4 Sustainable Label Trends Growing in Popularity in 2023

Sustainable label trends are on the rise – and for significant reasons. Consumer demand, along with the development of new environmental regulations, has driven an increased focus on sustainability in product labels and packaging. As a result, brands have been continuing to adopt sustainable and eco-friendly practices at a rapid rate.

Research shows the demand for green labels and sustainable packaging solutions isn’t slowing down anytime soon. According to a recent McKinsey study, sustainable products have grown 2.7 times faster than traditional goods, and sustainability continues to be a top priority across the packaging supply chain.

Wondering which eco-friendly developments will play a role in the label and packaging industry this year? Here are four sustainable label trends that are on the rise in 2023:

1. Water-Based Inks

Water-based inks use water as the primary solvent. This differs from petroleum-based solvents, which are often made from mineral spirits or acetone. Ideal for label and packaging applications, water-based inks can print on a variety of materials, such as paper, cardboard, fabric, and even some types of wood and metal. Additionally, water-based ink is known for being environmentally friendly because it creates less pollution and has a smaller carbon footprint than traditional inks.

While environmental concerns certainly contribute to the popularity of water-based inks, it’s not the only reason why printers are making the switch. Some water-based ink benefits are linked to health and safety concerns, as well as to improved printing capabilities.

Specific examples of these benefits include:

  • Improved health: By emitting lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and little to no toxins, water-based inks are safer for workers who interact with the inks on a regular basis, such as printer and label manufacturing employees.
  • Enhanced printing on certain materials: Often preferred for printing on materials such as paper and cardboard, the water-based inks are less likely to soak into the material and cause bleeding or smudging. These inks can also produce prints with higher levels of detail, a more subtle color range and a better resistance to fading.
  • Faster clean up: Since water-based inks are not formulated hazardous chemicals like solvent-based inks, they are faster and easier to clean up than petroleum-based solvents.

2. Recycled and Recyclable Materials

Products that can be recycled or are made from recyclable materials are continuing to increase in popularity as well. If packaging can be collected, processed and manufactured into a new product after it has been used, it’s considered recyclable. For example, recyclable PET container labels are designed to support polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic recycling. The label stays in place throughout the product lifecycle, then fully separates from the PET surface during the recycling process. Producing pure PET flakes results in the conservation of virgin PET resources and less landfill waste. These labels can also be recycled with other PET products, such as plastic bottles, and then turned into new products.

Alternatively, recycled content is a type of product packaging that is manufactured with materials that are delivered from the landfill stream to be recycled and are made from post-consumer waste (PCW). Manufactured from recycled paper materials and used for different purposes across a range of label products, recycled content liners are a solution that contain 30% PCW from recycled PET bottles. This sustainable label trend helps to reduce landfill waste, without compromising on performance or quality.

3. FSC-Certified Products

FSC-certified paper facestocks help meet the industry demand for ecofriendly labels. FSC-certified paper has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) and must be responsibly and sustainably sourced.

Made from wood that is harvested from well-managed forests, recycled material or controlled wood sources, FSC-certified paper is often preferred by organizations that want to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

Additionally, these packaging products have been independently verified to meet the FSC’s strict environmental, social and economic standards—offering a competitive edge for brands who hold the FSC certification. The certification program also helps manage forests – more than 160 million acres worth in the U.S. and Canada – in a way that is environmentally conscious, as well as socially and economically beneficial.

FSC-certified products can also be compostable and biodegradable, so it’s no surprise that FSC-certified paper will continue to be a competitive advantage in the packaging industry.

4. Thinner Layers and Reduced Coat Weights

Less is more when it comes to sustainable label and packaging coating solutions. Reduced coat weights are coatings applied in thin layers, ultimately resulting in a lighter coating weight than normal application techniques. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as:

  • Using thinner coating formulas
  • Using less pressure when applying the coatings
  • Using less coating material

Reduced coat weights can result in lower energy consumption and likely fewer emissions. Additionally, this sustainable trend can help reduce material and production costs while also enhancing print properties and performance characteristics, such as improved printability of coated products, achieving a specific level of matte or gloss finishing, and attaining even better ink adhesion.

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