Industry leaders gathered at this year's TLMI Technical Conference in Chicago to discuss - among several other topics - sustainable labeling solutions. Session Chairs Cindy White of Channeled Resources Group and Darrell Hughes of Avery Dennison Materials Group North America opened the floor to a panel of five experts with several decades of experience between them. On the panel was Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of sales and purchasing at Envison Plastics; Weilong Chiang, senior principal engineer at PepsiCo; Mitch Rackovan, principal scientist at Avery Dennison; Jeff Sherwood, technical sales representative at Flint Group Packaging and Narrow Web; and Joel Schmidt, market development manager at Outlook Group Corporation.
Ettefagh, who has more than 26 years of experience in the areas of recycling and plastic recycling, opened the session with a presentation that examined the difficulties faced by plastic recyclers, and took a look at what label manufacturers can do to make the recycling of plastics easier. According to Ettefagh, its not only policy that drives recycling initiatives. Consumer product companies have made it a priority to have their plastic packages collected and recycled, and to incorporate recycled content into their packaging. To put the growth of recycling initiatives into perspective, Ettefagh told the audience that HDPE recycling grew from "nothing" to a half billion pounds in 1996. The need for continued research, development, and innovation is critical, she said. "There is no such thing as a plastic so good it can just be thrown out," she said.
Chiang has lead several sustainability projects at PepsiCo, including a recent and extensive study to identify the key features of recycling-compatible shrink labels. During the course of this study, Chiang said, he had the opportunity to visit several recyclers. At one site, he had the opportunity to see firsthand the number of contaminated bales kept in a storage yard. There were hundreds, all filled with shrink, pressure-sensitive, metalized, and other specialty labels. While his focus has been on shrink labels, Chiang drove home the point that recycling solutions for any and all materials need to be found - and the sooner, the better. Shrink labels that are compatible with PET recycling are emerging, he said, but the driving force behind progress in this field will be continued collaboration between brand owners and label converters.
Rackovan's work at Avery Dennison has included the design of products intended to mesh with a PET container value stream through the recycling process. He was part of the team that established the Engineered Films business and the launch of Primax and FasClear film products. He also develops adhesives designed to meet the performance and cost demands in the beer and beverage markets. His presentation focused on the recycling of pressure sensitive labels. The biggest problem, he said, is that today's pressure sensitive labels limit PET recyclability, prohibiting recyclability into food-grade rPET (due to adhesive contamination). The solution, he said, is a "switchable" pressure sensitive label which adheres to a PET bottle until the end of the cycle, where the cohesive bond is broken (at the recycler), thereby allowing the PSL facestock and adhesive to cleanly separate from the PET flake. The key market drivers for this solution, he said, are numerous. The use of rPET reduces US dependence on foreign oil and petrochemicals; the recycling industry alone employs more than 450,000 Americans and generated $10.3 billion in domestic tax revenues; and for every pound of rPET flake used, energy is reduced by 84% and greenhouse gas emission by 71%.
Sherwood's presentation focused on the recycling of flexographic inks. The bottom line in terms of recycling flexo inks, he said, is that there can be no staining to PET flakes. Printed labels are required to meet APR's Guidelines for PET Thermoform Labels and Adhesives for Compatability with PET Recycling, and each label has to be evaluated and tested as a unique construction. One hurdle, he said, is that testing is expensive; costs can run up to approximately $5000 per submission. For his work in recycling flexo inks, pre-qualification testing was performed by Avery Dennison. Numerous construction combinations were tested with different inks and APR-approved substrates. The results were varied, he said, but generally paper constructions failed. Films performed far better. Constructions with an OPV or lamination performed the best. Of the colors tested, he added, yellow and black stained the PET flakes more than others. Unprotected inks - which include those printed directly on paper or on a film without a lamination or UV OPV - broke down significantly more when mixed with the caustic solution, he said. UV and water-based inks appeared to perform the same in terms of breaking down into solutions with or without the OPV or lamination. Looking towards the future of flexo ink recycling, Sherwood said some possibilities include alternative pigments (though they could be costly), alternative barriers on paper, alternative ink chemistries (including different resin systems), and solvent-based inks.
Finally, Schmidt offered a converter's perspective on sustainable label solutions. He outlined his customers' sustainable label demands, which include source and waste reduction, a greater use of sustianable materials (including renewable, bio-based, and PCR), greener end-of-life options, and above all else, practicality. His customers, Schmidt said, want zero operational impact and it must be either cost-neutral or offer cost savings. He said that there are three key strategies for success: broader industry partnerships, expanded technical expertise, and extensive customer engagement. Part of this strategy, he said, is simiply to communicate the benefits of sustainability in a way that customers can readily understand.
"Frame sustainability in the language of business and explain how your solution will impact your customers' key business objectives," he said.