Certification & Labels Recycling

How Circular Labels and Stickers May Enhance Polymer Recycling

This article by Jan Noordegraaf serves to further encourage the use of circular stickers and labels.

Recyclers consider a product recyclable when it meets the following four conditions:

  • The product must be made with a plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value
    and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program
  • The product must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processes 
  • The product can be processed and reclaimed/recycled with commercial recycling processes
  • The recycled plastic becomes a raw material that is used in the production of new products

In my opinion one additional element should be added as point 0. It is so crucial that it seems to be implied but is simply overlooked, because its choice starts when buying the labelling items.

  • The label attached to a product should be made of polymer that is compatible with the
    recycling processes.

There are for sure greater problems in recycling than to focuss on the labels and stickers used , but it is indeed helpful if there would be more consideration for the choice of labels.

Paper in particular creates a large waste stream that is becoming increasingly difficult to dispose of and therefore logically becomes more expensive. Moreover paper degrades during mechanical recycling and tend to turn the polymer brown, lowering the value for the user.

The best choice of material in terms of label is very dependent on the packaging, the method of collection and the method of sorting.

For PET bottles and bottles in general that are part of a deposit system, it is in all casesbeneficial for recycling if a PE or PP label or a PET sleeve is used. A full body sleeve, preferably to be made of a PET foil.

For PET trays, for example, also a shrink PE solution than a paper label like today or a fully glued PE or PP label.
Along the sme lines a PP label is fine for PP packaging. For HDPE bottles, an LDPE shrink sleeve is much better than a fully glued PE, PP or paper label.

EPS Fish boxes are mostly already labelled without paper and use ink jetting or PS labels, making that type of packaging designed for recycling, assisting to the high % of recycling of this packaging type already.

In short; (design for) recycling remains custom work! But why should we not work on a traffic light label system, which is proposed below. It would be helpful is the would be taken up as a suggestion for best practice by branche organisations like Plastics Europe, PRE, NRK, IK, Valipack etc..

Material To be Preferred for Stickers and Sleeves

There are already some encouraging development

  • March 2018 circular stickering was foreseen by Netherlands based Oerlemans Packaging and they offer a line of products , but very few companies have followed their example.
  • Avery Dennison in September 2019 introduced its CleanFlake Adhesive Technology, which is said to completely detach ink, label and glue from PET during the recycling process without sacrificing adhesion or aesthetics of packaging.

Contact Jan Noordegraaf for more info innograaf@gmail.com

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