Choosing more sustainable materials
Label converters seeking sustainability improvements must now consider a wide range of different issues which begin with raw material sourcing, and extend all the way through to end of product life – with many challenges along the way. So, how do you choose well?
by Luuk Zonneveld
The move towards more and more sustainability has been and remains very rapid. All manufacturers are having to respond not only to regulatory requirements but also to consumer demands, and an effective response depends on the constant development of new ideas and solutions.
Brand owners and converters need access to the proactive innovation that can help them to drive sustainability further. This enables positive brand messages and supports marketing. It also avoids potential damage to the brand if products with a poor reputation for sustainability are highlighted in the press or social media. Label converters now have to take into account sustainability issues as diverse as chemical use and film compositions; greenhouse gas emission reductions; sourcing of certified materials and landfill-free operations.
Raw materials and certification
Sourcing is a crucial element and more sustainable sourcing can be achieved across all classes of material, including plastics. For example, Avery Dennison bio-based PE film uses a Bonsucro-certified polyethylene facestock made entirely from sugar cane ethanol. Papers are also available that have been made using crop waste and post-consumer waste.
However, virgin fibres used for paper manufacture are still extremely important in the labelling industry, and the certification of paper materials used in mainstream applications remains especially significant because of the high production volumes involved.
There are several certification schemes around, but the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is probably the best known. It has earned a reputation as the most rigorous, credible forest certification system available. When opting for an FSC material, converters need to be sure they are using a chain-of-custody (CoC) certified supplier.
It is also important to maintain product choice and commercial flexibility. Wider adoption of certified labelling materials depends on commercial viability, which means that certified solution applications such as food, wine and spirits and dairy should be price neutral. The next step is to increase the use of FSC-certified liner in order to help filmic materials meet FSC certification criteria.
Three hundred thousand tonnes of liner waste are dealt with in Europe each year. Collaborative recycling schemes across Europe are working to reduce the amount of material going to landfill and to create better recycled materials. Improvements in processes means that it is now possible to make new food-grade containers from recycled PET (rPET). Benefits can extend beyond the environmental impacts – for example, a cider-maker in the UK now recycles large amounts of rPET resin and uses it to make microwave trays, seeing cost savings at the same time.
The Cycle4Green (C4G) paper recycling programme is a pan-European initiative that recycles paper release liner waste entirely into new paper, with sustainability gains and cost savings for label converters. Landfill disposal in Europe costs up to EUR 120 per tonne, whereas Cycle4Green offers waste collection programmes that are often free of charge. Processing technology provided by C4G partner Lenzing Papier GmbH removes silicone from paper fibres, and then reuses the fibre material in the production of recycled fine and speciality papers.
Using compostable packaging, labels, printing inks and adhesives allows converters to address applications where recycling is difficult for practical reasons such as heavily contaminated post-consumer packaging. An entire package with its residual contents can then be composted, including the adhesive and printing ink.
Three main criteria
Avery Dennison’s ClearIntent portfolio has to meet at least one of three main sustainability criteria. The first is responsible sourcing, where it has been verified that a certain amount of the product’s content comes from sustainably sourced materials. The second is a reduction in material use. A product must offer comparable performance to a conventional alternative, or superior performance, while using less material. The third focuses on recycling, requiring a material to be recyclable itself, or to be made of recycled content, or to enable recycling of other materials.