Sustainability Isn’t Just a Catchphrase
Sustainability is more than just a catchphrase that has gained in popularity over the past few years — it is a commitment to restoring the planet. And that is something Sun Chemical has embraced for more than a decade.
Especially in the packaging space, there are a few trends driving sustainability even more to the forefront today. Nikola Juhasz, the global technical director of sustainability at Sun Chemical, notes that when it comes to the packaging, including the label market and the push for more sustainable products, the situation is very dynamic.
First, she notes, there has been a much greater push toward making packaging lighter weight, which in turn means using less materials and thereby also preserving natural resources. It also has benefits, she says, on the lifecycle impacts of packaging, making them easier, more cost effective and less energy-intensive to transport, and then often making them easier to recycle also.
Another trend gaining momentum is a move toward single-material and single-layer packaging, which is easier to recycle than complex laminated structures or packages using multiple materials. “There is now a lot of focus on the end-of-life,” she says, “with packages needing to be more recyclable or compostable. And related to that, we’re seeing designs moving from plastic to more paper so that packaging can be collected in household curbside recycling bins.”
Finally, she notes that the third major trend impacting the surge of interest in sustainability is a much greater interest in the raw materials themselves, ensuring they are sourced and processed responsibly to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible at every stage of production.
The Three Pillars of Sustainability
For Sun Chemical, the focus on being as sustainable as possible isn’t relegated to just one aspect of the business. Instead, the company has worked to make it a cornerstone of nearly everything they do, across three pillars of business.
- The first pillar is centered around operations, and “making sure our house is in order,” says Juhasz. This pillar focuses on elements such as making sure all sites and facilities are as efficient as possible and are constantly improving, making sure the company is continuously working to reduce its operational carbon footprint and emissions.
- Products and Services. Sun Chemical is committed to bringing products and services to market that are as sustainable as possible, as well as enabling its customers to offer more sustainable offerings, especially in the packaging space. The company invests $100 million into R&D annually, including to support increasing numbers of sustainability projects. “A lot of our impact across the packaging value chain is in the products and services we deliver,” she notes. “Whether it’s printing inks, laminating adhesives, coatings, or pigments, the materials we bring to market can affect whether or not packages are efficient during their production and in their applications, and also whether or not they are recoverable at the end of life. Our products can have an impact on whether a package is sustainable in the end.”
- The final pillar recognizes that any individual player can’t achieve sustainability alone. Interactions among all players in the packaging value chain, are needed to bring new sustainable solutions to the table and to bring process benefits at every step.
To that end, putting those pillars into practice, Sun Chemical uses the 5Rs to organize and communicate around its activities, says Juhasz.
- Reuse — The first of the 5Rs brings more durable inks and protective coatings to market that can be printed on reusable packaging formats that can go through multiple wash cycles and withstand abuse.
- Reduce — Sun Chemical helps to decrease the overall weight and complexity of packaging so it uses fewer materials to achieve lightweighting, and the elimination of unnecessary layers through use of functional barrier coatings.
- Renew — Sun Chemical initiatives include research to create and bring to market more natural, bio-based formulas to replace the conventional, less planet-friendly materials in use.
- Recycle — Juhasz notes that end-of-life is a big concern for Sun Chemical, which is seeking ways to make the various products they offer enablers for recovery and recyclability at the end of a package’s life. This includes washable ink technology that can be removed from plastic or paper in a recycling plant, or compostable coatings and adhesives that enable compostable packaging.
- Redesign — The company is actively working with partners, converter customers, and brand owners to re-think packaging from the ground up, including the printing technologies that go into its creation and the materials used to produce far more sustainable and eco-friendly options in the future that also won’t impact a brand’s market image and bottom line.
Sun Chemical has launched several products across its sustainability portfolio that demonstrate its commitment, with new products and services being offered all the time. A few of the most recent include:
- SunSys Vallotemp, SunSys Vallochem, SunFuse and SunLam are families of functional coatings and adhesives that enable the redesign of packaging to create recyclable structures while maintaining critical resistance and adhesion properties.
- SunSys Vallogo is a solvent based series of release lacquers with very high renewable biogenic carbon content (>95%) for the flow wrap cold seal confectionary market, which enables the transition to recyclable monomaterial packaging structures.
- SunBar Aerobloc oxygen barrier coatings enable lightweighting, extend shelf life, and are part of a family of functional barrier and energy-curable adhesives and coatings that allow for the redesign of packaging by reducing and eliminating plastic layers and laminations.
- SunSys Vallochem is a family of direct food contact water-based coatings that replace polyethylene liners on hot and cold beverage paper cups and foodservice items, rendering them recyclable without changing consumer perception of their functionality and feel.
- SunLam SFC100/HAC306 is a solvent-free laminating adhesive certified as Industrial and Home-Compostable, with excellent bonds on a variety of compostable films.
These are just the most recent products to come to market, joining an already impressive portfolio of sustainable product launches. There are many more planned as Sun Chemical continues to refine its processes and create new ways to approach packaging that blends the need for more eco-friendly options, while not compromising on quality or functionality. The company has focused on helping the packaging and label market become more environmentally sound, and it remains firmly committed to its leadership position. “We’ve prioritized sustainability for a long time,” says Juhasz. “The fact that we’ve just issued our 13th annual corporate sustainability report is a demonstration of our long-time commitment. Sustainability has come to the forefront and become more urgent in the last couple of years, and Sun Chemical is well positioned to support the evolving needs of the packaging value chain and market.”