways to pull off this effect. Vintage and established is the intended message, and the look is a little more subdued and laid back.
At the other end of the spectrum are those brands that want to shout at you from the shelf. They’re looking for attention and a glossier finish on the label is one way to get it. Brands are employing shiny film stocks or high-gloss coatings on paper in eye-catching ways. For instance, high-gloss coatings can be applied to specific areas of the label, in-line while printing, to enhance certain graphics or text elements. The contrast between coated and non-coated areas of the label can add a dramatic aesthetic.
Digital printing can be employed to create a different design for a set number of labels within a brand. Each bottle in a six-pack of beer, for instance, could have its own look. Personalization is also possible using digital; think batch numbers for brews and spirits packaging, or regionally-based designs for nationally distributed brands. The goal is to make a more personal connection with individual consumers. Digitally printed shrink-sleeves are being used by craft brewers to decorate generic cans in order to mimic the look of a big brand.
Some bottled brands want the product to do the talking. Super-thin clear film stocks provide the ‘no label look’ many distilled spirits brands are looking for. If you’ve noticed the top shelf vodkas on the market recently you’ll get an idea of what we mean. The clear films of today are so imperceptible it appears all the brand graphics were directly printed to these bottles. Many of these brands are choosing distinctive-looking bottles for their product, and they want a label that will complement that custom look and feel.
Many brands in this sector are run by a new generation of entrepreneurs who are committed to operating in a socially-responsible manner. When it comes to packaging, they are choosing options which align with these values. Paper and film stocks composed of post-consumer recycled materials are a natural in this arena. So are label materials which are thinner and have the ability to be recycled themselves. New materials coming online promise to be either compostable or biodegradable. As this material technology advances it will become a larger part of the packaging strategy.
We understand every product has individual needs. Consider these five trends as general, “scratch-the-surface” guidelines for your projects. We don’t guess about what is working in today’s market – we utilize over 40 years of experience as experts in packaging. We would be happy to take a look at your specific project needs and map out a full strategy for your upcoming product line. Call 612-706-3700 today or drop us a note here at email@example.com for a free consultation.
Whether you’re walking the floor at an industry trade show, or sitting face-to-face with a high-level decision maker from a large retailer, the topic of sustainable packaging will be discussed as the “go-green” initiative is gaining momentum.
With mounting pressure from consumers, and the fear of future government regulations or outright bans of certain packaging, large CPG companies are committing more than ever to sustainability, even going as far as to set specific compliance dates. Many of these companies have ‘2025 initiatives’ with stated goals for sustainability by year 2025.
In the 2018 Sustainable Packaging Study conducted by Packaging Digest, 75% of respondents said they believe increasing recycling rates will alleviate environmental concerns around plastic packaging. And they’re not alone.
Brands are pushing their supply chain partners to “go green” more than ever before. Therefore it is important to understand how the market is changing.
One of the most common and perplexing questions heard is “Why can’t we recycle the packaging we have today?” The answer is not as simple as it may seem. The majority of flexible packaging is made with multi-material films and the ability to recycle these multi-material films comes down to a few factors:
Unfortunately, today’s recycling climate is not equipped to effectively push multi-material packaging through the recycling stream. Therefore, a large percentage of multi-material plastics are not being recycled and are instead ending up in landfills or the world’s oceans at an alarming rate.
This brings us to the question: “What is the next best option?”
The endgame for packaging suppliers and their customers would be a fully recyclable or compost-friendly material. However, the current offering of compost-friendly plastic films results in particles of micro-plastics, with no added nutrient value to a compost mound. Additionally, the packaging industry simply isn’t there yet with respect to feasible options for shelf life barriers, printing and converting capabilities, and the ability to effectively collect and dispose of these materials on a state level, let alone a national one.
The ultimate solution will be a single polymer, recycle-ready material. There have been significant advancements in recent years to offer a single material option which not only satisfies shelf-life barrier requirements and print/package format requirements, but can also be effectively pushed through the recycling stream at a global level.
The flexible packaging market is in the midst of an important transformation that cannot be ignored without falling short of market needs and sustainability goals. Brands must stay tuned in, or risk falling behind with their customers. If you are interested in incorporating recycle-ready films into your packaging, contact the experts at AWT Labels & Packaging.
Achieving a perfect label application to a complex package can be challenging, especially for larger labels that cover more package real estate. This application scenario was no exception.
There were two bottle sizes: 70 and 128 oz. Both were experiencing the same issues. Multiple factors came into play to hamper the application process, some known and some to be discovered.
During the application trials, label performance issues appeared immediately. The labels were wrinkling and lifting away from the package. The AWT team’s initial diagnosis pointed toward a label that was too large to conform to the complex shape of the bottle. So AWT Prepress proposed and designed a smaller die outline, logically thinking the smaller label would work better for this package. And in the next round of application testing the new label did alleviate the wrinkling issue as predicted, but the lifting problem was still occurring. Once again the AWT team was in search of an answer.
Experience and some clues during the trials led to the thought that the plastic bottles may not have been treated to remove mold release agents. Further investigation revealed the bottles were provided by the customer, and that the customer had purchased the bottles from a packaging broker/distributor. Upon learning this, AWT engaged Fasson – the manufacturer of the material being used for the PS labels. Fasson was asked to analyze the bottles and provide findings that may shed light on the stubborn lifting problem.
Fasson came back with an answer that was the key to solving the issue. Fasson’s analysis found that the bottles were not flame-treated, the most likely cause of the lifting problem. They also had a solution involving a new face-stock material and different adhesive formula.
Subsequent application trials with the new material/adhesive combination went smoothly, and the issues of wrinkling and lifting were eliminated.
This project was a learning opportunity in many ways:
At AWT Labels & Packaging, we’re dedicated to providing the most cost-effective, environmentally-friendly option for your flexible packaging (and label) printing needs. Contact the Experts at AWT to get started on your next project.
When it comes to labels and flexible packaging, the cost of the part is a small component of the Total Applied Cost (TAC) of the part. Budget owners should consider several elements of what it costs to get the product accurately labeled, packaged and routed to the shipping dock. Hopefully, this blog will give you some perspective of what makes up TAC.
Total Applied Cost is an important consideration to determine true cost!
TAC is far more than the actual cost of the label or flexible packaging part. We condensed TAC to nine categories of cost besides the actual cost of the part. All these cost elements (in the numerator) usually interest the budget owner of the production facility and impact downtime, efficiency and ultimately the net run speed of the production line. Further, these costs should be added to the extended cost of the label or flexible packaging part.
Costs easily overlooked include obsolete inventory and excess inventory. Typical root causes for obsolescence include: component or ingredient changes, regulatory compliance changes, brand redesign, or the product is just not selling like forecasted. You can spot excess inventory in the warehouse by using the “white glove” test. Simply slip on an inexpensive pair of disposable white gloves and take a stroll through your label storage room. Slide your finger across the top of the label cartons and notice the darkness of the dust on your finger: the darker the glove, the higher probability of excess inventory/obsolescence. These parts should be scrapped and added to extended costs in the numerator. No reason to hang onto it and pay for storage space.
Finally, don’t overlook how “quantity” impacts TAC unit cost…True unit cost is based on quantity used NOT quantity ordered. You could easily understate the real TAC by using Quantity ordered in the denominator. Closely managing inventory levels will pay big dividends and have a significant positive impact on reducing real TAC.
A relevant story that makes the point about the importance of Total Applied Cost is an automotive aftermarket company who makes and distributes remanufactured automobile power steering units. The units themselves were labeled with a high end PET label/resin TTR ribbon combo and moved down the assembly line to the packaging area where another paper thermal transfer label was generated for the shipping carton. Due to a number of reasons, including poor communication, there were a number of mix-ups of the finished units. This caused both shadetree mechanics and auto repair shop personnel serious heartburn, major league frustration, especially when the Chevy power steering unit they were about to install turned out to be for a Ford! You can only imagine the cost of restocking/replacing products and customer dissatisfaction!
After careful analysis by the assembly plant, the solution to the problem was to redesign/implement the label at triple the cost. Yep, 3 x’s the cost of the previous label! Both the actual power steering hard goods label and the shipping carton label were made out of PET and printed on one TTR label, with a split liner. That allowed the shipping label to remain adhered to the unit, removed, and applied to the shipping carton as the re-manufactured unit was inserted into the carton. When this solution was presented to the ‘purchasing agent’, a person whose yearly review was based on cost reduction of their commodities, the quick answer was that no, a tripling of label costs was absolutely not acceptable. When the proposed solution was presented to the Operations Manager however, he took a look at it, thought about it for about 60 seconds, and asked how long it would take to implement it and whether he could pay a rush charge to get it done more quickly. Mislabeled power steering units dropped almost to zero once the program was dialed in. Even though the actual label cost tripled, when factoring in the cost of mislabeling, receiving returns and quick replacement shipping costs, the new label design was far less when considering the Total Applied Cost.
So don’t forget to consider that it’s not just the unit cost of the label or flexible packaging part but the Total Applied Cost of the quantity used. It can make a big difference to the organization!
Special acknowledgment to former AWT employee Dave Olson who contributed to some of the concepts in this blog.
It’s no secret that the use of flexible packaging is on the rise. According to numbers generated by a Harris Poll chartered by the Flexible Packaging Association, 26 percent of all brands have increased their usage of flexible packaging in the past five years, and 31 percent intend to increase their flexible packaging usage in the next five years1. Not only does flexible packaging cost less for manufacturers to produce and ship, but it also offers significant environmental advantages over its rigid counterpart.
You’ve probably noticed that just about every aisle in the grocery store now sells a pouched or bagged version of a product like soups, coffee, and cleaning products were once only sold in a rigid package. However, what you might not have (intentionally) noticed is the amount of design detail that goes into the flexible packaging your food comes in. You see, brand owners know that they have less than 1/3 of a second to influence your decision-making. This means their product needs to immediately grab your visual attention, inspiring you to pick their product off the shelf and look at it.
Keep your eyes out for these flexible packaging trends and see if they inspire you to put a product in your cart:
One of the hottest trends out there right now is soft touch matte coatings. The second a consumer picks up a product and has a pleasing tactile experience, they are one step closer to making a purchasing decision. After all, a velvety-feeling coffee pouch is a great subliminal complement to the velvety flavor of the coffee.
You will often see a matte look in products that want to be associated with unprocessed, natural, earthy goodness. Often times, the less shiny or frilly the package, the higher the presumption that its contents are natural and pure.
Matte coatings are also targeted to be easy on the eyes. As the population gets older, the bright lights of display cases cause reflections that make labels difficult to see. Matte surfaces will give a brand an advantage over glossy surfaces.
Merging technology with functionality, thermochromatic coatings change color based on temperature, indicating if the product is being stored and served at the correct temperature. This is becoming increasingly popular among beer cans, iced tea labels, microwave foods and more.
Often used to highlight graphics of the product, its benefits, company logo, a Spot/Gloss varnish is a subtle and visually appealing way to draw attention to a specific area on the package.
The flexible packaging market is ever-evolving with exciting new trends. To discuss incorporating these trends (or explore others!) into your next project, contact the Experts at AWT Labels & Packaging.