As long as pressure sensitive labels exist, the matrix will be with us. The sticky stuff that collects on a roller above the die station is a fact of life for a label converter. In days gone by, the roll of matrix was simply removed from the press and flung into the trash, collected and taken off to who knows where forever. It’s certain that that practice still exists, but these days the conscience is pricked because waste is a problem. It always was a problem, but now we know it and many of us feel it.
Included in pressure sensitive waste is material used in makeready on conventional presses. Making sure the flexo press will deliver the proper image can consume hundreds of feet of substrate composed of release liner, adhesive and face stock.
The question facing converters is both economic and environmental: If it costs more to send the waste to a recycling plant than it does to a landfill, will I send it to the landfill? The answer is probably yes. More landfills exist than do commercial waste recycling and recovery plants, and the cost of trucking the stuff to a distant but environmentally friendly waste-to-energy facility can be measured, sometimes painfully, in hard-earned dollars.
Is there a plant near you that can use your label waste to make energy, either directly or indirectly, and for less than landfill charges? Perhaps there is. If you are a label converter based in the United States, now you can find out by looking at an interactive online map published by Avery Dennison at the company’s website. (http://label.averydennison.com/en/home/solutions/sustainability/matrix-waste--landfill-free-options/matrix-waste-landfill-free-directory-.html)
The map features a directory that pinpoints the locations of operations that are not landfills, or that are energy-from-waste facilities. Most of the operations process discarded pressure sensitive materials generated on the production floor into clean energy sources. According to Rosalyn Bandy, sustainability manager for Avery Dennison Materials Group, the interactive tool is based on the company’s own information and was developed in collaboration with converters, recyclers and other partners.
“Many of our customers are actively improving their sustainability footprint,” says Bandy. “We have created this matrix recycling tool as a response to those looking to reduce their impact by sending less waste to landfills.”
The US is large, and waste conversion and recycling plants tend to be situated in the more densely populated regions. For example, for converters in northern New Jersey, the map reveals that there are 10 potential sites within about 50 miles to which PS material waste might be shipped. Some regions, however, don’t benefit from such services, or from just a few. In southwestern Ohio, where many converters orbit the city of Cincinnati, none are to be found today. Kansas City, as well as the greater Los Angeles region, have but one each. Avery Dennison’s announcement includes a statement that “recycling might not be available in all areas.
One of the two companies whose name shows up on the map in many locations is Covanta 4Recovery, a subsidiary of Covanta Energy, based in Morristown, NJ. Covanta operates 44 energy facilities, the bulk of them designed for generation of energy from waste. Other plants include biomass and hydroelectric generation.
Covanta is focused on sustainability in the management of non-hazardous waste. Focusing on the four R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover – it works with waste producers on strategies to fulfill those goals through the production of recyclable materials and fuel to generate clean energy.
“Landfills are not sustainable,” the company says. “As waste decomposes in a modern landfill, taking up to 150 years to do so, it generates emissions with little or no controls. By contrast, our facilities take just one hour on average to process a ton of municipal solid waste, recovering recyclable material, generating power and delivering it to the grid.”
The other large company specializing in generation of energy from waste is Wheelabrator, based in Saugus, MA, USA. Its energy production process, similar to that used by Covanta, involves a combination of heating the waste and recovering metals from the residue. Today’s waste-to-energy operations work quite differently from old municipal incinerators, which burned trash inefficiently, had minimal or rudimentary air emission controls, and didn’t recover any of the energy released during the combustion process.
Today’s waste-to-energy process starts with incoming trucks delivering trash to an enclosed area where the trash is unloaded into concrete storage pits. Overhead cranes then transfer the trash into a feed hopper to the boiler. Inside each boiler, an inclined, reciprocating, metal grate slowly moves the trash through a thermal (heating) process, where temperatures exceed 2,000° F. The large utility-type boilers recover thermal energy in the form of high-pressure steam, which is then converted into electrical energy in the turbine-generator. With access to existing steam distribution lines, waste-to-energy facilities can produce and sell both steam and electricity. Air that is required to feed the combustion process is drawn from the refuse-receiving building, sustaining a negative pressure that prevents garbage odors or dust from escaping into the outside environment.
After the trash is completely processed, scrap metals are separated from the ash for recycling, thereby reducing the overall volume of incoming trash by more than 90 percent.
Another process that converts label waste is that employed by Greenwood Fuels, which has a plant in Green Bay, WI, USA. Greenwood accepts specific types of waste (not municipal or other “live” refuse), and grinds it up to create fuel pellets. The pellets, precisely constructed, have a BTU content high enough for regional coal burning power plants to add to their combustibles in the creation of electricity. The siting of the Greenwood plant was strategic, because the region contains a significant number of label and other converting businesses.
Covanta reports that in the United States, energy-to-waste (EfW) operations and community recycling operations are complementary. “Most US communities with EfW facilities have a higher recycling rate than the national average. In most instances, communities that have an EfW facility have taken the time to focus on developing an integrated waste management program that includes reducing, reusing, recycling, followed by recovering energy from the waste leftover. Furthermore, EfW facilities recycle 400,000 tons of metal a year that are typically left in the waste stream after normal curbside recycling efforts.
“One misconception about EfW facilities is that they require more waste than what is available after recycling to operate efficiently. That is not true. After local recycling efforts, more than 250 million tons of waste is still sent to landfills each year in the US. Even if local recycling rates increased to those achieved in places like Europe, there would still be residual waste left over. The two choices for waste disposal are to landfill the waste, which emits harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere such as methane, or use it to create renewable energy at an EfW facility. Burying waste that can be used as a resource doesn’t make sense from energy, environmental and economic standpoints."
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.