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New liners for old

November 11, 2010

In an age when almost every type of paper-based product is being recycled in a cradle-to-cradle process, release liner stands out as a black spot on a green horizon. Nobody loves spent liner, and end users have to pay good money to have it taken away to landfills, or at best for use as a rather inefficient fuel. Last year a company called Cycle4green announced a new process which, it said, would turn the economics of spent liner recycling on its head. Now an Austrian paper mill, Lenzing Papier GmbH, is also putting its weight behind the idea.

Herma, one of Germany’s top three producers of labelstock, is vigorously encouraging its customers, and its customers’ customers, to ship their waste release liner to Lenzing, where the liner is de-siliconized, pulped and turned into raw material for specialty papers. Herma CEO Thomas Baumgärtner sees this new initiative as “coming closer to implementing the cradle-to-cradle principle of a more or less continuous cycle of materials usage.” This, he says, is particularly valuable in the case of release liners that are mostly high-value glassine material. To start the ball rolling, Herma is sending all its own waste liner, about 100 tons per year, to the Lenzing mill. This is a drop in the ocean compared with the 250,000 tons of spent liner thrown away annually in Europe, but could, just possibly, be the start of a revolution in recycling, and in the status of the pressure sensitive label as an ecologically sound product.

The motivating force behind this European project is Petri Tani, CEO of Cycle4green, also known as C4G. A papermaker and chemist by training, he has made a study of several chemical processes involved in recycling. The desiliconizing process he has developed is difficult to patent, he says, so it is being kept secret for the present. C4G organizes the collection and mechanical cleaning of used liner (removal of cores, labels…) and the shipment to Lenzing where, since January 2010, and after investment in special processing equipment, the recycled liner has been going into the making of a wide range of high-grade paper products, including clay-coated liners. No details of the economics of the project have been made public, but many label end users are prepared to pay (and indeed are used to paying) for the removal of liner, and these payments added to those of the buyer, in this case Lenzing, are sufficient to cover sorting, transport and logistics costs, according to Tani.

Another eco-aware company, BDF Beiersdorf, makers of Nivea and many other beauty and skin care products, is also actively supporting the Cycle4Green initiative.

The process of desiliconizing the spent liner so that it can be shredded and pulped will be on show at the Emballage exhibition in Paris in late November, when C4G and Lenzing Papier will present “a total closed-loop liner recycling from waste to recycled paper liners.”

Commenting on the global prospects for release liner recycling, Tani says, “Europeans are perhaps the most favorable to recycling and the most hostile to landfill. In America we work closely with Calvin Frost of Channeled Resources, but we are creating another business model due to the somewhat different structure of industry and approach over there.”

“America is live and well and we are striving to do the same,” says Frost. “We are finally getting interest from the paper industry. Admittedly, these are nibbles, but it is better than the response we’ve had over the last 18 months. Finally, the paper guys are saying, ‘Maybe we should look at this again.’ Technically, America is very close with an ongoing desiliconized pulp supply that is both FDA and FSC certified. The paper industry here has used both as requirements, which has slowed the project down. I view these as roadblocks, and Europe should be proud of the C4G Lenzing project.”

Go green – or face the consequences!
Around 200 international delegates came to Brussels in October to hear experts discuss the future of the Extended Packaging Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for packaging waste in Europe and the future evolution of EPR in Europe, and also in North America.

Speakers at the seminar, titled “Packaging 2020: Cradle to Cradle Management,” stressed that financial as well as environmental impacts are important when choosing methods of waste and resource management, in the transition to a green economy. It was argued that products leaving the factory must be priced to reflect life-long management and disposal costs, and who owns the valuable collected materials must also be made clear. Speakers criticized national “green taxes” that lack transparency and do not support recycling.

The audience, from around 30 countries, listened to proposals for better and fairer EPR, also known as “cradle to cradle product stewardship.” Governments should set standards, monitor adherence and fight against “free riders” not meeting fee-paying obligations to systems such as Green Dot; and they should promote green procurement.

A minority of delegates (including your correspondent) felt that perhaps the European Commission was doing quite enough to burden manufacturers with new obligations, and that, just possibly, more effort might be given to persuading the citizen to sort packaging and choose not to buy products deemed to use excessive packaging. (Did you know that in many German supermarkets there is a crate alongside each checkout desk where customers can dump any unwanted packaging from products they have just bought?)

Emballage show in Paris
Squeezed between Ipex in the UK and the leading European packaging show Interpack in Germany, the French packaging event is having a hard time despite the fact that most sensible visitors would rather go to Paris than Birmingham or Düsseldorf. This year’s Paris show, to be held November 23-25, will certainly be smaller than the 2008 event, both in floor area and in number of exhibitors.

The good news is that the organizers have commissioned a European market study which concludes that of all the sectors of the packaging business, “Labeling and coding are currently showing the biggest sales rises, in response to needs for security, traceability, transport and the multiple regulations concerning product labeling. “Of the 30 or more label converters who will exhibit at the show, most are French, but narrow web press makers at the event are more international, particularly on the digital front: US-based Primera is using the Paris show for the European launch of its new digital finishing equipment designed to operate in conjunction with its digital label press or with those of its competitors. Germany’s CSAT, a newcomer to the narrow web digital print scene, will present its digital inkjet press, said to produce full color labels at 40 meters/minute at a resolution of 600 dpi. On the materials side, the big labelstock manufacturers will not be showing, but several film producers, including ExxonMobil Chemical, Innovia and Polinas (Turkey) will be present, along with French anti-counterfeit paper manufacturer Arjo Wiggins Security. Security is also the specialty of exhibitor Atlantic Zeiser, which is using the Paris show to launch a new track-and-trace module aimed at the cosmetics and pharmaceutical sectors.

More news from Georgia
The problems facing Georgia’s leading label converter, FlexoLabels, reported in last month’s L&NW, have revived interest in this neglected corner of the world. Anzor Misabishvili, a Tbilisi-based consultant specializing in the label business (such men are rare), writes, “Definitely one of the strongest blows for the Georgian producers as a whole and labels companies in particular was the ban on exports of Georgian products to Russia. As a result of the ban, the biggest market for Georgian wine producers was closed and initially the sales decreased by over 50 percent.”

Other limits to growth of the Georgian label business, according to Misabishvili, are lack of finance for investments, with 18 percent interest on loans, and strict collateral requirements. All materials for label converting have to be imported, with high freight costs and orders taking upwards of four weeks to arrive. However, with a free market economy and a new generation of young Georgian entrepreneurs, to which must be added the increasing volumes of Azerbaijani gas and oil transiting Georgia, the country is certainly one to watch.

A very effective disguise
And now, back to Brussels, where the EU regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances, known as REACH, is continuing to cause unease among Europe’s printers and converters. It will be implemented gradually over the next 10 years, but high-volume chemicals, or chemicals considered to be the most hazardous, must complete a registration process before the deadline of November 30. Many of the substances used in ink, paper and film production are targeted by the new law, and failure to register by the deadline means that a substance cannot be imported, used or put on the market anywhere in the European Union. The fear is that this will disrupt many manufacturing processes and even cause shortages of essential raw materials. Supporters of REACH maintain that the short-term pain to the manufacturing industry will be outweighed by long-term blessings to the environment and to employees’ health.

Many of Europe’s business people, when brooding over these regulations, must be echoing Winston Churchill, who, when told by his wife that his recent election defeat was a blessing in disguise, replied, “At the moment it seems very effectively disguised.”
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