In the July/August issue of L&NW, Calvin Frost, author of Letters from the Earth, took a hard look at sustainability and recycling. He concluded that to get from here to there America needs markets, technology and education. Much the same applies in Europe. One advantage for us is that most governments, as well as the EU, are looking to provide bigger sticks and carrots to “tilt” the market in favor of better recycling of all kinds of packaging.
Ask any French person, and they will tell you that a) recycling is important to them, and b) France is the recycling champion of Europe. The reality is rather different. According to a report by Plastics Europe, the recycling rate of plastic packaging in France was 26% in 2016 (as compared to an average of 41% in the European Union). This puts France in 29th place among the 30 European countries covered, only just above the minimum level (22.5%) required by the European Packaging Directive (94/62 / EC, in case you want to look it up). Top of the class are Germany (50.1%) and the Czech Republic (51.2%), the only countries to have a plastic packaging recycling rate above 50%.
In an interview with the Journal du dimanche, France’s Secretary of State for Ecological Transition (oh yes, there is) announced the government’s intention to set up a system of “bonus-malus” for consumers. No details are yet available but this will presumably be on a similar basis to automobile insurance premiums, rewarding the environmentally aware householder and taxing the all-in-the-same-garbage-bin one. Quite how this will be policed, and by whom, is also not yet clear, but this is at least in line with a campaign promise by President Macron to achieve 100% plastic recycling in France by 2025. Further evidence of Europe’s top-down approach lies in the symbols that each manufacturer of packaged consumer goods must display, usually on the label. The most commonly seen in Europe is the Green Arrow. Most consumers believe that this shows a recyclable pack. It doesn’t. It just means the manufacturer has paid an “ecology tax.”
In France alone there are no less than 10 “recycling” symbols used on labels and packaging; not one citizen in 100 can say what each one means. And even those who can have difficulty in differentiating between PE and PP, to say nothing of the dozen or so other plastics in labels and packaging.
Voluntary environmental organizations are doing their best to educate the public, but it is an uphill struggle. “In a bottle, there are already three different plastics,” says Téo Lucchini, development manager for Les Joyeux Recycleurs, an NGO. “The cap, the bottle and the label represent three different plastics. Once we have the volume, then it will be possible to recycle them individually.” Good thinking Monsieur Lucchini. Fat chance.
Putting the bite into recycling awareness
Over the Rhine in Germany, consumers are in general better educated on recycling issues, and the government is already leaning on manufacturers of consumer goods. A new and more restrictive Packaging Act will come into force next year. The semi-public German Central Packaging Register (known by its German initials ZSVR) has generated an all-inclusive catalog that brings all forms of packaging into a “dual system” for collection and recovery. According to the ZSVR, too many types of packaging are currently outside of the scope of the law.
“Only if manufacturers and distributors pay properly for the packaging will the new Packaging Act have teeth,” said ZSVR chairperson Gunda Rachut. “If it costs money, people will start thinking about avoiding packaging and designing it for recycling.”
Will the Gallus Smartfire live up to expectations?
This entry-level digital inkjet press was presented at the Gallus Innovation Days in late June. According to Michael Ring, Gallus’ director of Digital Solutions, the new “Smartfire” is particularly user-friendly. With a width of 240 mm and a semi-rotary diecutting unit, the Smartfire should appeal to printers who want to move into digital printing without breaking the bank. At a guess, it is the selling price first and foremost that will make label converters salivate: a genuine Gallus digital inkjet press for less than $170,000, and just $230/liter for inks. The other selling point of this model is that it gives access to the “Gallus Subscription Contract” that Gallus has launched for its customers all around the world. This contract gives several levels of service (the more you pay, the better and faster it is) with plenty of preventive maintenance to ensure the press stays operational. Swiss designed and Swiss engineered, the Smartfire is assembled in Portugal, where labor is very much cheaper. The Gallus brand name, plus the Heidelberg worldwide distribution and service network, should get this new digital press off to a good start. However, this price range of the narrow web digital market is not empty and up for grabs. The Gallus Smartfire will be a competitor to the Epson SurePress and the Screen Truepress, to name but two. Beta testing for the Smartfire has started and it will be available for sale before the end of this year. According to Christof Naier, the recently appointed head of the Gallus Label Division, the group plans to sell at least 100 before March 2019. Ambitious, but not impossible.
The Innovation Days also gave space to present the Gallus Screeny technology. In Europe, at least, rotary screen-printing is viewed as a mature technology, with just two equipment manufacturers – Gallus and SPGPrints – having the lion’s share of the market. A product whose technology is pretty much standing still, many would say. “Totally wrong,” Bernhard Fritsche, director of the Gallus Screen Printing Division, told your correspondent. “Industry 4.0 is changing every stage of screen printing from the manufacture of Screeny A-Line plates – which is now done computer-to-screen with a resolution of 2540 dpi – right through to washing and drying.”
During the Innovation Days, visitors saw the complete manufacturing process of a Phoenix UV-LED plate. This screen was also used for live demonstrations on the Gallus Labelmaster. Challenged to say how Screeny was better than the competition, Fritschke replied, “I would say firstly that our equipment and our service go from A to Z, so we are truly a one-stop-shop, and secondly I would insist on the speed and simplicity of Gallus’ screen technology that allows a screen exposure in less than five minutes.”
A proliferation of partners
Gallus invited more than 30 partner suppliers to participate at its Innovation Days 2018 in St. Gallen, including Martin Automatic (rewinders), Phoseon (UV LED curing), GEW (curing technology), Meech (anti-static and web cleaning), Recyl (cleaning equipment), Spilker (tooling), Siegwerk (inks), Wink (dies), Zecher (anilox) and AVT (inspection systems).
A forgotten corner of Europe
A Romanian-born friend now living in Phoenix, AZ, USA complained recently to your correspondent that nobody writes anything flattering or optimistic about the land of his birth. There are several obvious answers to this, none of them particularly flattering. One less obvious answer is to look at that country’s label industry, which, believe it or not, is doing quite well. Avery Dennison opened a slitting/distribution center there 10 years ago, and Mark Andy has developed close working relations with the country’s leading label converters. These include Sunimprof Rottaprint, which claims to have a one-third share of the local PS label market, as well as exporting substantial volumes to Western Europe. Sunimprof, which employs 200 and has annual sales in excess of $25 million according to general manager Cristi Nechita Rotta, has installed four Mark Andy presses over the past 10 years. With 200 employees and sales exceeding €16 million, Romprix is also among the largest label printers in Romania. For its cutting tools, the company has developed excellent working relationships with RotoMetrics for the continuous supply and maintenance of these parts.
Cristian Dobrota from Romprix explains, “We have known for many years Graphic Open Systems (GOS), the distributor of RotoMetrics in Romania, and appreciate their professional advice and assistance. When GOS and RotoMetrics launched their joint venture in 2015 by opening a workshop near Brasov, we knew we could get quick help with any situation that might arise.”
With so many small and medium orders to be made on his semi-rotary presses, Dobrota notes that cutting tools represent a significant part of the overall cost of labor. Fast and professional service is therefore essential to maintain production efficiency. James Wellsbury, head of RotoMetrics Packaging Division, said, “Our Brasov site provides support to all of Southeast Europe and starting from scratch has achieved annual sales of $500,000 in three years. We are delighted that Romprix, through GOS, is a beneficiary of this service.”
Tell-tale labels guide burglars
Most labels are put to honest uses. Not all. The municipality of Livry-Gargan, a Paris suburb, has issued a warning to residents to remove any suspicious labels stuck to their doors or letter-boxes and to do the same for their neighbors. It seems that a gang has been posting these labels marked “Locksmith Serrurier” not to offer help to the honest citizen when locked out but to identify apartments whose occupants are on holiday. Not an original scam but an effective one during August when half the population of Paris is away on holiday. By the time you read these lines, your correspondent will be on holiday too – hoping the neighbors will remove any dubious stickers from his door.