Waste Recycling

By Steve Katz | July 21, 2008

As label converters strive for sustainability, it's important to take a look at what can become of the waste.

The Green Revolution has arrived and it has truly changed the manufacturing process. Now, production materials are scrutinized to the point where every facet of the workflow is under the microscope, its carbon footprint analyzed to a high degree. Label converters are more concerned than ever with greening up the workplace, just as customers are that much more insistent on purchasing and producing products that are environmentally friendly. While it may be relatively easy to determine a finished label's environmental sustainability, what about the part of the process that customers and end users don't see?

Environmentally responsible people don't simply take out the garbage anymore. In the past, it was referred to as garbage, trash, or waste. Today it's something more. It's also something that label converters get called out on. More than ever, customers want to know just how environmentally responsible their label supplier is. And after the workflow and finished product itself gets put under the Green microscope, the question is, what becomes of the waste? The answer can go one of two ways. Label waste can either be hauled to the landfill, or it can be reused and recycled. More focus is now placed on the latter, as technology, environmental innovation, and a sustainable way of thinking have paved the way for the label converter to have options when it comes to "taking out the garbage." However, despite the good, green intentions of those who strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible, there are roadblocks, among them availability and cost, that dot the road to sustainability.

A typical label company's label specific waste is made up of two components, matrix and liner. Matrix waste consists of paper or filmstock with adhesive coating and possibly ink. Liner waste is paper or film material composed of silicone and also possibly ink. These waste materials are specific byproducts of label production. In addition, a label company will also produce non-label waste such as wood pallets, cardboard, and everyday office waste. So, the recycling challenge posed to a label converter is significantly different than that of what a company in another industry may contend with.

An infrastructure problem

The fact that recycling policies in the United States vary from place to place is a roadblock when it comes to figuring out what to do in regard to waste recycling.

Amy Kovach, marketing leader for Avery Dennison's sustainability initiative, talks about how ambiguous recycling policies have label converters scratching their heads when it comes to thinking about waste recycling. "There's a lot of misconception and confusion when it comes to the recycling of label waste. For starters, every municipality has its own recycling structure, and this creates an awful lot of confusion. Unfortunately, in the United States we don't have federal legislation regulating what we can and can't recycle. So many people simply don't know the facts when it comes to the recyclability of certain materials."

Kovach brings to light problems within the US when it comes to municipal recycling programs. States provide recycling guidelines, but it is up to each city to implement them. Fasson says that over 42,000 cities in the US manage their own recycling policy based on tax generated revenue. This would certainly lead to a wide discrepancy among the scope and capability of programs nationwide. Also, recycling facilities are usually privately owned businesses within a community, and can use their own discretion when it comes to deciding who and what materials they are willing to work with.

While its considered common knowledge that materials such as newspaper, cardboard, or glass are easily and readily recyclable, it's not so much the case when it comes to a label converter's waste.
"It's not like you can simply throw your release liner in the bin and drag it out to the curb," says Kovach, adding "however, there are options."

Researching and seeking out these options is a good place to start.

Avery Dennison's initiative

The Fasson Roll North America division of Avery Dennison, Pasadena, CA, USA, a global leader in pressure sensitive technology and self-adhesive solutions for consumer products and label materials, has programs in place that speak directly to those who want to green up their products, workflow, and yes, even their garbage.

Fasson offers a variety of programs they call Eco-Sensitive Services. These services all vary in terms of specific strategies and goals, but what they all have in common is the same goal, a greener result. One such program, launched in May 2008, is Fasson's Liner Recycling Pilot Program. The program is designed to educate customers about which liners are most recyclable.

"All paper and film liner can be recycled, even those with silicone," says Kovach. "It's not a very difficult process either. It's a simply a matter of separating and bundling, and there is no pre-shredding needed. Industrial recyclers will take release liners and the companies that do this are spread out geographically."

Fasson's Liner Recycling program, in addition to educating and informing customers of their liner recycling options, also promotes liner material choices that are most environmentally friendly.

"The most common liner in the pressure sensitive industry has been paper, usually white. There is such a huge ecological advantage in moving to a brown liner," says Kovach. Fasson's literature states that brown liner performs identically to its white counterpart, and does not require bleach, chlorine or dye, which contaminates water supplies.

Avery Dennison promotes what it says is an even greener option, polyethylene (known as PET or film) liner. The company talks about the material's eco-benefits: "More labels per roll can be produced on film liners. 1.2 mil PET liner is thinner than paper liner and allows for more material to be wound on the same core. PET liner, because it is thinner and allows for more productivity per roll also requires a converter to use less inventory, which means less product needs to be shipped and stored, thereby reducing the carbon footprint." These characteristics of PET liner also translate to less waste.

In addition, PET liner has fewer web breaks compared with paper, thus reducing the amount of energy used while at the same time decreasing waste. Also, PET liner can easily be converted to energy pellets, according to Fasson.

Education and conversation

While eco-minded companies are doing what they can in terms of getting the word out in regard to the greening of label waste, the fact is that this is only the beginning. In the grand scheme of things, the label industry, and industry and society in general, is only just getting started when it comes to talking, practicing, and being green.

There are industrial recyclers out there working with label converters. However, the vast majority of label companies are still simply sending matrix and liner waste to the landfill. Availability, geography, and cost are all contributing factors.

Todd Fatino, director of manufacturing at Phenix Label, Olathe, KS, USA, says that his company is doing everything it can to become greener, but he laments that Phenix Label is still sending its pressure sensitive matrix waste to the landfill.

"There's simply not enough of these industrial recycling companies out there. Not only that, but there's also not enough education or conversation within the industry on the subject of label waste recycling," Fatino says.

"If you don't know where to take your waste for it to be recycled, you're at a loss on what to do. We're learning everything we can and we're doing everything we can, but unfortunately our geographic location makes it that much more difficult."

Fatino acknowledges that industrial recycling companies are out there, but says that either they're not letting themselves be known or they're simply too far away. With gas prices at an all-time high, shipping waste several hundred miles is simply not feasible. "It's not cost advantageous for certain companies to be as green as they would like. When that changes, the culture of recycling within our industry will also change," Fatino says.

So, for many, it takes green to be green.

For now, while actively searching for a recycling company to work with, Phenix Label will continue its own green initiatives.

"We've developed a new sales initiative where we're looking to stop selling bleached liner altogether. Our sales force is pushing film or a polycraft liner that is recyclable and more environmentally friendly. The biggest thing a label company can do is move customers toward film products as opposed to a bleached, white liner. We're really focused on educating our customers about the options available to them in terms of manufacturing a green product, one that is recyclable," Fatino says.

International Paper Products

International Paper Products Corporation (IPP) is a company that works with label converters in manufacturing scrap waste into what they refer to as Enviro Fuelcubes. IPP manufactures these fuel cubes at its plant in Westfield, MA, USA. The fuel cubes are manufactured not only from label matrix, but also from other non-recyclable waste materials such as coated and laminated papers, wax cardboard, textiles, Styrofoam, plastics, all types of packaging materials, wood products and process out-throws from various manufacturing process applications.

Above: International Paper Products' Enviro Fuelcubes
"Basically, what we use as feedstock to make our Enviro Fuelcubes are clean, energy-dense materials called SRM (Specification Raw Materials) which are sourced directly from the commercial business community before they become trash," says Jack Murphy, IPP's VP of SRM acquisition. Murphy says that one reason establishing a partnership with IPP makes sense for a label company is that there are so many other materials generated within a label plant that would qualify as SRM.

Metal, food waste, PVC, Teflon, glass, wet waste and hazardous waste do not qualify for IPP's fuel manufacturing process. However, with that said, it is important to point out that IPP does use aluminum foil laminated papers and films in its process.

Murphy says that IPP is a "materials lifecycle management company," and not simply a recycling company. He says, "First, we look to identify any potential recycling opportunity for the materials we source and for what we cannot find recycling opportunities for, we manufacture into Enviro Fuelcubes."
Once IPP makes the cubes, they are then supplied to power plants, cement kilns or process boilers as a clean alternative to fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Unlike fossil fuels, IPP's fuelcubes do not emit mercury or significant levels of sulfur. "It truly is a renewable, clean energy source manufactured strictly from materials that have no recyclable value and would otherwise continue to overwhelm landfills," says Murphy.

Before partnering with a company, a full facility survey is completed by IPP to identify the materials that qualify as recyclables and SRM feedstock. IPP reports the ability to reduce the waste by as much as 98 percent at a label company.

IPP states that it took in over 30,000 tons of material last year that would have gone to landfills. Of the 30,000 tons, 34 percent was recycled.

"Virtually nothing makes it to the landfill," Murphy says. "We save companies in the vicinity of 60-70 percent over their current landfill tipping fees and expenses. "It's not only tremendous cost savings but it is truly cutting edge from an environmental point of view."

Some label companies are fortunate when it comes to their geography and the relative availability of a capable recycler. Dion Label Printing, Westfield, MA, USA, is one such company and it truly takes full advantage of the special relationship it has with IPP, located nearby, also in Westfield.

Dion and IPP are located just a few miles from each other. The close proximity between the two operations, coupled with the high landfill costs in Massachusetts makes working together a great fit.
Stacey Santos, marketing coordinator for Dion, talks about the company's recycling program. "Massachusetts waste is taken out of state, so landfill costs are high. It costs about $85 to $100 per ton to landfill in Massachusetts. We save about half of that by having our waste turned into the Enviro Fuelcubes."

Dion has worked with IPP for three years now. While it certainly makes sense financially for Dion, Santos is adamant about a bigger picture. She says, "It's not a matter of being affordable or even saving money; it's a matter of helping to save our environment. Our waste is turned into the fuel cubes that are used as a substitute and in conjunction with coal. Not only does it save on the amount of coal used, but the cubes burn cleaner. So our landfills are not bombarded with unnecessary waste, and the air we breathe is not bombarded with more toxins. Gas is saved and air pollutants are not released into the air since our waste is no longer transferred out of state several miles, but rather right down the street to IPP."

Santos acknowledges the notion that Dion Label is fortunate, and its practices are not the norm. She talks about the aforementioned lack of conversation as well as the geographic roadblocks that many converters face when it comes to waste recycling.

"I think label converters aren't using services such as IPP simply because they don't know enough about them and also due to the proximity of these facilities to label converters. Lately, I've been getting requests for more information on pelletizing waste. With the growing environmental trend and the rising trend of matrix recycling, I suspect it's only going to grow in popularity," she says.

Northcoast Inc.

Northcoast Inc., located in Wickliffe, OH, USA, is a 70,000 square foot recycling facility that is eager to work with label converters. Founded by Chet Green in 1990 as a full service recycler, Northcoast prides itself on its ability to custom design a recycling program to meet the specific needs of label companies.

Northcoast's place in the recycling process is essentially right in the middle. It accepts both matrix and liner waste. Green says the vast majority of the label waste the company works with eventually ends up in China, where it's melted and converted to a plastic pellet. He says there are two types of plastic pellets, repro-pellets and virgin pellets. The PET label waste will often become repro-pellets which are then used in a variety of packaging constructions.

As far as label waste goes, Green says "PET films and silicone release liners have the most value." He talks about how the system works, "First, we conduct a careful examination of the samples sent to us from would-be recyclers. For us to use it, it can't be wet or dirty, and there can't be any pieces of pallet mixed into the waste. Silicone has to be baled because of its volume and the absence of weight."

"We'll do whatever we can on our end to facilitate the process, but it really depends on the willingness of the recycler that determines if its going to work," Green says. "The materials have to be segregated and condensed. You can't just throw everything into a gaylord and send it on its way. But we'll work with you if you're serious about it. We're willing to place a baler in your plant and even assume the cost and do the training."

"For the most part," Green says, "label companies that we're recycling for do a pretty nice job of baling and separating. The ideal scenario is to be able to place 40,000 pounds of waste on each trailer. We'll comingle the waste. We'll try and be creative in order to make it work. It's a partnership."

While acknowledging that high fuel and shipping costs serve as a deterrent to getting involved, Green says, "If a company is dedicated, we can work something out."

Green is passionate about what he does, and points out what he feels are misconceptions among label companies who strive to be environmentally friendly. "Some people are printing labels and they're getting pushed to use biodegradable products. While their intentions are good, it doesn't help the recycling industry, as more waste will end up in the landfill. If you want to be environmentally responsible, put together a recycling program. Ask questions, call your local government and start now. Get on the bandwagon," he says.

The Artek Pavilion

UPM is one of the world's leading forest industry groups as well as a global leader in the manufacturing of label materials. The company recently embarked on an endeavor that has everything to do with art, design, sustainability, and label waste.

In 2007 UPM collaborated with Artek, a Finnish design company, along with internationally recognized Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, to construct the Artek Pavilion. The pavilion is a structure designed for re-use and mobility, its elements pre-built and constructed in Finland, the home of both UPM and Artek. It is 40 meters long and five meters wide, and can be taken down and reassembled with relative ease. Embodying environmental awareness and the two companies' dedication to sustainability, the pavilion is constructed using one basic recycled material: self-adhesive labels.

On June 14, this structure was prominently featured as part of the sale of Important 20th Century Design at the world famous Sotheby's auction house in New York City.

Dan O'Connell, vice president, UPM Raflatac, talks about UPM's role in supplying the raw materials used to build the Artek Pavilion: "The waste from the pressure sensitive material that UPM manufactures, the label converter's waste that's been printed and diecut, and ultimately the silicone release liner left over from the end user, becomes processed to become a wood-plastic composite product. This product is the material used to construct the pavilion."

The Artek Pavilion is made entirely from self adhesive label waste.
The wood-plastic composite is called UPM ProFi. "The pavilion is a perfect match of UPM's drive in product innovation and Artek's world-class design," says Markku Koivisto, director, UPM ProFi. "We are continuously researching new ways of reducing waste at all stages of our products' lifecycles. UPM ProFi is a great example of our sustainable approach to business and the flexibility to think across traditional lines of business," Koivisto says.

O'Connell explains how Shigeru Ban came to be involved with the project. "Basically, he works with natural materials, and when he heard about our composite, he saw some pieces of it and decided to create a pavilion to showcase it as being a reusable product."

The three entities involved with the project, UPM, Artek, and Ban, decided to auction off the pavilion at Sotheby's and give the proceeds to charity.

"The exciting thing about this," O'Connell says, "is that it really enables us to not only recycle but to also reuse the pressure sensitive material and really complete the chain. This is an opportunity for us to show how we can reuse the material and make lots of things out of it. Right now, we're primarily using it to make decking material for the European market, but there are just so many possibilities."

O'Connell says that UPM has recently announced the development of a new 125,000 square foot factory outside of Stuttgart, Germany, that will mainly produce decking materials made from recycled waste. The materials will come from Raflatac factories as well as nearby label converters.
"We will take Raflatac waste, label converter matrix waste, and end user liner waste – bring it all in and process it into decking material," he says.

O'Connell visualizes a greener future. "I think with this recycle and reuse concept, what's going to happen is people are going to choose pressure sensitive over other types of technologies because we're going to have a system in place that's going to be able to truly recycle and reuse, possibly to the point of entirely eliminating landfill in our process. The reason we can do this is because each of the three members of the value chain has control of the waste. We've been trying to promote pressure sensitive technology as the preferred method of decorating, and we think this really completes that."

The Artek Pavilion was sold for a winning bid of $500,000. The unnamed buyer is reported to be a New York gallery owner who will use it as a mobile exhibition space at art and design fairs.


Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group (CRG), Chicago, a company that provides pressure sensitive, liner, paper and film products for the packaging industry. CRG is also a recycler, specializing in processing roll stock and silicone coated release liner.

While it's been suggested among some in the labeling industry that there is a need for an increase in education and conversation on the topic of waste recycling, Frost doesn't want to hear it.

"I am flabbergasted to hear that label converters would say that we need more education and dialogue on waste recycling in our industry. I don't buy it. We have talked about liner recycling and waste-to-energy applications for matrix disposal for years. Anyone who says, 'if I only knew,' is either lazy, stupid, or doesn't care. I'm tired of hearing this. In fact, this is one of the reasons I've become so cynical about the greening of our industry," Frost says.

Frost feels that all too often label converters have a one-track mind. He acknowledges that they're thinking "green," but its the other green, not the one that people associate with sustainability. Recently, Frost was in Paris attending FINAT's annual meeting. One of the presentations left an impression.

"I heard two packaging experts from L'Oreal criticize our industry because there wasn't a solution for spent liner. Once again, I was astonished. If there is a disconnect, it is between the converter and the end user. The converter wants to sell labels. That's it. The converter does not believe he has any other responsibility. Indeed, presenting liner recycling schemes to his customer, in my opinion, completes the sale. The converter talks green but those who walk the walk are far and few between."

Frost feels that it is dollars and cents that play a vital role in sustainability practices making sense for label converters. "The issues here are economic and dependent on logistics and packaging. While matrix recycling reduces the carbon footprint it may not be cost effective. At the end of the day, this is when you determine who is truly green."

As far as what CRG offers, Frost says, "Channeled Resources has a variety of solutions for liner recycling and we believe we are close to a solution in specific regions for matrix recycling. We will announce this program within the next 12 months."

To be continued...

Environmental themes have become mainstream issues in recent years. Whether it's rising gas prices, global warming, or waste recycling, it's clear that the global population at large has no choice but to take note of the natural world that surrounds us, and the toll human being's reliance and dependence on Earth's resources has taken.

Some simply wonder what we can do about sustainability. Others actively explore options and there are even some who are in the business of creating options.

Business. Label converters are in business to create labels. Recyclers are in the business of recycling. But in the end, it's the business of the human race to keep the world inhabitable, and the way we dispose of what we no longer want or need can go a long way in determining how we're perceived by our peers and customers. Surely, the conversation has begun, and whether one is a listener or a participant, more than ever, people are paying attention. Some, like UPM and Avery Dennison, have even gone ahead and made significant progress.

Cost and availability are formidable hurdles as far as how feasible waste recycling is for label companies. Perhaps this conversation will soon shift from talking about the obstacles and lack of education, to how so many label companies are taking advantage of recycling options by getting over, through, and beyond these hurdles.