"Sustainability is in the process, not just in the materials"

26/07/2023 - label printing

For Reynders, sustainability means above all producing labels as efficiently as possible in combination with care for the environment and people. It does this through its own ERP system. "Sustainable labelling is not only about the material," says sales director Marco Van Hooff of REYNDERS label printing.

The acquisition of German company Schäfer labels prompted a visit to REYNDERS label printing headquarters in Antwerp for an in-depth interview. In Boechout, we spoke to Bart and Sebastiaan Reynders, third generation in the family business and sales director Marco Van Hooff. Above all, we wanted answers to a topical question: what does sustainable labelling mean to Reynders? Is it something that involves ally the label material and the choice of machine, or is it broader? And of course we were also curious about how the recent, surprising takeover of Schäfer labels had come about.


According to Marco Van Hooff, producing labels that are as environmentally friendly as possible is not higher mathematics. "Above all, you have to make logical material choices in combination with the packaging on which the label will be placed. Which type of label do you choose for which type of packaging? A paper label may seem the most ecological in itself, but on a PET bottle, for example, it is not. After all, you then have two different materials, making the whole thing difficult to recycle. So you have to look at the choice of label material per application."


In doing so, Reynders outlined a step-by-step plan with a gradation from more to less 'green'. Marco Van Hooff nuances: "We start from triple R: responsible sourcing, reducing and, if not possible, recycling. We do not only look at the return of investment, but also at all environmental effects. For example, the family wants solar panels on all their premises. Just as we already have in Boechout and Pamplona and will soon have on the REYNDERS pharmaceutical labels premises. For the branches in Poland, we are thinking about wind turbines. On our roofs in Boechout and Libramont we have green roofs to collect water. We use that to flush our toilets, because for the rest our water consumption is not very high. All those investments are not the most profitable from a short-term financial point of view, but completely focused on continuity in the future. That is a very clear difference between a family business and companies owned by private investors. There is nothing wrong with that in itself either, they make different choices."


Besides label production per se, Reynders has also been implementing sustainability measures for years. Bart Reynders, commercial responsible for Reynders pharmaceutical labels: "For a customer, we replaced single-use cardboard boxes as shipping packaging with returnable plastic bins that can be used several times. And in the Tosca project, we use multi-use plastic pallets instead of wooden pallets which are damaged much faster. We are also looking critically at the use of plastic packaging and have already reduced our consumption by 121 tons annually. We have been collecting the backing material of labels to recycle for 15 years."


Marco Van Hooff in turn: "And we are moving towards using post consumer waste (PCW), instead of post industrial plastic waste (PIW). Packaging will always exist, consumers are not - yet - going to pick up their products at the department store in packaging they brought themselves. Consumers also still put convenience as a requirement. Plastic is also a very nice material. It's just how you handle it. Then you have to make choices. For instance, I do think we are moving away from coloured PET because it disrupts the recycling process. Together with some companies specialised in recycling, we have drawn up a guideline on the most sustainable and best recyclable materials. It is important that it fits into the recycling streams, because these are not unlimited. So if you want to be sustainable, you have to choose from those. And we, as Reynders, can offer labels with RFID: if a customer wants to trace the packaging to possibly re-collect it. The big question is whether he wants to pay for that. We can only advise him and not enforce anything. That is only possible if there is legislation. We don't have that ambition either. You have to know your place. Bart Reynders: "We are only the converter, who can process the material as sustainably as possible. The customer has to want to pay for it, otherwise it is not profitable for us either, you have no earning model and then it is quickly over."


Reynders reinforces its sustainability philosophy by participating in various international projects. For instance, Reynders has joined the CDP (carbon disclosure project) to reduce its CO,-consumption as much as possible. At Ecovadis which assesses a company on various sustainability criteria, Reynders even scores gold. It is also closely involved in the Holy Grail project, in which every plastic packaging is provided with a digital watermark, allowing everything to be sorted during recycling, thus enabling much better recycling. A project that is in advanced pilot phase with a tentative market launch. Marco Van Hooff: "There will be a major roll-out in France in 2024. But it all has to be paid for."

For Reynders, all these sustainability measures throughout the chain are the opposite of green washing. Marco Van Hooff: "We also do little marketing around this, but do so because we believe in it as a company; it is the only way with a future. A company that hasn't started this now, or indeed started it two years ago, with sustainable production, is not going to survive."


According to Reynders, sustainability in itself also has to do with the choice of technique. Sebastiaan Reynders: "We do not think according to technical visions but rather what is the best solution for the customer. Printing should be done by the company in as few steps as possible and then delivered to the customer as efficiently as possible. IT is the key here. That is why we have developed our own ERP system. The most durable materials and the best machines anyone can buy."

Speaking of technology: Reynders sees that because of Covid-19, the advance of digitisation has stalled. "Due to looming material shortages, customers were opting more for larger runs printed in a traditional way anyway. You also have to ask yourself whether it makes sense and is sustainable if you place orders of a hundred pieces, which are delivered in two or three days. And flexo then continues to hold its value. By the way, digital also has a lot of potential for the future."

We see our customers as partners, Bart Reynders outlines the company's philosophy.


"95 per cent of our customers from the early days are still customers of ours." That remained true even after Covid, a period with supply problems for every label printer. We moved away from the principle of just-in-time purchasing. Important mission was to keep supplying customers and not to put our staff on economic unemployment. We therefore purchased as much stock as possible, without wanting to disrupt the market. It was also important to be creative with alternatives that allowed us, together with our customers, to maintain continuity. We communicate a lot and that is something we were doing even before Covid-19. We always keep our customers informed about what is going on and give them advice so that they can make the best possible decision. For example, in addition to supply challenges, we also had to deal with several price increases from our suppliers. We had to implement these in order not to jeopardise our own continuity. We have always given our customers transparency, which inspires confidence. Then there is understanding from customers and they also see that you absolutely do not want to take advantage of the situation."

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