Innovation in Sustainability - Sun Chemical Q&A

How Sun Chemical’s Commitment and Integrated Approach is Leading the Way

Dr. Nikola Juhasz, Global Technical Director of Sustainability at Sun Chemical, answers PFFC’s questions about how the company is setting standards toward sustainability.

As a major producer of inks and pigments, how is Sun Chemical taking a leading role in setting best practice sustainability standards within your industry?

Juhasz: Sustainability is nothing new at Sun Chemical. For well over a decade, Sun Chemical has shown its commitment and market leadership in developing and implementing sustainable best practices both in its manufacturing and in its product research and development.

Sun Chemical organized a cross-functional sustainability committee to help identify and introduce ways to improve sustainability through operations, products and services and industry collaborations. Our most recent and 12th sustainability report updates our ongoing efforts to reduce water and energy usage at our various facilities worldwide. One example highlights Sun Chemical’s reduced water usage in pigment manufacturing facilities by six percent compared to 2019, while another details the company’s reduction in the CO2 equivalent of its energy usage.

Sun Chemical also invests heavily in research and development to help packaging converters satisfy the sustainability needs of their customers, including materials with higher bio-renewable content or that facilitate compostability or recycling.

Finally, Sun Chemical works with other leading organizations, including cross-industry associations, to develop packaging design guidelines and to implement corresponding solutions that improve environmental impact of packaging. Sun Chemical also works with EcoVadis on a number of initiatives, including how to reduce our carbon footprint throughout the upstream supply chain.

What is Sun Chemical’s approach to sustainability and what goals are currently in place?

Juhasz: Sun Chemical’s robust sustainability strategy is based on the three key pillars: operations, products and services, and industry collaborations. Within these pillars, our “Five Rs” framework guides Sun Chemical’s portfolio for existing and roadmaps for developing technology: Reuse, Reduce, Renew, Recycle and Redesign. These approaches are applicable across all of Sun Chemical’s business units, including inks, color materials and advanced materials.

From an operations perspective, Sun Chemical has reduced the CO2 equivalent of its energy usage by 20.8 percent since 2013. Just one single initiative reduced energy usage by 130 kW per day, or the equivalent of 232 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.

On the products side, our SunVisto® AquaGreen™ platform of high-biorenewable-content water-based inks and coatings feature industry-leading amounts of biorenewable content. These inks have been launched for both corrugated and liquid packaging applications. Another ink platform, SunPak DirectFood Plus sheetfed inks, contain market-leading pigmented direct-food-contact biorenewable content up to 88 percent or more.

In addition to the inherent biorenewable content, the direct-food-contact inks allow reduction and/or removal of protective film layers or coatings, which offers an additional lightweighting sustainability benefit.  Lastly, our partnerships and collaborations with other sustainability stakeholders in cross-value chain associations are a foundational element in Sun Chemical’s sustainability strategy. Through leadership roles in CEFLEX, RecyClass and the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), we are actively engaged in defining packaging design guidelines for recyclability, especially with respect to printing inks, coatings and adhesives.

While we’re proud of the work being done to advance sustainable business practices across the markets we serve, we’re constantly looking at ways to improve sustainability across the three key pillars. Along with our parent company, DIC Corporation, one of our key goals is a 50 percent reduction in the CO2 equivalent of our manufacturing operation by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in meeting those goals?  What areas of your business are they specific to: innovation, materials, production, supply, distribution…?

Juhasz:

Sun Chemical sets aggressive sustainability goals, both in terms of the outcomes and the timetables. Aggressive goals such as achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 are challenging to meet, but we are making significant progress by investing substantially in research and development.

A somewhat surprising and very challenging obstacle to reducing greenhouse gas generation throughout the packaging industry is an inherent resistance to change. Even when more sustainable inks, coatings and adhesives are offered as drop-ins for performance and cost to conventional materials there are perceived risks to adopting those solutions, which must be managed and overcome.

Other challenges in meeting sustainability goals include access to circular raw materials on the petroleum-based supply chain, the availability of detailed life cycle assessments (LCA) to validate new solutions and alternatives, agreeing on appropriate metrics and terminology across the market, managing a changing regulatory landscape and immediate supply chain issues that draw attention away from long-term research.

Have there been positive, unforeseen by-products as a result of employing sustainable practices?

Juhasz: One positive has been the response from some customers. By proactively employing sustainable business practices at Sun Chemical, we have been able to respond to the high-priority market needs driven by consumer buying trends which favor more sustainable packaging and offer a well-defined and comprehensive portfolio of enabling solutions.

Additionally, while we have developed certain solutions for particular market applications and demands, we have also found a wider range of interest and applicability. For example, our washable ink technologies, which were originally designed for specific bottle label applications, have been modified to perform well across a range of flexible and rigid packaging.

Change begets change. As manufacturers improve the sustainability of their operations and product offerings, consumers’ expectations will continue to grow. The circular nature of sustainability is a positive that will ultimately drive innovation in not only the industries we serve, but a variety of others on a global scale.

What challenges do your customers face in meeting new standards in eco-friendly practices?

What are ways that Sun Chemical can provide support?

Juhasz: Packaging converters are attempting to meet their sustainability goals and satisfy the sustainability goals of their customers. They are dedicated to pursuing creative packaging designs and ensuring their packaging complies with evolving regulations.

Packaging producers are facing a myriad challenges related to increased regulation. For example, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs have already been signed into law in Maine and Oregon, and more are likely to emerge over the coming years. These programs shift financing of waste management and recycling systems from taxpayers and municipalities to packaging producers and brand owners through eco-modulated fees, which are commensurate with how environmentally friendly and recyclable the packaging is.

In addition, limits and bans are in place or being considered across the globe for single-use plastic (SUP) items including plastic bags, utensils, straws and takeout containers. Redesign activities are crucial for packaging producers who wish to avoid the SUP designation, which require enhancements in packaging recyclability or reusability.

Finally, recent updates to the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides, which define allowable claims and required substantiation for packaging producers, address certifications, renewable materials and carbon offsets. Additional legislation in California prohibits the “chasing arrows” labeling on articles that are not actually recyclable and requires that recyclability is defined according to actual, demonstrated rates.

All of this is to say that packaging producers must develop accurate and clear documentation and redesign processes to ensure their products help reduce waste through high recyclability rates.

Sun Chemical can support customers in overcoming these challenges by continuing to offer products with market-leading levels of biorenewable content and technology to enable compostables and recyclables.

For example, the SunSpectro SolvaWash FL and GR product lines can increase the recyclability of PET bottles through washable flexo and gravure ink technology. These inks can be removed in a controlled way from post-consumer printed packaging, improving the recyclability and recycled quality of the end product.

In addition, a large range of compostable-friendly inks and coatings, such as SunUno Solimax and SunSpectro Solvaplast/Aquathene, are certified as TÜV OK Compost.

Sun Chemical also partners with industry organizations to identify specific issues facing brand owners and converters, including the recyclability of packaging following the wash cycle and the need for an entire package to be compostable. These discussions are essential to guide our product roadmaps and ensure we’re providing sustainability-enabling solutions for our customers.

About Sun Chemical

Sun Chemical, a member of the DIC Group, is a leading producer of packaging and graphic solutions, color and display technologies, functional products, electronic materials, and products for the automotive and healthcare industries. Together with DIC, Sun Chemical is continuously working to promote and develop sustainable solutions to exceed customer expectations and better the world around us. With combined annual sales of more than $8.5 billion and 22,000+ employees worldwide, the DIC Group companies support a diverse collection of global customers.

Sun Chemical Corporation is a subsidiary of Sun Chemical Group Coöperatief U.A., the Netherlands, and is headquartered in Parsippany, New Jersey, U.S.A. For more information, please visit our website at www.sunchemical.com or connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter.


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