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Can foil make your products and your green credentials shine? Foilco’s managing director, Paul Hornby, explains how foil can be used to not only enhance branding but also positively reflect your eco-conscious values.

Let us take you for a moment into the world of duty free – the epitome of luxury and aspirational brands. It evokes the age old glamour of travel, showcasing premium brands from cosmetics to confectionery and fragrance to fine whisky. Nowhere else will you find a better advert for the use of foil to add appeal to product packaging. But there is a perception that with a premium look comes a high environmental price.

Paul Hornby, managing director of Foilco, manufacturer and supplier of stunning stamping foils, said: ‘There is no question that the use of foil stamping on packaging gives products a luxury look and feel unrivalled by other decorative finishes. Packaging decorated with stamping foil rates more than 80% higher than non foil packaging in quality, appeal, value, and brand awareness. But many people think that there is a trade off between aesthetics and sustainable materials. Across the foil stamping industry, we are trying to dispel these misconceptions about the use of foils.

‘Over the past few years, we have seen major brands ban the use of glitter from their products due to the damaging effects of these microplastics on the environment. Similarly, many brands are moving away from foil lamination and metallised film on their packaging due to its inability to be easily recycled. We don’t want foils to be bunched into the same category as glitter and lamination.

‘Foil, unlike these products, is environmentally friendly. All foil is recyclable, and no plastic is left on the product during the foil stamping process. This means that once the foil has been transferred onto paper or board, it is still fully recyclable. The foil coating is so thin that it dissipates in the re-pulping process. In fact, the coating weight is often less than conventional inks. For comparison purposes, the aluminium foil layer is more than 300 times thinner than standard household aluminium foil.’

Foilco has really gone the extra mile to prove that card and paper packaging using foil is re-pulpable and recyclable. The company approached SGS-IPS Testing – a lab that provides testing services for the paper, nonwovens, packaging, and disposable consumer products industries – to undertake an independent test to identify the re-pulpability of a foiled product.

For many years, it had been widely accepted that a maximum of 30% foil coverage was allowed before the stamping foil would start to affect a material’s recyclable properties. With this study, Foilco proved that 80% foil coverage of a product does not affect the re-pulpability of a recyclable material and, as such, can be recycled conclusively.

Paul added, ‘This study gives creatives, printers, specifiers, and brands the confidence to use foil on their packaging, particularly as an environmentally friendly alternative to metallised lamination. There is no need to compromise on design. Whether you are trying to appeal to the luxury market or aiming to enhance the sustainability values of your brand through your packaging.

‘For example, uncoated, absorbent paper and board, which yields a higher percentage of fibre for recycling, is being used more often to better convey an eco conscious message to consumers. With that higher absorbency comes the need for heavier amounts of ink. However, uncoated paper and board work exceptionally well with pressure based print techniques like foil stamping.’

Paul continued, ‘Hot foil stamping is a dry, solvent free process that uses the minimum amount of energy with no emissions created. Most foils are vegan and are unique in being able to offer bright, mirror like, metallic finishes that can be applied to a wide range of substrates, such as plastic, metal, card, leather, and glass.

‘One of the other key environmental benefits of foil is that foil can be supplied in exact, customer specific widths and lengths. This means customers get only what they need for their design with minimal waste. This makes foil perhaps the only print embellishment where less truly is more.

‘Furthermore, foil isn’t just used for decorative embellishments and marketing purposes either. It is an extremely functional material used in medical grade printing, such as on blood bags and syringes and for date stamping and batch codes. More recently we all handled foil stamping on Covid-19 test trays. Foil stamping is highly resistant to rubbing, scuffing and chemical attack, making it ideally suited for regulatory and safety-critical marking.’

Foil is made up of several layers: a carrier (polyester film), a wax based release coat, a lacquer, a metallised aluminium layer (only in metallic foils), and an adhesive coat. The only layer that isn’t degradable in the foil is the polyester carrier. So, what is the foil industry doing about this carrier?

Paul explained, ‘A strong, heat stable film is needed to produce foil. Polyester is the best material as it enables much lighter, thinner films to be used. The standard film thickness is 12 microns. To give you a perspective of how thin that is, it is around 3.5 times thinner than the average bin bag.

‘Across the foil industry, we are continually innovating and looking at ways to further reduce the thickness of this film, with six-micron film already being used in some applications. While we cannot remove the use of this film entirely in the production of foil, we can reduce the amount of foil waste and reuse the surplus as an energy fuel.’

Prism Environmental Limited, sponsored by the British Printing Industry Federation (BPIF), runs the Zero Foil 2 Landfill Scheme. The thin polyester carrier layer has a high calorific value which means the waste film can be converted to solid recovered fuel (SRF) and used in other industries. This helps reduce the use of fossil fuels – 12 tonnes of polyester film replace 10 tonnes of fossil fuel. The waste foil is baled into compacted cubes to ensure minimum levels of transport are needed, reducing the carbon footprint. These bales are then shredded and used as a sustainable fuel.

Paul added, ‘We are proud to be the first foil company in the world to join the Zero Foil 2 Landfill Scheme and we encourage and support all our customers to join the scheme too. Through the scheme, we collect used Foilco foil and send it through our waste management streams. Anything from 600 kg to 26 tonnes can be collected and every printer in the UK, no matter the size, can join the scheme.’

Foil stamping isn’t new. It has a timeless appeal that has been used for hundreds of years, and its environmental credentials should see it being used for a long time to come.

Paul concluded, ‘Foil is a beautiful product that has proven its worth over many, many years. Foil stamping has the potential to transform packaging and really bring a product to life. But, more importantly, that beauty doesn’t cost the earth.

‘Unlike glitter and metallised lamination, foil is environmentally friendly and has a bright future in helping make the packaging industry a leader in sustainable innovation and design.’

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