Chocolate pack from Sappi, Screen and Mercian

A recyclable barrier paper packaging solution

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Screen, Sappi and Mercian labels have worked together to develop a recycle paper packaging solution for Whitakers chocolates.
Screen, Sappi and Mercian labels have worked together to develop a recycle paper packaging solution for Whitakers chocolates Photo Nessan Cleary

The British converter Mercian Labels has worked with Screen and the paper packaging supplier Sappi to develop a recyclable barrier paper packaging solution for the UK-based chocolate makers Whitakers.

Most paper-based flexible packaging still requires the use of a polymer laminate to give the material the necessary barrier properties, typically to limit oxygen inhibition that would spoil the food product. But this barrier laminate makes those materials almost impossible to recycle.

So Whitakers aimed to update its packaging to make it more environmentally friendly with fully recyclable paper packaging. Whitakers previously used a metallised BOPP film so it was important that the new solution should offer the same minimum 12-month shelf-life.

Sappi supplied an uncoated 67gsm paper that it had flood coated on the reverse with a water-based polymer dispersion. This dispersion, which used a proprietary Sappi formulation, gave it the required barrier properties while allowing the paper to be recycled through the existing recycling stream for household paper and cardboard.

Sibylle Hajostek, market manager Paper & Packaging Solutions at Sappi, adds, “Sappi has been a pioneer in manufacturing flexible packaging papers and recognises the vast potential in the market for sustainable and recyclable packaging material. Selecting the right paper for the right product application is crucial and our expertise in barrier coating allows us to provide the right barrier properties for product protection. The UK market, in particular, has shown a significant demand for more sustainable packaging solutions, and we are excited to contribute to meeting these demands.”

Mercian Labels then worked with Screen to develop a method to print onto this substrate from Sappi. Mercian was already using a Screen L350UV label press but wanted to diversify into the flexible packaging market. Since water-based inks are essential to that market, for working with food products as well as making recycling easier, the company turned to Screen’s long-awaited Truepress Pac520P inkjet press. I’ve already covered this press, which was first announced nearly two years ago. Essentially, Screen has reworked its twin-engined 520NX transactional printer to create a single-engined press for paper-based packaging.

Dr Adrian Steele, managing director of Mercian Labels, explains, “The move into paper flexible packaging is a natural evolution for us. Digital printing with eco-friendly inks brings flexibility to packaging design by abolishing MOQs and significantly reducing lead times. It allows for customisation, reduced waste from obsolescence, and, most importantly, aligns with Whitakers’ commitment to sustainability. We have long seen the versatility and environmental benefits of digital printing in labels, so paper based flexible packaging is an exciting market for us to explore.”

Screen has had the prototype of its Pac520P press at its European headquarters in the Netherlands for a year or so now, and has been testing the various materials available. So Screen tested the Sappi paper complete with its barrier coating and created a profile to enable it to print the Whitakers job on this substrate. The job itself was printed with Mercian at Screen’s Amsterdam centre without needing for any primer or overprint lacquer.

Juan Cano, Business Development director for Screen Europe, commented, “Our partnership with Sappi and Mercian Labels represents a significant leap towards sustainable packaging. Screen’s Truepress Pac520P inkjet digital printing press using water-based food compliant inks, stands out for its lower environmental impact, reduced waste, and quick job turnaround times. This agility enables rapid ramp up of volumes in the early stages of market development, offering a compelling solution for converters and brand owners alike.”

Screen is still working on the Pac520P, with the first beta unit due to be shipped from Japan to Europe in April. Screen has apparently not yet decided who the first beta customer will be as it is still in discussion with a number of potential users, including Mercian Labels.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that McKinsey’s Sustainability in Packaging 2023 survey found that 63 percent of British consumers perceive paper packaging as a more sustainable and eco-friendly option. Whitakers is also polling its customers to better understand their preferences for the packaging materials it uses for its chocolates.

You can find more information about all of these companies from mercianlabels.com, sappi.com, screeneurope.com and whitakerschocolates.com.

First published by the Printing and Manufacturing Journal on 12th February 2024. Reprinted by permission www.nessancleary.co.uk

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