Letters From The Earth

Liner recycling: The converter is the solution

October 7, 2009

In late July I was talking to a converter on the West Coast of the United States. We have been friends for quite a while. I don't remember when we'd first met, probably at an FTA function, but we have chatted and visited over the years. My friend is a very challenging guy, always asking questions and wondering why this or that won't work. This summer he identified the basic problem for liner recycling, whether film or paper. I'd like to share some of our dialogue with you.

"I have more questions regarding liner recycling and how we can get back on track," he wrote, "in particular, with Mylar (PET) waste. I think PET waste liner is the no brainer topic for recycling because it can be used for regrind. If a PET waste program can sustain itself, a paper liner program could grow out of the PET liner waste success story."

Now, what he didn't know at that time was that an initiative was just beginning to repulp paper release liners – "spent liners" – in both Europe and the US. A startup company, Cycle4Green, was in formation; in fact, just formalized in September. The entire purpose and focus of Cycle4Green is to repulp used paper release liners. After the silicone is removed, the desiliconized pulp is sent to paper companies that blend this with virgin pulp as fiber for base stock for silicone coating applications. This is pretty neat because Cycle4Green actually completes the life cycle: base with spent liner, to silicone coating, to the converter, to the end user, to the recycler, and back to the base stock manufacturer. Pretty simple, right? Not so fast, and back to my friend's primary point.

He continued in his note to me: "We have one customer who uses about one billion cubic inches of material (currently a paper liner) who is thinking of going to a PET liner. Their motivation is that their clamshells are currently thermoformed PET. They would be able to blend waste PET liner with virgin PET and make a recycled clamshell. However, they don't have enough PET liner waste to satisfy the volume of material required to thermoform their clamshells." And, of course, their customer wants to state that their clamshells are "manufactured with 100 percent recycled materials."

Hence, the problem, and it is the same problem that Cycle4Green will face with spent paper liners: All the spent liners that are generated in Europe and America are being landfilled. There is no infrastructure to collect, process, and hold these liners for truckload deliveries to the repulping or regrinding centers. Where would the clamshell manufacturer get additional spent PET liner?
There is plenty of spent liner out there. The issue is the lack of a collection process. My friend continues, "I need to know if there is a way to put together a consortium to pick up PET liner waste from multiple company sites that use PET liner that is going to the landfill." Obviously, the same situation exists for paper, and keep in mind that only 30 percent of our liners in roll label are film. The rest is paper.

My friend went on to lament the failure of a recycling scheme in his area, Northern California. This region is purportedly "green." No one wants to landfill, whether it be liner or even spent metalized PET generated in the hot stamp process. However, when a center opened last spring, totally focused on spent liner recycling, there was no response. This includes the clamshell customer. They did not participate and, as of this writing, one would assume their paper liner continues to go to the landfill. The concept of that northern California service center was to provide an alternative to the landfilling of spent liners, whether paper or film. It was to allow generators to fulfill environmental demands, to allow them to be more sustainable. Finally, if sustainability doesn't excite you, it would have created cost avoidance, because it is cheaper to ship spent liner to a centralized service center than it is to be charged to throw it away. As usual, I don't get it.

Technically we can regrind and repulp. We have proven this. Indeed, even the issues of using spent liners in USFDA required applications throughout the supply chain are believed to be solved. The only issues are packaging and logistics. I know companies that are prepared to open service centers if generators will support the centers with committed volume. It is not complex, it is commitment. The Northern California service center could easily be reopened if the industry would commit to supporting it.

In my view, linerless labeling is only part of the solution. I heard a presentation from a major linerless label producer during the recent TLMI Tech Conference. The presentation was very persuasive. The speaker, however, neglected to mention that all liners, paper and film, are recyclable. The problem, and my friend is right, is collection.

I know what the solution is: It is a commitment by converters throughout the western hemisphere to offer collection services to their customers. I have advocated this for years to no avail. Well, green is in and waste is out and every converter, in my opinion, needs to offer a spent liner take-away service. This is so simple. The converter delivers labels and picks up spent liner. There are simple packaging requirements and volumes that the converter requests his customers meet. Once this occurs, the converter either delivers the spent liner to a service center or returns it to his plant and holds for larger shipments.

The converter is the solution, not linerless, not the laminator, not even the end user. While all parts of the supply chain have to work as a team, it still falls back to the converter. Liners play a valuable part in pressure sensitive labeling. Spent liners can continue their value in the world of reuse. The clamshell manufacturer and Cycle4Green need liners to play a successful end-of-life role.

Converters may call me a heretic. That is not my intent. I don't want to create controversy and frustration. You see, my label converter friend is the solution. Don't be angry with me. I want to try to get this industry to change. I can guide and facilitate, but we need the converters of the world to take positive action with their customers. They know where the liner is generated; a third party doesn't. I would ask only that converters arrange to pick up the liner when they ship their labels to their customer. The next step is to call the facilitator to find out where to deliver the liner.

It's that simple. My friend calls it "Calvination." That really doesn't bother me if my call for change will get everyone to play a part in keeping liners out of the landfill.

I'll be talking more about Cycle4Green in my next column. Their concept and business focus creates a solution for spent paper liners that will interest all parts of the supply chain.

Another Letter from the Earth.
Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.

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