Label Material Reduction: A case of “less is more”


It’s highly likely you’ve heard this mantra sometime in the past ten years as the U.S. and the world work toward more environmentally-friendly ways of living and doing business.  It’s a simple way of looking at a complex issue.  And it’s a great place to start when developing a sustainable packaging strategy:

Reduce, where possible, the amount of material used to create packaging

Reuse whatever you can – from finished products to process waste materials

Recycle those packaging materials that can be recycled

Generally, the focus has been on recycling. It’s a process most people are familiar with, and there’s a tangible metric that can be recognized; like XX tons of material recycled annually.  But the first leg of this sustainable triad – Reduce – can often provide the biggest “bang-for-the-buck” when it comes to sustainable packaging.  After all, material not involved in the production of packaging will never need to be reused or recycled.  Pretty basic, right?

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process or service. In the case of a manufactured product – like a label or package – the LCA examines everything from raw material extraction, processing, product manufacture, distribution, and final use. You can learn more about LCA here.

Here’s a brief, high-level LCA to demonstrate the impacts made by a label material reduction strategy.

Label material reduction sustainable strategy

Consider a packaging label used to decorate a bottle of your favorite beverage.  This label covers a specific area (Length x width) of the package. Now let’s say we were to make some minor adjustments to the label size, making it just a little bit smaller.   There may be little change in the package visually as a result of this alteration, but the benefits could be many:

At the print stage, the label takes up less space on a press.  In the case of a flexographic print scenario, this may allow for one more label to run across the width of the web, resulting in a reduction of the material needed to produce the same number of labels. The length of the entire press run will go down.

Let’s make an adjustment to further reduce the material used by employing a ‘thinner’ material for our label (called ‘down-gauging’). Again, the change will be hard to recognize on the finished package, but from a sustainability standpoint there’s a payoff.  A thinner label stock requires less raw material to create, whether it’s synthetic film or paper. That’s a win right out of the gate.  In the finishing process, the thinner material will allow more labels to be wound to the same roll diameter specification as a thicker label.  Sustainability gains are realized right down the line.

Label Material Reduction: Collateral Benefits

Less material has been used – Reduction in materials consumed will result in a proportional reduction in waste generated.  There less material that needs to be recycled at all, or that will end up in a landfill.

Less transport packaging is needed – With fewer rolls required to yield the same number of labels, fewer shipping cartons will be required.  That many fewer cartons will need to be recycled or potentially end up in a landfill.

Shipments will weigh less – Since the number of cartons has been reduced, the amount weight transported will decrease is well. That means every truck shipment will be more efficient, and fewer trips will be needed to deliver the same number of labels.

Reduction in fuel used – Fewer deliver trips will result in less use of finite fossil fuels.  Less fuel burned in combustion means a reduction of CO2 released into the atmosphere – a good thing indeed.

You can imagine the sustainable gains made when you extrapolate the above scenario out over a couple of years.  Just think of the environmental benefits of doing this to an entire product line, or when more and more brands do the same thing.

But wait, there’s more!

Taken a step further; let’s assume the material we’re using is tree based – either paper fiber or a tree-based synthetic film.  The trees left out of the equation (don’t get cut down!) in our reduction scenario are still doing their thing by soaking up CO2 in the atmosphere.  Yay trees!

If you’re looking to move toward more sustainable packaging but not sure where to start, consider label material reduction options. The experts at AWT can help with this, and all the other sustainable options for your label and packaging needs.

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