Another day in life many years ago, we would love to light up a bonfire on a winter evening and sit around it warming ourselves and enjoying it. It was a common sight to see construction workers and other labourers huddled around a small fire they would light up by burning tree branches or dried leaves to warm themselves and ward off the cold. This incineration, which was a pleasurable exercise once, is looked at as non-acceptable now because it generates smoke and adds to the already high level of pollution in our cities.

In the 1960s all our groceries were shopped wrapped in paper or carried in paper bags. In India we saw a lot of paper bags made even from old newspapers and old magazines adding an element of recyclability to the already used paper. 

In 1965 Swedish company Celloplast patented the single use poly bag to start an era of convenience in shopping with plastic bags. By late 1970s or early 1980s the polybag evolution had reached India and started to grow at a robust pace. It also became the preferred packaging material for a very diverse range of end products. Rapid developments were made to create multipolymer laminates to achieve better shelf life and barrier properties.   So much so that it became difficult to imagine a life without these plastic bags.

Ironically by end of the last century the ill effects of plastic waste due to non-biodegradability became the most worrying factor for governments. The plastic bags littered around the globe remained plastic for years and would remain so for hundreds of years.

Bangladesh became the first country in the world to implement a ban on thin plastic bags, after it was found they played a key role in clogging drainage systems during disastrous flooding. Other countries began to follow suit. Soon the awareness came about that plastic was not only clogging drains but also adding to soil quality erosion, affecting life of cattle who devoured these while grazing and endangered the sea with tons of plastic dumped in. The heightened awareness of all kinds of waste going to landfills; in fact, they are no more landfills but have become garbage mountains occupying expensive and already shrinking land space in cities and emitting poisonous gasses impacting environment and health of population. Climate control, banning single use plastics, finding alternative to multi-polymer plastic laminates due to these not being recycled, conserving resources, recycling, reusing, waste management, etc. became imperatives for all governments. Environmental protection and sustainability became the necessity and buzzword for a safe future of generations that follow us. Sustainability is explained as the avoidance of depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance, in other words replenishing the mother earth with the natural resources that we use for our benefits.

The author while returning from Labelexpo Europe in Brussels in the end of September 2019, stopped over to visit Dubai based label printing company Kimoha.

While excelling in the world of labels Kimoha leadership had done a lot of work including investing for environmental protection, waste management and sustainability, setting example for others in the label industry to follow suit. Being fully aware that advancements and enhancement approaches are needed for the economic development of the present without compromising the capacity of future generations, Kimoha has taken steps to be sustainable and take care of the environment and its social well-being. They successfully completed the Green Building Initiative and are the first printing company within GCC to have the Gold LEED certification from the US GBC for its manufacturing facility. Under the new green clean energy initiative, they have commissioned own Solar Plant with Installed capacity of 1.0143 MWp, generating 30% of their power requirement. Kimoha Solar Plant is one of the largest Solar plant in the manufacturing segment within JAFZA. All the mechanical material handling systems are battery operated to cut off use of fuel and its associated pollution.

Kimoha sources material from FSC certified partners as a responsible management initiative in protecting forests, being in paper industry.  The entire facility light management system is based on Motion & Occupancy Sensors.

Occupancy sensors increase lighting energy savings by 23 %, auto turning off or turning down for amount of time with no movement. Skylights are used as natural lights here at Kimoha warehouse, thus further adding to Energy Management initiatives. As a part of its water conservation initiative, waterless urinals are installed in the facility washrooms. One waterless urinal saves approximately 3,250 gallons of water a year. The Solar cleaning system is also of dry wash robotic system which aids this program. On its Carbon footprint initiative, Kimoha has installed a state of art Integrated Waste Management System for auto extracting and compacting its label design and trim waste. Most of the paper waste is bailed, to reduce size and skip loads and sent to recycling vendors for a circular economy. Right from inception Kimoha has always believed in human capital and thus refrained from using Solvent Inks.  Kimoha also has a Sedex Member Mark which is a testimony to their responsible and sustainable business practices.

Back home in India the author tried to touch base with label printers in India to understand if they too were investing to make their industry and products environmentally safe and sustainable.

It was heartening to note that the process has begun but it is just the beginning. To have a large-scale impact down the line, it appears legislation will provide the necessary impetus required in this direction. Noida based Any Graphics lead by Kuldip Goel is building a new huge new certified green factory spread over 15500 square meters that will be ready to move into in 2020. Kuldip Goel says: ‘The green manufacturing unit will be our contribution towards being environment friendly and sustainable. The process began right from the time when we started building the plant. For instance, we cannot uproot any trees from the new land without having a plan to re-plant and nurture them and plant maximum number of local varieties.’ Complying to the Green factory requirements they are procuring maximum construction materials produced from within 500 kms of the construction site, using minimum 50 percent old material and furniture from previous factory, minimum usage of wood, covered car parking, usage of less water and big fume taps to save water, natural sunlight inside the factory, usage of light and insulating Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) panels in the building, amongst others. They also plan to install both sewage treatment plant (STP) as well as an effluent treatment plant (ETP) at the new facility. ‘With the STP, they will be able to re-use almost 50 percent of our water that would otherwise just go down the drains. With the consumption of almost 40,000 litres of water a day, this will be a huge saving. They are also installing state of the art 600-700 KW rooftop solar power units. This will reduce 5.5 to 7.5 MT of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to planting about 35,000 trees. Goel further added, “We have even studied air direction at the new site to maximize the impact of air flow and sun for most efficient use of solar light and energy. There is a list of above 40 requirements listed by The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) that we must adhere to for our factory to be qualified as a green building and we are passionately working on each one of them”.

Another Noida based Label Company Anuj Bhargava lead Kumar Labels who also produce labelstock for their captive consumption has put in place many processes in their production plan to make their contribution to environment and sustainability. They have shifted to 100% LED lighting in their factory. They plan to replace UV lams with LED UV lamps on all their presses by 2021, the process has begun. They have developed and commercialized SRTF (Single Release with Two Face stocks) which saves 50% release liner. Spreading the concept globally.

Other endeavors include elimination of corrugated boxes and using multi-use plastic trays for dispatches within 200km distance which saved over 15 Tons of kraft each year. Selling labels on bagasse, mineral paper and recycled kraft label stocks (though to begin with the quantity is small). Work has started to use thinner liners. 70% of factory is on evaporative cooling instead of air conditioning, saving energy. No plastic bottles or cups are used for water or food, even during group dinners. Segregation of waste is done so that most unsupported material gets recycled. Employees are encouraged to shift closer to factory to avoid commute and save fuel. To set an example, owners have also moved closer to factory. Used UV lamps are disposed off through a recycler who removes the mercury.

The self-adhesive labels industry as it continues to grow, has been facing a gigantic task for disposal of side trim, waste matrix and liner waste. Almost 50% of the label material after conversion is waste and earlier converters were either sending the same to landfill or incinerating it.

Both the actions are adversely impacting the environment and require urgent attention. Multinational labelstock manufacturers Avery Dennison has taken some pioneering initiatives towards this problem. The Company under their “Avery Dennison’s Recycling Services India program” has been concerned about the accumulation of waste and is on a mission to also reduce the amount of packaging materials used beside recycling and managing the waste generated. They in association with leading brand owners started collecting the label liner generated as part of the labelling operations centrally before passing these on to the appointed recycler for this Liner Recycling Program. The collected liner waste is then reprocessed, and this recycled pulp is used to create new materials such as cardboard, paper, and tissue. On another front they are interacting with converters to co-process or reprocess their leftover label matrix instead of landfilling it at no cost, given that the paper and film materials are sorted at the converter end. The matrix that is made from either paper or film material is usually discarded. As per Avery’s initiative through co-processing, paper matrix can be re-used as fuel in industrial processes. Through reprocessing, filmic matrix is converted to polymer pellets used to manufacture products like boards and benches.

Himanshu Kapoor of Mumbai based J K Fine Prints lists the processes that they have implemented in this direction: The have started liner recycling program with Avery Dennison, all plastic ink bottles are sent to MPCB(Maharashtra Pollution Control Board) waste handling unit, used UV lamps go to hazardous waste collection unit, they pack finished rolls in paper and not in plastic, all waste is shredded and sent to cement kilns to use as an energy source to replace natural gas, cores/boxes/packing materials etc.

are reused to reduce carbon footprint, waste water from water purification system is reused for cleaning purposes, all ACs/fans/lights are switched off when not in use, Auto stop taps installed resulted in reduced usage of water and collection of used liner from end users and sending to recycle in pipeline.

Sustainability is important for many reasons including environmental Quality in order to have healthy communities and a safer planet for generations that follow, we need clean air, natural resources, and a nontoxic environment.

Government has now realized the huge negative impact of this and due to their efforts to spread awareness, words like sustainability, environmental protection, circular economy, recyclability, reusable, etc. have become frequently debated topics in industrial conferences and CSR initiatives of leading industrial houses. Even the common people now are impacted and concerned about this problem. Label industry has been implementing many such initiatives to reduce the impact of waste. For a lot many years we have seen press manufacturers making the label presses with short web pass to reduce setup waste, usage of thinner filmic liners have been implemented at many places to reduce the tonnage of liner going into manufacture of self-adhesive labelstock and more so because the filmic liner can be recycled to produce other plastic products. In recent times we also witness the development of linerless labels to entirely do away with the liner by use of a filmic liner that is peeled off in the manufacturing process and laminated on top of the same label. One solution cannot cater to all labelling needs, every process has its advantages and disadvantages, but the heartening fact is that now the industry is taking steps both to reduce wastage and eliminate it from going to landfills and incineration. The social responsibility of the labels industry is evident!