Lehrete (D), Ecoleaf World Premiere Event, 7th of July 2022. International press conference in Actega headquarters to explain the nature, operation and environmental and economic benefits of a radically innovative metallization technology. Testimonial: All4Label.

Sustainability is at the top of everyone’s agenda. From brands to government bodies, businesses, printers, packaging and labels converters and consumers alike recognise the importance of leading a more sustainable way of life in order to turn the fate of our planet around. This change needs to take place right now and we all have a part to play. Aside from most companies and individuals actively wanting to find ways to be more sustainable, there is also added pressure on businesses to adhere to environmental standards and regulations. As such, the move to more sustainable production methods is not just a responsible choice anymore, it is a critical decision to ensure longevity.

There are many improvements that need to be made when it comes to creating a more sustainable future for the print and packaging industry. This is why, for ACTEGA, sustainable practices and technology innovations are a key pillar of its entire global business. ECOLEAF is, undoubtedly, an example of ACTEGA’s commitment to developing pioneering solutions that have a positive impact on the environment. It is well known that the industry standard technology for metallic embellishments, hot and cold foiling, is far from environmentally friendly. Each year, thousands of tons of foil waste are sent to landfill or burned at incineration plants. ECOLEAF offers a completely different process that eliminates the need for foil completely and uses significantly less raw materials to achieve a comparably high-quality result.

The Solution, without the PET carrier film

ECOLEAF is a ground-breaking metallization process that uses “liquid foil” in place of the plastic-backed foil reels used in traditional hot and cold foiling. By only placing metal flakes precisely where they are needed, ECOLEAF avoids the need for PET carrier film and, therefore, eliminates foil reels altogether, significantly reducing waste and plastic usage, as well as minimizing the environmental impact associated with producing and disposing of these plastics.

To understand ECOLEAF fully, one must consider the entire process of using foils. Traditionally, PVD flakes are manufactured, and a PET liner is used to collect them. Those foils are then transported to converters, stored and finally used in small or big batches of production, leading to a lot of start-stop-registration on presses. This also leads to additional waste of time and printed substrates. And of course, at the end of the day, the exhaust foils pile-up in containers, ready to be transported to an incinerator or to landfill. Further still, between 50 to 80 percent of PVD flakes are still unused on the foil when it is thrown away.

ECOLEAF’s novel application process is similar to that of ink but utilizing pure metal flakes rather than pigment. These are processed and reproduced in a super flat monolayer, enabling perfect mirroring and superior quality that stands the test against traditional foil technologies.

The ECOLEAF metallization unit is at the heart of the process, installed on a printing press at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the printing process – or even applied as an offline option – for maximum flexibility. The technology is able to facilitate both over- and under-print metallization for a rainbow of metallic effects. The print result is created by the printing of a trigger image in a varnish-like material (rather than the glue typically used with foils) which is applied onto the substrate by flexo, screen or inkjet printing. Before the trigger image passes the metallization unit, it is UV cured.  In the metallization unit, a very thin layer of metal pigments is applied onto a donor roller and then transferred, very precisely, to the trigger image. After depositing the metal layer on the trigger image, there is no need for drying or curing, which not only makes ECOLEAF extremely environmentally friendly, but also comparatively cost-effective and fast when compared with traditional technologies.

ECOLEAF is compatible with a range of print technologies, and a wide range of metallic finishing options can be realized, depending on the printing technology used:

  • Tactile metallic effects without embossing: rotary or flatbed screen
  • Very fine metallization at the highest resolution: flexo
  • Seamless metallization in short runs: inkjet

The Result – Breaking New Ground and Building a Sustainable Future

Initial calculations from ACTEGA’s Life Cycle Assessment show a hugely positive impact on sustainability and resource reduction. ECOLEAF technology currently realizes a CO2 footprint reduction of greater than 50 percent compared to hot and cold foil. Not only does the system completely eradicate the need for plastic but, as it only involves the precise amount of metal needed for each application, eliminates waste of metals too, as well as the need for any carrier film.

When you look at this in a wider context, the benefits become even clearer. 1kg of ECOLEAF flakes effectively replaces 3000kg of foil, which in turn eliminates 20 tonnes of CO2e: the equivalent of planting around 833 trees. At an average-sized label converting company, this can amount to a very significant contribution in reducing CO2e impact. These values can easily be passed onto brand owners, helping them with their green balance sheets, and when adopted at scale across the industry, the potential impact in reducing the effects of climate change would be considerable.

ECOLEAF can be used for a wide range of media across a wide variety of packaging and labelling segments, including Indirect Food Contact label products. ECOLEAF and its components fulfil the REACH and EuPIA regulations and are permitted for use within packaging production. To achieve that, ACTEGA has taken the necessary measures to ensure that all used raw materials correspond to the (EC) 1907/2006 REACH regulation. This means that they do not contain any substances from the updated SVHC-list (Substances of Very High Concern) list, in an amount > 0.1 percent.

ACTEGA has also worked with recycling experts, Interseroh, achieving full certification for ECOLEAF with regards to PP/PE/PET labels. When analyzing whether ECOLEAF is magnetizable or conductive, it was determined that ECOLEAF metallization had zero impact. When analyzing the level of detectability of ECOLEAF metallization on the target surface material after a NIR sorting process, they ascertained that no influence of ECOLEAF metallization was found.

Labeling first: the partners

Ultimately, ACTEGA’s goal for ECOLEAF is that it becomes the new standard for metallization in print. A huge leap from the current industry standard, ECOLEAF delivers a sustainable, game-changing technology that achieves market-leading quality whilst substantially reducing the amount of material, waste, cost and production time required.

Many forward-thinking, innovative companies have already seen the potential in this technology and become partners with ACTEGA to drive adoption within the industry.

Most recently, UK-based labels specialist, Springfield Solutions, was revealed to be the first digital customer of this pioneering technology. In-line with the company’s objective to supply innovative and sustainable digital packaging assets, Springfield Solutions is confident that ECOLEAF will play a key part in the future of the business and how packaging is developed.

German print specialist, Kolbe-Coloco Spezialdruck GmbH, was the very first ECOLEAF customer and installed the solution to meet its customers’ sustainability targets for reduced waste, while increasing operating efficiencies and opening the door to new business.

GERMARK, one of Spain’s leading high-quality label printers, installed ECOLEAF unit to produce sustainable metalized decorative effect labels at a price point that would attract the European spirit market – an industry looking for new ways to achieve product differentiation and reduce its carbon footprint.

VollherbstDruck GmbH in Germany installed an ECOLEAF unit on its existing A B Graphic Digicon Series 3 converting machine. As well as improve the leading label printer’s sustainability credentials, ECOLEAF allows Vollherbst to customize the metallic colours it can offer its customers, as well as add new applications for its metallized embellishments.

Barthel Gruppe – one of the largest labels printers in Germany and the Netherlands – installed an ECOLEAF unit on its Mark Andy Digital Series HD press. The company is using its ECOLEAF technology to offer its cosmetics-based customers high quality, cost effective but sustainable short to medium-run metallized silver labels. Additionally, by using the Mark Andy press to overprint the ECOLEAF trigger image, the Barthel Gruppe now offers new forms of decorative effects, including a rainbow of metallic colours.

All4Labels Global Packaging Group, a world’s leading labels and packaging company, as part of its sustainability and digital transformation programs has started a close collaboration with Actega in 2020. All4Labels has decided to be an early adopter of the ECOLEAF Digital Embellishment Technology to actively avoid ~ 80 % of CO2 emissions versus other conventional embellishment technologies. All4Labels is so far the first and the only company that has successfully installed and operated ECOLEAF on Hybrid Digital Printing Presses, and this shows its commitment to driving forward the implementation of such eco-innovative solutions across the labeling and packaging industry.

Paolo Grasso, Sales Director for ECOLEAF, said, “These companies are the among the first to be inspired by the opportunity ECOLEAF presents to brands and labels and packaging converters alike. They are leading the way when it comes to progressing more sustainable production within this sector and, as such, are hugely valued and exciting customers to work with. Of course, other environmentally responsible, innovative companies will join the transformation and we are confident that ECOLEAF will make a significant impact on the future of the industry.”