Home Sustainable Inks – A Critical Link towards Sustainable Packaging

Sustainability is the emergent driving force across the industries. Packaging is one of those domains experiencing demands for sustainability and printing inks play an essential role in the same. Sustainable inks are gaining increased attention with growing R&D investments. Adoption of sustainable inks for the packaging formats supports the ongoing ‘green strategy’. Therefore, the production of sustainable inks that offer reduced volatile organic and other synthetic substances is booming in the market.

Legislation across regions related to sustainable packaging and printing inks

Packaging inks are not regulated by FDA or any other specific regulatory authorities. However, the government has recently emphasized that inks must be evaluated and tested to check if they have any potential interaction with the food product they are used as packaging for. A category of food ink could be described as ‘food-grade and could be safe for human consumption and could be a safer option to contact the food product. The food must also undergo testing to be considered as ‘food-safe. Additionally, the norms would be stricter to acquire the claim of being ‘food-safe by any food packaging ink. A thorough third-party audit and testing would ensure the ink to be food-safe.

A set of guidelines from the European Printing Ink Association (EuPIA), a division of the European Council of Paint, Printing Ink and Artists’ Colours Industry (CEPE), has published its list of ingredients that are recommended not to be used in inks. These ingredients include solvents such as methanol and other dyes that contain harmful chemicals. The guidelines of not using these ingredients are a set of voluntary guidelines which the EU does not enforce.

If any entity operating in the region does not comply with the regulations, their sales would be affected due to this. The Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) program in the EU regulates all chemicals produced within or imported into the region. This includes the chemicals used in packaging.

FDA has set specific regulations for inks used as coatings that are expected to become a food component in the USA. The coatings are required to meet at least one of the five clearances for compliance or authorization, which include:

  1. Food Contact Notification (FCN)
  2. 21 CFR 175, 176, 177, 178 permitted substances
  3. Generally Accepted As Safe Substances (GRAS)
  4. Substances that fall under prior sanction or approved for use before the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1958

Sustainable Inks

The notable players with sustainable inks portfolios are listed below:

1.  FINART – Gravure ink

DIC Corporation has developed FINART as a next-generation gravure ink that supports sustainability. The ink is toluene-free and also methyl ethylketone (MEK)-free. The ink is also in compliance with the European food packaging legislation. The ink is such that it enables the reduction in the VOC and CO2. FINART offers high printing quality with just a small amount of solvent because of its low viscosity and high concentration. The ink has its application specified for flexible packaging.

The company promises environmental safety due to the sustainable and versatile nature of the ink. DIC claims to be developing adhesives with up to 70% reduced solvent and increased solid content in laminating process. The company offers high-end sustainable solutions and operates with a prominent presence in the USA, Europe, Asia, and Japan.

2. Edible ink – SensiJet

Sensient Technologies Corporation is a leading global manufacturer and marketer of colors, flavors, essential oils, and extracts. Sensient employs advanced technologies at facilities worldwide to develop specialty food and beverage systems, cosmetic and pharmaceutical systems, colors, natural ingredients, and extracts.

SensiJet FSE offered by Sensient Technologies Corporation is a series of edible, water-based digital inks that are majorly designed for decorating food products. The inks are made with synthetic colorants and can offer print designs with maximum visual appeal and excellent image quality. With the SensiJet FSE, brands can personalize their products with colorful designs. The companies approaching SensiJet FSE allow brands to personalize with intricate, colorful, and intense designs. The inks comply with the FDA (This ink is manufactured to comply with US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Parts 73 to 82) and are Kosher certified.

The edible inks offered are available for the print heads, including EPSON, HP 45A, CANNON. The inks are claimed to have a shelf-life of 24 months.

3. Soy & vegetable-based inks

Warneke Paper Box operates in paperboard packaging for the food, cosmetics, medical and other industries. The company also customizes folding cartons, set-up/rigid boxes, point-of-purchase displays, pocket folders, and cannabis packaging.

Warneke Paper Box manufactured boxes are printed with vegetable-based inks or soy-based inks. Warneke paper box offers packaging boxes and inks that are made of renewable natural resources such as soy, linseed, and corn. The inks used are certified by American Soybean Association, FSC, and under Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Soy inks are easy to remove from the packages than any other regular ink during the de-inking process. This property of soy ink turns out to be a vital component in the paper recycling process. Additionally, these inks are sustainable and better for the environment because they produce fewer VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). The use of these inks helps in reducing emissions and positively impacts the environmental conditions.

4.  Algae printing inks

EcoEnclose, a start-up from the USA, is an eco-friendly packaging company that works with many sustainable e-commerce brands. The company engages in the manufacturing packaging made with most of the recycled content. These packages can be easily recycled into new packaging in their next life and hence promotes sustainability. The company has its own stringent and comprehensively-researched sustainable packaging criteria, which they comply too.

Algae Ink is the only ink in which the pigment has been made with readily renewable resources algae cells. The Algae Ink pigment used by the company is made from the waste stream of an algae production facility. The ink comprises 75% carrier (water-based) along with 5-10% of additive and 10-20% of pigment coming from algae cells. All components used in the ink are VOC-free and 100% biodegradable.

Almost 50 companies worldwide have collectively printed over 1 million packages with Algae Ink. The companies that have incorporated EcoEnclose’s algae ink include Adidas, 3D Hub, Patagonia, Modern Dane, Rocky Mountain Oils, Bedrock, and Alluvian.

EcoEnclose is adopting the strategy of partnership to expand its business. In June 2020, it announced its partnership with Living Ink to offer sustainable black printing ink for paper packaging.


  1. Inks with Improved Sustainability
  2. Inks/adhesives for food packaging
  3. Food-grade ink regulation focuses on ‘Do no harm’
  4. Reducing Environmental Impact of Packaging with Eco-Friendly Inks
  5. Flexible packaging


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