In a trend unique to the Japanese market, the country has been pursuing what is known as biomass ink, whereby recycled materials are used for the printed surface of packaging. Local brands looking to emphasize carbon-neutral product development have driven this trend – and with biomass mark certification from the Japan Organics Recycling Association then increasingly being touted as a condition for customers adopting a material, the use of biomass ink has continued to grow since around 2019.
Recent years have seen a shift with the use of gravure laminating inks, which are used primarily in the printing of flexible packaging materials; inks here with a biomass ratio of 10 percent are now out there in large force. And moving forward, it is likely that we see a trend in which biomass resin is used as an adhesive for bonding.
As a material for packaging purposes, biomass ink is compatible with efforts to reduce the number of layers used in multilayer film and replace such films with paper-based materials, providing a notable selling point when it comes to the pursuit of overall carbon neutrality in packaging materials. The Toyo Ink Group, for one, has been ramping up its marketing efforts around this for printing on flexible packaging materials, coming out with various grades of biomass ink and offering solutions that facilitate single-layer packaging.
Then in an example of combining biomass ink with paper packaging materials, snack manufacturer Calbee Inc. (TYO:2229) came out with a product two years ago with packaging that is still fresh in people’s minds. Using biomass ink from Toyo Ink, the product was initially launched with a plastic mark for its packaging due to the need to include substantial amounts of plastic to maintain barrier properties; however, success was subsequently found in changing this to the paper mark that is found on those currently being sold.
Given the heightened hygiene-related needs in the packaging market amid this pandemic, expectations are that we can expect to see an increased amount of packaging materials used, as well as greater and greater use of individual packaging. And this then puts greater emphasis on the need for environmentally friendly designs in packaging materials. As such, brands operating in the space of consumer goods, for example, have come out one after the other with targets for utilizing a certain minimum level of recycled materials in their respective product packaging – a move that is seeing many adopt monomaterial packaging designs.
But if environmentally friendly designs are going to become widespread, it is critical that they not be closed off from use by patents. Germany’s Werner & Mertz GmbH, which offers the dishwashing detergent Frosch, has recently developed a monomaterial packaging material that allows for the printed layer to be peeled off. And in the bid to expand the recycling circle, Werner & Mertz are going all in on making this material license-free.
As things stand now, there are many cases in which development is not yet all the way there with respect to recycling infrastructure and institutional design – both for flexible and paper packaging materials. And there are still issues for each one when it comes to securing high-quality waste materials. The key to the future here will be companies taking the initiative, such as with voluntary collection of packaging materials.
Such moves are already picking up steam in the realm of toiletry packaging materials, with this coming on the heels of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and the recycling technology already in place for that. The next question then is whether it will be possible to construct a system that closes the recycling circle through collaboration between companies and different industries, making use here also of digital technologies for high selectivity of materials. Regardless, we are already starting to see what the vision is for the packaging materials industry in 2030 and beyond.