SUSTAINABLE SHIMMER

October 14th, 2010 | Articles

Achieving Ecofriendly Packaging Pizzazz

Going green doesn’t have to mean lackluster package and product designs, nor is sustainability synonymous with compromised shelf visibility.

With today’s state-of-the-art packaging and printing materials, companies can flex merchandising muscle while adhering to ecofriendly principles, not just in the eventual disposal of the finished product but in the manufacturing process itself.

Also, techniques like Ultralustre® transfer metallization—including silver, colors, and holographic or security options—don’t just offer on-the-shelf flash and sustainability benefits; they can be used to thwart counterfeiting, enable security, and verify authenticity.

A leg up
While the use of reflective foils in packaging goes back several decades, the modern era for metallic-effect packaging began in the early 1990s with the introduction of Unilustre®—a recyclable nonlaminated metallized paper or board. In fact, it was environmental concerns that prompted the creation of that product, developed to reinvent the design of L’eggs® pantyhose containers, which were clogging up landfills and generating poor publicity for the manufacturer. The new, ecofriendly design came to life without losing a single ounce of packaging pizzazz.

That initial application of the Unilustre® metallization process was used on a paper product and eventually chosen for the packaging of dozens of personal care, cosmetic, and sporting goods items, as well as beverages and confections. Ten years later, plastic substrates used for music cards, sports- and entertainment-themed collectible cups, and in-mold labels are capable of being enhanced with the same state-of-the-art graphics that support end users’ sustainability initiatives.

Unifoil’s transfer-metallization process employs a water-borne, solvent-free chemistry. It requires no heat or thermal drying, and that dramatically reduces the carbon footprint. Moreover, the carrier film is 100 percent recycled. In addition, fewer pallets and shipping containers are used for the finished product. All this adds up to a truly sustainable process that companies can boast about to their customers.

Ultralustre®, a newer product, builds on the Unilustre® capabilities to include flexible and rigid plastics, and it can be applied selectively—that is, to particular areas—of the finished package. In addition to the aesthetic appeal, Ultralustre materials are cured by energy-efficient electron-beam technology, which eliminates postcure headaches. It gives off zero emissions and, consequently, does not generate air contamination or other hazardous wastes. Cost savings are enhanced as well, since UV’s reliance on many, rapidly burning-out bulbs is eliminated. EB requires no scrubbers or solvents.

The bottom line: the product sent out to companies is as recyclable as the materials coming in the door.

If you seek to stay true to the principles of sustainability, it’s important to do your homework. Some companies might capitalize on the green trend with nothing to back up their claims. If a company belongs to a reputable organization, such as the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IOPP), or subscribes to the philosophy and principles of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, those are signs that its leaders are dedicated to following the reduce-reuse-recycle directive. Seek out companies that truly want to form a partnership to pursue sustainability and will work with you from design inception to finished product to create a package that will please your customers and be good for the bottom line.

Eye-grabbing greetings
Sustainability can become an important marketing concept today. Touting it to consumers on packaging, websites, and blogs with legitimate statements, recyclable symbols, and SFI and FSC logos, when appropriate, might just make the difference between a product’s being placed in a grocery cart and its remaining on the shelf.

But, as everyone knows, consumers need to see the statement in the first place, and high-end appearances offer a great way to draw eyes to products. The proof is in the numbers, and companies indicate, on average, a 10 percent, sometimes as much as 25 percent, boost in business once they switch to metallized or holographic packaging.

Usually, private-label makers want a premium look for a premium product. Now, given today’s economic uncertainties, store brands want to compete aesthetically by using those types of packaging. Consumers want to feel good about their purchases, and a store-brand will be better poised to edge out the national brand if it showcases cutting-edge designs.

In terms of investment of time and resources, printing performance on nonlaminated products should be better than it is with materials that use foil or film on top of paper, which not only inhibit sustainability but could present absorption issues. Transfer-metallized non-laminates won’t curl, nor do they interfere with the pristine quality of the design image, as can occur with a film overlay.

‘Foiling’ the counterfeiters
So far, we’ve seen how “packaging with pizzazz” can push a product to the forefront in consumers’ minds while also encouraging sustainability. But techniques like holography, 3-D, and metallization also can authenticate, combat counterfeiting, and provide other security measures, including packaging integrity.

One organization taking full advantage of all of the benefits of recyclable holographic metallized Unilustre® paper is the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with its monthly, bimonthly, and weekly passes. Those transit cards use various holographic images whose complexity increases with the value of the pass. State lotteries also favor the technology.

Even behind-the-counter drugs feature such methods so that pharmacists will know they’re filling prescriptions with genuine medicines and not bogus, health-threatening concoctions. All it takes is a $20 laser pen to make the verification.

As for the future, the United States likely will see a big trend in the use of in-mold labeling, which is enjoying popularity in Europe. Selective metallization, in which only a portion of a package is enhanced, will pick up steam. Visually bold, reduced-size packaging also packs sustainability appeal and will be in demand.

The directive today is clear. Create a package, printed item, or product that is good for business, the environment, and the customer. Methods, such as Unilustre® and Ultralustre®, that use ecofriendly transfer-metallized and holographic images offer the ideal way to achieve that goal.