Recycling and Sustainability in UV and EB Cured Packaging
Paper and paper board products printed and coated with UV and EB curables are recyclable. They have always been recyclable into lower grades of paper known as “greyback” or “fillerboards.” These grades include materials used to produce folding cartons, corrugated, wallboard, tissue paper, roofing paper, and cellulose insulation. This category of recycling into lower grades of paper is known as “downcycling.”
“Upcycling” describes recycling into higher fine grades of paper that are equal or better than the paper waste being recycled. Only thoroughly de-inked and clean processed recycled waste is usable for upcycled paper grades. Waste useable for these grades requires additional pulp cleaning.
Recycling of paper and board waste products involves two processes, pulping and deinking. In the pulping process recycled waste is agitated in water to cause cellulose fibers to fall apart and separate from inks and coatings. The de-inking process uses centrifugal cleaning, dispersion, and flotation for particulate removal.
Ultraviolet and Electron Beam Curables
UV and EB curables have long been used to print and coat a variety of substrates, decorating and protecting a wide range of consumer and industrial products. UV/EB inks, coatings, and adhesives are environmentally friendly as they are solvent- free, 100% solids with (insignificant VOC’s). They cure instantaneously with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light or electron beam (EB) energy.
UV/EB curing also provides significant sustainability advantages when compared to alternative conventional thermal curing processes:
- Energy Use Reduction
- Fossil Fuel Use Reduction
- Solvent Use Reduction – lower Volatile Organic Compounds (Vocs) & Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPS)
- Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Reduced Need for Pollution Controls
- No Solvent to Evaporate
- Extended Open Time during Use
- Reduced Worker Exposure due to Low Vapor Pressure
The Beloit Study
Studies have confirmed over and over again that these listed benefits of UV/EB curing reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
Repulping and Recycling
Throughout the long commercial development of UV curable technology, misconceptions about the recyclability of printed and/or coated materials have circulated. As long ago as 1992, the UV/EB industry through its RadTech organization commissioned the Beloit Corporation to study and determine the recyclability (repulpability and deinkability) of UV printed paper substrates.
Beloit Study Results
UV/EB inks and coatings are readily repulpable, or capable of defibering.
All study materials could be recycled into low quality board grades.
Recycling into tissue paper grades requires flotation and centrifugal cleaning, and sometimes dispersion.
Recycling into fine paper grades needs dispersion and flotation to remove ink and coating specks.
The Beloit Study Conclusion
The Beloit report concluded that UV and EB printed and coated paper can be recycled into tissue, and/or fine paper grades using commercially available processing equipment. Further, the study confirmed that recycling into lower grades of paper products (downcycling) could easily be done.
Recycling & Sustainability
The recycling of waste into a usable stream of materials and new products is in the forefront of several active strategies. These are aimed at moving society toward an economy that is sustainable material-based.
Sustainability has been defined as the ability to continue improving our lives while living within the capacity of the planets eco-systems. Sustainable development is defined as that which meets the needs of present society, without bringing compromise to the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Recyclable waste includes everyday consumable products made from paper and paperboard, glass, corrugated, metal, plastic, and textiles, etc.
Recycling or converting the waste generated by earth’s inhabitants is beneficial to our environment. However, recycling is proving to be challenging as we continue to generate and throw away vast amounts of waste materials.
Recycling reduces landfill, energy consumption and pollution. Considering landfills, they eventually fill requiring that more sites be found.
In addition, landfills are required to be airtight so that oxygen and moisture can’t breakdown buried trash. The result of a well-designed and maintained landfill is that buried trash remains for a long time. There is also the requirement that groundwater is not polluted. Even the best of landfills will emit dangerous gases as certain waste rots, adding to air born pollution.
Recycling can reduce toxic emissions generated by industry processing primary new raw materials since recycled materials reduce the need for these new materials. It’s claimed that recycling produces a reduction in 10 categories of air pollutants and 8 categories of water pollutants.
Sustainable packaging is targeting the use of raw materials that are derived from and originate from plants, are produced from waste products, and/or make use of recycled materials. Large scale adoption of sustainable/green packaging will reduce the environmental impact and the ecological footprint of packaging.