Article

Boosting recyclability through labels with Essentra Packaging

18 Mar 2022

With increasing consumer awareness of the impact of the products they buy on the environment, the team at Essentra Packaging is continuously working with our customers and suppliers to develop new solutions to boost the sustainability performance of our cartons, leaflets, and labels.

Understanding that small changes can make a big impact, Essentra Packaging recognises that improving the recyclability of labels can support the recycling industry to operate more efficiently and importantly, make consumer recycling easier.

Check out Essentra Packaging's 5 tips to increase recyclability through labels:

1. Choosing the right substrate

The substrate chosen for a label should relate to the primary or secondary packaging that it is being applied to. For the recycling process to be optimised, utilising the same label substrate as the packaging material – harmonising the materials - means the label does not need to be separated post-consumer use e.g., a polyethylene (PE) bottle requires a PE label, a carton requires a paper-based label. This simplifies disposal for the consumer and enables a single stream of material to be supplied to the recycler avoiding contamination. By creating the mono-material stream, the production of clean recycled material has a higher economic value.

2. Understanding recycling availability

Unfortunately, recycling availability and efficiency varies around the world, depending on the material selected. For example, paper and cardboard have well organised collections in most mature economies, are easy to separate, there is an abundance of recyclers, and valuable markets for the recycled materials; the same can be said for glass, metals, and PET. However, the picture deteriorates when PE, PP and PS plastic films are used as label media. These materials generally have less available collection routes, a reduced number of recyclers, and, in general, less markets for the resulting recyclate. Label recyclability is therefore not just about material choice but the reality of whether it will actually be collected and recycled for further use.

3. Designing for recyclability

Labels can hinder the packaging recycling process unless designed for easy separation and segregation. According to the American Recyclers Association (APR) “For a PET container, 80 per cent of the problem with recycling that container can be eliminated if you use the right label.” As compatibility with the recycling stream is key, Essentra Packaging has developed wash-off labels that allow labels to easily and cleanly detach from bottles in a conventional bottle washer. In addition, we offer wash-off paper labels that can be used in a variety of applications that enable reusability of glass and plastic packaging or support the material recycling process.

4. Size does matter!

Label coverage is one important aspect that needs to be taken into account when designing packs for recyclability.

Within the recycling process, colour sorting equipment needs to detect the pack or container colour beneath the printed label. If the surface is covered by a large label, this can impede the process either causing packs to end up in the incorrect colour waste stream or even be rejected from the system. Unfortunately, if the label coverage is too high - as a percentage of the pack, false near infrared (NIR) readings are generated resulting in the incorrect combination of materials for single stream processing.

Accordingly, The Association of Plastic Recyclers has laid down specific recommendations on acceptable coverage for PET containers specifically, to minimise incorrect colour sortation – 55% for containers <550ml and 70% for >550ml containers. No guidelines are available yet on label coverage recommendations for HDPE containers.

5. Use of recycled materials

Finally, to further support the closed loop production philosophy, Essentra Packaging offers a range of label substrates containing renewable or recycled content creating a truly closed loop solution to label design. We are stepping up the use of recycled paper and expanding our range including coated papers, which are especially attractive in view of their broad application scope. In addition, we offer PET and PE base films incorporating recycled content to reduce the pressure on using virgin feedstocks.

For more information on how to boost your label recyclability, talk to Essentra Packaging: [email protected]