Letters From The Earth

Waste or by-product?

April 27, 2007

During a recent AWA conference on release liners, Corey Reardon, principal of AWA, summarized the key factors affecting global demand for liners. His final slide was titled, "Threats". There were three: linerless labels, waste and alternative technologies, those that do not utilize release liners.

I felt vindicated because I've been talking about two of these threats for years. Now I sense, at least in Europe, that companies are beginning to listen. I believe that "waste" is the single most negative aspect of pressure sensitive labeling. We must focus on solving this issue if we are going to achieve growth. I believe that the end user will demand — without, mind you, the requirement of compliance to regulatory law — that suppliers reduce waste. The generator of PSA waste must find satisfactory solutions to waste and by-product. It will make no difference whether you are a converter or an OEM making the PSA substrate. You will both ultimately be held accountable by your customer.

How do we distinguish the difference between waste and by-product? In my world, "waste" has no redeeming value. It is matter that goes to the landfill because we don't know what else to do with it. By-product, on the other hand, has value because it has another use. Pressure sensitive roll label stock generates both categories. The waste category, it should be noted, could be easily turned into by-product if generators would make solutions a priority in their company business models.

Spent release liner is by-product. Alternatives to landfilling spent liner exist. Programs and sensible logistical solutions for recycling these liners, both paper and film, are available. The key here, of course, is that the converter must provide the solution to his customer, the end user, as part of his service as a total, reliable, environmentally compliant vendor. Is this happening today? In general, no! I know of only one converter, Skanem in Europe, that offers solutions to keeping spent liner out of landfills as part of its sales package. Skanem makes it a priority to provide alternatives to landfilling spent liner. It has embraced its responsibility wholeheartedly, and the results have been excellent. This company has proven that liner as a by-product can be easily diverted from the solid waste stream.

Why don't others provide information and solutions for the correct handling of spent liner? It is certainly not for a lack of information. My only conclusion is that converters don't care. Well, they had better care. Other identification technologies that don't use release liners will continue to grow at the expense of PSA.

What about "waste"? In our industry matrix is waste. Matrix, as we know and handle it today, has no value. It is landfilled and costs the converter money. I've always wondered if there are any converters who have said to their PSA supplier that they'd like a credit based on the disposal cost of matrix on future purchases! Wow, wouldn't that cause a flurry of gamesmanship.

In Europe that very discussion is occurring. "You make it, it's yours, from cradle to grave." And, by the way, Europe doesn't like graves. They prefer cradle to cradle, i.e., sustainability. Best of all, they like solutions to waste and by-product.

In my view, matrix does not have to be waste. If generators would commit to diverting matrix from their solid waste stream it would turn a significant, ugly part of our business into a positive. The best, most practical, solution to keeping matrix out of our solid waste stream is to divert it to waste-to-energy facilities.

Most waste-to-energy facilities use a variety of feed stocks. Bio-mass, a conglomerate of cellulosic materials, is heavy in moisture. We get only 3,000 to 4,000 BTUs per pound. Coal, the most popular feed stock because of price and availability, generates 8,000 to 11,000 BTUs per pound. But we spend an enormous amount of money in transporting the coal, destroying our land with mining, and generating large amounts of ash when we burn it.

Matrix, a mixture of both paper/film and glue, generates 6,000 to 8,000 BTUs per pound, which is right in the middle of bio-mass and coal. Matrix, however, generates less ash and emissions than coal and is available in large volumes in closer distances to points of consumption than coal.

There are a host of waste-to-energy facilities throughout the United States that can consume matrix. As a feed stock it is desirable. Regular volumes allow these facilities to meter the intake of bio-mass and coal and create recipes that are advantageous in terms of transportation cost, cost of material, processing costs, and waste generated.

Then why, for goodness sakes, don't we see more matrix diverted to these waste-to-energy facilities? The answer: The economics don't work. Let me give you an example.

In southern Ohio matrix can be landfilled for approximately $40 to $45 per ton. Waste-to-energy diversion results in a $15 per ton premium because of transportation costs. Keep in mind, matrix shipments don't generate additional energy costs. Trucks frequently move empty from point A to point B. Loading these vans on a back haul basis to points of consumption makes good environmental and economic sense. The cost premium occurs because the waste-to-energy facilites must charge a tipping fee to make money. If you add the transportation to the tipping fee, it's cheaper to landfill.

In one case that I studied it cost the generator about $36,000 per year to send matrix to be converted to energy. That's about $100 per day.

Who generates matrix?

What if an end user made waste to energy disposal of matrix a requirement for solidifying a supply position? Would it be worth $100 a day, or even $200 a day, to satisfy the customer?

I am convinced that this will occur. I am convinced that each one of us in the supply chain must be prepared to sacrifice profit if our industry is to grow and be competitive with other available technologies.

The issue is quite simple: Make a commitment to divert waste and by-product from your solid waste stream regardless of cost. Our process generates "the stuff" and we have to decide whether to be environmentally friendly or not. We don't have the complex problem of deciding whether corn is better as food or energy. We're not concerned with being dependent on off-shore energy supply or growing, harvesting and burning trees for fuel. I urge our industry leaders to be proactive rather than reactive. We must protect our industry and solve associated environmental issues before we are affected by either compliance or competitive issues.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently observed that coal produces more than 30 percent of the USA's carbon dioxide emissions. The authors of the report argue that the most effective way to reduce emissions is to attach a significant price to carbon emissions, either as a carbon tax or through a "cap and trade" program similar to those being discussed in the US Congress. The report concludes that forcing people to pay to pollute is probably the easiest way to bring new technologies to commercial scale and reduce pollution.

I agree, and I would rather pay $100 per day to reduce my carbon tax by providing feed stocks that are lower in carbon dioxide than coal.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group (CRG), headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His e-mail address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.