SOHAIL SETHI, MD of AA Labels, examines where we are and where we’re heading when it comes to sustainability in label manufacturing…
Sustainability is a constant improvement issue for the label and packaging industries. This comes as companies, and consumers, increasingly make purchase decisions based on environmental considerations. Label producers that ignore this trend do so to the detriment of building strong relationships with their customers for whom these issues are of ever growing importance.
One of the most prevalent actions being taken by label manufacturers around the country is the use of recycled paper, and FSC approved paper face stocks for all products. We hold a preference for the use of biodegradable paper labels on packaging and products, as these materials can be recycled. If a biodegradable label is attached to a metal or plastic, it will easily be burnt off during the recycling process. Unfortunately, we’re still seeing high usage of popular plastic label face-stocks within the industry e.g. Polyethylene, Polyester and Polypropylene. These are more difficult to dispose of and consequently have very low recycling rates.
The most recent changes in label manufacturing surround the disposal of the label release-liner. These liners are
trimmed during manufacturing to create the width of label roll or sheet required. They’re either paper or plastic-based film sheets, used to prevent the adhesive surface of the label from prematurely adhering and are coated with a release agent. They can’t be disposed of in landfill sites as a consequence of the chemical agents used and because plastic films are non-biodegradable.
What we’re really excited about is the innovative solution for this, which is being developed by the British Printing Industries Federation (BPiF labels). BPiF is the special interest group for the self-adhesive label printing sector. BPiF has teamed with an organisation called Prismm to develop what they’re calling the Prismm scheme. This is a method for the waste material to be baled and burnt as fuel for kilns used in brick and concrete component manufacturing.
Although this is not entirely carbon-neutral due to the gases released through incineration, this can be compensated through offset schemes and is preferable to current alternatives.
We’re also pleased to see the move to water-based acrylics in adhesives and release liners. As water-based acrylics are soluble, they’re a lot easier to dispose of.
A WAY TO GO
As an industry, we’ve come a long way over recent years in developing environmental awareness around products and materials, but an area we still see a need for improvement is end-user disposal awareness. There’s so much more
that could be done by printers and manufacturers to increase the likelihood that consumers and end-users are disposing of their products and labels in the most environmentally effective way.
One step in the right direction could be overprinting the reverse of label-release liners with information about the material. This could include instruction about the correct disposal in both household and commercial refuse terms.
AA Labels set an ambitious goal of zero landfill and total waste management back in 2014, and we have been steadily working towards this objective since. The objective was primarily set on the basis of good stewardship and environmental awareness in relation to recycling. But we also became aware that it made good business sense as we were increasingly being questioned on our environmental efforts by customers.
In the manufacturing process, we measure and record the amount of waste destined for disposal, and receive an audit trail from the waste disposal contractors used, along with certification that waste containing silicone and prohibited chemicals have not been sent for landfill. On top of this, we’re currently evaluating and working with manufacturers of vacuum extraction equipment to have our waste removed during label conversion. This will be the first step in preparation for participation in the new Prismm scheme, as our waste will then be able to be ‘baled’ in preparation for transportation and incineration.
The materials used in our label packaging, which are cardboard and fluted board for the outer protection, are all sourced from recycled material. The inner and outer bags for smaller label quantities are similarly sourced from recycled granular materials. Although we cannot guarantee correct disposal by the end-user, we include disposal instructions on the bags and we believe there is a steady growth in awareness regarding the separation and allocation of waste materials.
We are still very much at the start of this journey, but would like to think that over the next two to three years we will continue to make significant changes in the way that we dispose of manufacturing and packaging waste. And we’d love to encourage other manufacturers to do the same.