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I worked several years with companies in flexographic industry, companies in the converting industry and flexo trade shops as well, for those unaware, these companies are responsible for printing plastic packaging products that pack of our daily lives. Crackers, chips, toilet paper, toothpaste tube, everything that we buy in supermarkets. If you have any plastic pack at home, it was certainly flexographic printing method. There are other methods (such as rotogravure), but in this case I will adhere to flexography, or just flexo.

Flexo some time ago was the “ugly duckling” of the printing processes, was just a little more sophisticated than rubber stamps. Although today, most of the industry has modernized, printing machines were modernized, technology plates modernized, plate processing techniques, software, prepress equipment, and so on.

For years I sold systems that greatly improved the quality of clichés, which are the matrices, where the images are recorded to be printed. However, this method creates enormous challenges in printing quality and stability of the final printed material because such matrices are made from a flexible material (hence the name flexography) a polymer. The problem is that many things can affect such flexo plates. High temperatures, the oxygen exposure, washing, the UV lamp power, the pressure given in the flexo press, double sided tape holding the cliche, etc., in short, a myriad of variables that – in practice – affect the final print.

 

Plastic packaging image

 

As I’m no expert in the field, leaving the more technical discussions heated to the specialists, my colleagues. I otherwise followed the discussion and as quasi-layman I was so impressed to see that for me the print outs were excellent alongside other better ones, a non specialist could barely noticed the difference.

I always thought, what about the consumer? Yes, a housewife? A retired old man? The driver? Ordinary people in general? Never saw anyone with magnifying glass in hand looking for imperfections in packages in supermarkets, looking for the highest screen ruling, for the greater color saturation. Never heard anyone say – Oh! I will not buy this great toilet paper with the lowest price because the dots in the package are all “maxed out”. By the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of people looking forward a good promotion, the lowest price and the quality of the product ill all that matters!

I don’t want to hurt the feelings of dedicated professionals in the flexo packaging business, but I really always thought that “quality” discussion a big waste of time for a product that will end up invariably in the trash. Or does anyone think people will keep the packing as a remembrance? Decorating a child’s bedroom wall with potato chips packaging?

As I wanted a change of scenery, I left the company I was in and I moved to the calm place nearby the beach in Brazil, where the quality of life as unmatched. I walked on the beach every day and to my surprise I started to find the same plastic packs that I helped improve the quality, only this time polluting the beach. I’m not talking about any urban beach, I mean beaches the are are 25 miles away from the nearest large city. Found margarine tubs, several bags of all types of products. I noticed that especially after the heaviest rains, plastic packs began to appear on the beach.

My conclusion was the packaging that so well preserved foods, not let through the light, insects, and much more, are major polluters of the planet. Are derived from petroleum, fossil fuel, undergo a highly polluting manufacturing.

If nothing else, it was not uncommon to find dead turtles on the sand probably due to ingestion of plastic. So what good is the product printed with the best impression of the world with the best technology, involving the best equipment, software and professional, if the result of all this is a dead turtle? Why not apply the quality in the whole process? Specially the proper collection and recycling.

Who is responsible for the dead turtle? The industry that printed the packaging? The manufacturer that bought and packed the product? The citizen who threw the package out of the trash? The government that did not collect the trash properly?

Tricky question is not it? And I think the answer is also complicated, because everyone has their share of blame in this case. Note that I do not mean that the quality is not important. Just want to say that we have to think about the “Quality” as a whole. While any process fails, we will continue to see dead turtles and other marine animals, these are the only innocent in this whole story.

This 5 minutes presentation shows how bad plastic is to the environment.

Image of the TED presentation about plastic in the environment

 

 

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