Compostable packaging at the tip of your finger with digital printing

As ExpoWest demonstrates every year – the innovators in the food space are often startups and small companies. When it comes to packaging, these companies tend to be “early adopters” in search of more sustainable packaging, for example compostable packaging, for their healthy and good-for-you product offerings.

These innovators have specific needs for their packaging that the traditional supply chain cannot deliver – such as small yet diverse runs, low inventories and quick turnaround time. Digital printing of flexible packaging plays perfectly to their packaging needs. Combine digital printing with compostable flexible packaging, and you have the perfect synergy of good-for-you product, sustainable package, real-time turnaround times, and near zero production waste which equates to “economical.”


Freedom to innovate

Flexible packaging is favored the platform favored early adopters as it is the most economical method for packaging, preserving and distributing food and other consumables. It carries a lower supply chain cost than glass and metal as its lighter weight reduces material and shipping costs.

Digital printing of flexible packaging adds to the benefits of flexible packaging as it reduces turn-around time. In addition, digital printing itself meets environmental constraints, for example through reduced waste and no energy required for drying systems or solvent recovery and abatement. In fact, digital printing can be done anywhere – unlike conventional packaging manufacturing facilities.

Thanks to digital printing of flexible packaging, small companies can easily experiment with new SKUs, as Kelly Williams, vice president product and business development of Flexible Technologies explains. “With digital printing, there is no waste, so if you want 2,500 wraps for the bar, you can get 2,500 wraps without the high cost added for waste and set-up. If you want 1,000 bags for chips, you can get that. If you want 5,000 pouches with zippers that are compostable, soon you will be able to get that as well,” he said.

“In the pressure sensitive prime label space they can turn around an order in just a few days,” said Elz Hotam, vice president of sales for TIPA. “They have mastered automation to where it doesn’t matter if it is a new SKU or a repeat order. Nor does it matter how many SKU’s per format size there are in each order. Flexible Technologies can handle hundreds or thousands of new SKUs a week with their expertise in variable data printing.”

“There is another important element that we have addressed,” Elz continued, saying, “That is regulatory, because we can produce digitally printed flexible packaging that is compostable. This adds another layer to the potential of digital printing, like the icing on the cake.”

Consumers want sustainable packaging

“What people want, what the millennials want, we believe, is the freedom to know that they can put their package in their backyard compost and know that it will break down,” Kelly said. “That feels good, just like giving a donation at the cash register. If you put a dozen of the best graphics digital can do on a table and only one of them is marketed as “backyard compostable” and let the average group of Millennials or Generation Z pick out their favorite, the majority would pick that one package. To us, we believe that’s the future.”

“We heard at the 2016 Global Pouch Forum in Miami, that now in Germany you pay for garbage collection based on how much waste you throw away. You’re seeing people taking bags out of the cereal box and leaving the box in the store because they don’t want to pay for that waste. Over time, that’s going to become the norm. Now, not only are you’re doing something environmentally sustainable and friendlier, but now you’re also lowering the bill that you’re going to have for garbage,” he concluded.

A growing market

The estimated worth of digitally printed packaging in 2013 was $6.6 billion. This is forecast to more than double to $14.4 billion by 2018 because of increasing demand for consumer products with low cost printing technology coupled with aesthetically pleasing graphics.

The United States is the single largest market for print and packaging and is by the far the most developed market for digital printing. The U.S. market is forecasted to grow to $3.38 billion by 2018. Of the world market for digital package printing, the Western European market exceeded $920 million in 2013, with Germany remaining the largest market for all print in Europe.

While about 95% percent of the digitally printed packaging market is for labels for consumer goods, folding carton and flexible packaging applications are also growing rapidly through digital printing, with the market for digital printing of flexible packaging predicted to evolve rapidly with 32 percent compound annual growth from 2015 to 2019.


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