When I first saw the chart above from the Container Recycling Institute I thought it was very depressing. While our recycling rate for PET beverage bottles (this includes most bottled water and soda bottles) was going up, the number of bottles thrown into landfills was going up at a faster rate. Then I read this article last week from Packaging Digest and it provides some hope. Scientists at University College Dublin in Ireland have discovered a plastic eating bug that can convert low grade PET bottles into a more valuable and biodegradable plastic called PHA. What this will do is make the PET bottles much more valuable to the recycler and should lead to more economic incentives to recycle these bottles. We are probably years away from any commercial application but it is a positive development nonetheless. We are landfilling over 100 billion (yes, that is billion) beverage cans and bottles every year, this gives us hope that one day we can use these PET bottles as the raw material for a biodegradable bottle.
Monthly Archives: September 2008
Seth Godin had an interesting post on his blog this morning. He was commenting on the turbulent financial times in which we live and the impact on entrepreneurs. Many might think that now would not be a good time to start a business, but Godin disagrees. He said that if he didn't already own a business he would be looking to start one now. I know many Lightning Labels customers and readers of this blog are entrepreneurs with very small part time businesses wondering when would be a good time to quit your day job and launch full time into your business. As Godin says there will always be an excuse not to start. He points out that many of the businesses in this year's Inc. 500 were started soon after 9/11 (Lightning Labels is one such business), where times were even more turbulent than today. We are hearing a lot of bad news these days. But this too will pass and one day a few years from now we will be reading about bold entrepreneurs who launched successful businesses in the wake of the financial disaster of '08. We look forward to printing labels for these companies.
Natural Products Insider recently published an article about food labels, describing how more consumers are spending more time reading food labels than ever before. A report put out by the Hartman Group found that 61% of consumers are reading labels more than before, and half that total are reading labels much more frequently. People are mostly concerned with nutrition and food safety as they attempt to comprehend what they are really buying. This is actually good news for businesses in the food industry. People want to read your labels, so good design is more important than ever. My feature story in our latest newsletter describes ten elements of good label design, but designers of food labels need to focus on a couple of extra issues. Remember, people are studying your ingredient list. It needs to be easy to find and easy to read. This means no fancy fonts and certainly no tiny print. Make it large enough that a person with reasonable eyesight can read it without difficulty. Black or dark type on a light colored background will work best. Also, your nutrition information needs to meet the standards of the FDA. The good news is that if you have high quality, healthy ingredients you will have a leg up on the mass produced competition. And with the high quality digital label printing you get from Lightning Labels you have another advantage over your competition. Just make sure your ingredient list and nutrition information is easily readable and you will give your potential customers every reason to put your product into their shopping cart.
Last week I bought the latest issue of Esquire magazine. It is the first time I have ever purchased this magazine and I did it because I wanted to own a piece of history. To celebrate their 75th anniversary, Esquire created a cover featuring electronic ink. To be more precise, a small 2" x 5" LCD display is embedded into the paper cover, along with a battery, to create the first ever digital magazine cover. The screen blinks with the words "The 21st Century Begins Now" and flashes between white and gray. It is really very striking as it sits on my desk among other magazines and papers, none of which are blinking. The battery is supposed to last 90 days or so - mine is certainly still going strong after more than a week. So what does this have to do with labels? Plenty. I believe we are looking at the future of print right here. It is probably decades off but one day most product labels on a retail shelf will in fact be these LCD displays that will blink, play videos, connect with web sites and much more. Will paper labels ever go away? No, I believe there will be some product labels made with paper for decades or even centuries into the future simply because paper will be cheaper than electronics for a very long time. But I also expect the first electronic product labels to be appearing on high end products within a decade. Esquire magazine has proven it is possible to produce these thin screens on a large scale. With improvements in technology you might be buying cosmetics or prescription drugs with electronic product labels some time in the not too distant future.
I spent most of this week in Chicago at the biannual LabelExpo trade show with my cohort Steve Smith and our production manager, Bruce Niccum. It is the largest gathering on the planet for people in the label printing industry. This was my fourth show and by far the most interesting. There were two main themes at this year’s show: sustainable label printing and digital. There were special areas in the exhibition hall set aside for both topics and plenty of seminars as well.
It is great to see label printers finally getting the green message. The CEO of the largest company in our industry said in a news conference that sustainable label printing practices were going to be a focus for his company going forward. As long time environmental champion, Calvin Frost, said in his presentation, this simply would not have happened even two years ago.
So what does all this mean for Lightning Labels customers? Well for a start, there were a large number of new environmentally friendly label materials on display at the show. There was label paper made from 100% recycled paper, many options for paper manufactured from sustainable forests, bioplastic material made from wood chips, and even material made from banana leaves and grass in the Philippines.
We will be testing these materials in coming weeks and we will announce on this blog when we make some new choices available. There was also a lot of discussion about recycling, environmentally benign adhesives, and ways to reduce waste. In the near future I will be doing a number of features on this blog on sustainability in label printing, as I digest everything I have learned this week.
The other feature of LabelExpo this year was digital label printing. In March HP announced the release of their new label press, the WS6000, and LabelExpo was the first time it was on public display in this country. It won’t be available for many months, but it is a truly amazing machine. It is twice the speed of the current WS4500 (we have two of these) and there have been many improvements in the internal operation of the press to reduce downtime and increase operator efficiency. When printing a one or two color job, the WS6000 prints at around 200 feet a minute which matches the speed of many conventional presses, and there is very little setup with a digital press compared with an hour or more of setup for a conventional press. As I watched this digital label press print at that speed, I thought it was a thing of beauty. I certainly wouldn’t like to be selling conventional label presses these days.
When I started Lightning Labels back in 2002 there were only two options for anyone interested in buying a digital label press. At LabelExpo this year I counted more than a dozen. Many new companies have entered this arena and there has been some great innovation. Our first press that we purchased in January 2002 cost $300,000, weighed well over 1,000 pounds and ran at around 25 feet a minute. This year there was a desktop press from Primera that costs $15,000 and runs at the same speed. Now the quality is not quite as good as our original press, but it is still an impressive machine.
Speaking of quality, I was pleased to notice that despite all this innovation, the print quality leader is still HP-Indigo. Not one of the new digital label presses on display could match the quality of our current HP-Indigo WS4500 presses (other than HP’s own WS6000). There is far more competition for HP these days, which is healthy for everyone, but I left the show feeling that the technology we have today is still the best available.
Last week Guy Kawasaki had an interesting post on his blog about the color red. It has always been known as a powerful color - warning labels, stop signs, and danger signs use red the world over. Now, a new German study has concluded that red provides certain advantages for athletes. A study of tae kwon do matches noted that referees awarded 13 percent more points to athletes wearing red than athletes wearing other colors. Other studies have also shown that athletes in red out perform athletes wearing other colors. In golf Tiger Woods has long had a tradition of wearing a red shirt on the last round of a tournament and we all know the success he has achieved (of course, he could wear lime green shirts and still probably win just as much).
Red is a vibrant, rich color. Many of the largest companies in the world have adopted red as the company color. Coca Cola, Canon, Toshiba, Wells Fargo, and Toyota all feature red predominantly in their logo. The simple fact is that red stands out from almost all other colors, particularly lighter colors, and there is some evidence to suggest that most of us are attracted to red.
The psychology of color is a huge topic in its own right, but you can read this article from the UK for a quick synopsis. When it comes to product labels red can certainly make your product stand out. But as Kawasaki says, it is not for every kind of product. Red is not soft and soothing, so it is probably not the best color for lotions, balms or essential oils, but for many products it will work well. With one caveat. If your competition are all using red, then using an opposite color like green or blue might actually allow your product to stand out more on the supermarket shelf.