Many converters are now priding themselves in being stewards of the environment. Of course, sustainable substrates play a huge role in this lofty endeavor.
According to a recent report from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), noted in the Paper & Packaging Consumer Trends Report, consumers consider sustainability “among the most important factors when determining their spending habits.” The report states that three in five adults (61%) would be willing to pay more for food products packaged with sustainable materials, with 35% saying they would be open to paying up to 10% more.
Consumers have an eye on the future, agreeing that their trusted brands need to provide smarter, environmentally-friendly products and services. “Consumers reward brands that uphold public commitments to sustainability, with 31% of Americans listing sustainability among the top two attributes most helpful in building brand trust,” says Ian Lifshitz, vice president of sustainability and stakeholder relations for APP. “We see this especially in food packaging, making it more vital than ever for brands to consider sustainable alternatives to traditional single-use plastics.”
Of those surveyed, 64% said they prefer to purchase food products packaged sustainably, and 61% strive to purchase products from companies that have made public commitments to sustainability goals. In addition, Millennials are more inclined than their older counterparts to pay over 10% more for sustainable products.
In the narrow web label industry, several material suppliers have made commitments to sustainability. Among them are Acucote, Avery Dennison, UPM Raflatac and Wausau Coated Products.
“We have seen that demand has increased significantly,” notes Sarah Sanzo, sustainability manager, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials. “Brands and converters have sustainability goals and requirements from retailers that are driving them to look into newer or more sustainable packaging materials. Additionally, we continue to see consumers want to buy from companies that are socially and environmentally aware. For Avery Dennison, we see an increase in inquiries around materials with recycled content or post-consumer waste (PCW), as well as label materials that can be recycled.”
Environmental awareness stretches beyond labels and packaging. Throughout all walks of life, from label substrates to car manufacturers, industries understand the high stakes associated with climate change.
“With growing consumer demand for more sustainable packaging and a need to mitigate climate change, more and more global brands are continuing to announce sustainable packaging targets. We are now seeing the highest demand for more sustainable labeling materials than we have ever seen, and the outlook is continual growth for the foreseeable future,” explains Tyler Matusevich, manager, sustainability, Americas, UPM Raflatac. “We are in a state of immediate action to halt or reverse our impact on climate change and every choice matters – even down to the labels we consume daily. Wherever possible, brand owners need to consider sustainable labeling materials for their packaging. Something that might account for just a small portion of the overall packaging could in fact have a big impact.”
Although demand currently varies by region, both in North America and globally, it is certainly increasing. “Certain regions, like the West Coast, were early to make environmental inquiries,” says Earl Curran, VP of business development at Acucote. “Requests from the rest of the country are quickly ramping up. End users will continue to demand sustainable packaging, which drives additional demand.”
There are challenges in this area, however. According to Jim Sheibley, EVP of sales and marketing at Wausau Coated Products, the greatest difficulties include the supplies of clean recycled paper and polyester. Without those options, producers are reticent to include PCR content in papers and films. Adhesives pose a challenge, as well. “On the adhesives front, our options are slim for compostable adhesives that perform well, and the same can be said for wash-away adhesives for provinces and states promoting reusable containers,” explains Sheibley. “We want more suppliers active in R&D there.”
While demand is increasing, the available options are not as prevalent as one would think. “The choices of environmentally-friendly adhesives are very limited,” says Terri Brown, technical manager at Acucote. “Adhesive coated facestocks that can be recycled often lack established facilities for recycling, and some recycled materials do not offer the aesthetics or the performance of virgin material. Some adhesives formulated with environmentally-friendly chemistries are difficult to coat. Plus, environmentally-friendly facestocks often require a controlled storage environment and have a short shelf life.
“Customers are very interested in environmentally friendly products,” adds Brown. “They are often searching for something that is already certified to an environmental standard. Customers are sometimes surprised to find out that there are limited environmentally-friendly coatings available, and it can become a source of frustration. However, customers can partner with us to perform the developmental and sourcing required. These are often the most successful ventures.”
“One of the main challenges we continue to see is around recycling,” says Sanzo. “The US continues to try and improve education around sorting and recycling, which will only help all of us in the end. The more materials that get recycled, the greater the supply of recycled content – paper and resin – the more products we can launch utilizing recycled content and pushing us toward a circular economy.”
Label material suppliers have gone to great lengths to develop products to meet sustainability goals. Acucote offers a wide range of FSC-certified facestocks that are sourced based on customer requirements. The company’s popular offerings include 60# Semi-Gloss, 60# Matte Litho and thermal transfers. EarthFirst PLA and Acetate UD are also commonly requested because they are ASTM D6400-certified compostable. FSC certified 50# CCK liner is also available.
From an adhesive standpoint, Acucote provides its customers with GPX, GR7 and Arctic, which are repulpable. Plus, its CP1 adhesive is certified biodegradable. “Our line includes FSC COC certified, recyclable content and reclaimable materials,” states Acucote’s Curran. “Customers are embracing our solutions, however, it has been difficult for them to identify and match the specific waste streams for the labelstocks available. Many of the products we offer today can be reclaimed or are derived from certified sources. We are concentrating on biodegradable, repulpable and compostable materials. Non-silicone based release systems are now a reality and will eventually have an impact.”
Avery Dennison has engineered multiple new products and portfolios to meet demand while lowering the impact on the environment.
“The Avery Dennison ClearIntent Portfolio contains hundreds of products that help our customers and their end users reduce materials consumption, shrink their environmental footprint, and support safety, fairness and human rights,” says Avery Dennison’s Sanzo. “Our ClearIntent products include product labels made with paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, label adhesives that make plastic bottles recyclable, apparel labels made from renewable resources and manufactured in factories that meet the industry’s most stringent standards for worker safety and health and more.”
In 2019, Avery Dennison unveiled its AT2550 adhesive technology. The product provides an enhanced cold temperature service range and reduces the rate of ooze by 20-30%. AT2550 is also repulpable, notes Sanzo.
Avery Dennison continues to expand its product portfolio featuring CleanFlake Adhesive Technology. CleanFlake is designed to improve the rPET yield in the recycling process while maintaining the shelf appeal critical for pressure sensitive labels. “Pressure sensitive labels typically limit PET recyclability into food-grade rPET due to adhesive contamination,” adds Sanzo. “However, CleanFlake technology cleanly separates in reaction to the caustic bath, leaving no adhesive residue on the PET flake. Up to 100% of a PET container can be made using recycled PET (rPET), with no limit to the number of times PET material can be reused in container applications.”
UPM Raflatac’s products have been designed to enable customers and brand owners to reach their sustainability targets and reduce, recycle and renew. UPM Raflatac launched a new Forest Film in 2019. According to the company, it is the first wood-based film label material, which was developed in partnership with UPM Biofuels.
The UPM Raflatac SmartChoice portfolio features products that reduce the use of raw materials, such as thin films, and highlight recycled materials like Vanish PCR clear film labels with up to 100% post-consumer recycled content in the face and liner. RAFNXT+ paper label materials are comprised of renewable raw materials that create positive climate action compared to the company’s standard range.
Meanwhile, UPM Raflatac SmartCircle products also improve packaging recyclability. For example, wash-off adhesives allow the labels to be washed off in the industrial washing process, leaving clean PET flakes or glass that can be recovered, enabling a circular economy.
“We have a wide range of sustainable products produced in factories that are continually reducing their impacts on the environment,” says UPM Raflatac’s Matusevich. “Our parent company, UPM, is seen as a world leader in sustainability, and has received a number of recognitions like inclusion on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and being named as one of only 36 companies on the United Nation’s Global Compact LEAD.”
Wausau Coated Products offers a broad use of VersaPly as an alternative to vinyl (PVDC) films. According to Wausau Coated’s Sheibley, it delivers a far better cradle-to-cradle profile compared to vinyl, yet serves the same uses. The company also markets a 100% PCR paper for wine and spirits labels that matches the virgin fiber-based stock, as well as a non-wood recycled face material made from recovered agave (cactus) fibers.
Wausau Coated Products supports the simple recovery of beverage and food containers with materials that have adhesives that wash away for reusable containers in Canadian Provinces or simplifies container recovery in regions needing APR/NAPCOR standards.
“In quite a few ways, we have upgraded the sustainability credentials of our materials,” says Sheibley. “Our offering with Forest Stewardship Council Chain-of-Custody, certification (FSC CoC) has risen to 85 facestocks and more than 600 SKUs. In our view, the paper/forest products industry has really come through with sustainable forestry results over a generation. Also, we have reduced our Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions with changes in materials.”
A sustainable future
A host of associations and foundations have established sustainability goals – providing an outlet for suppliers and converters alike. TLMI has long offered LIFE certification, which recently merged with the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) certification program.
TLMI recently held its first Landfill Avoidance & Waste Summit in Chesterfield, MO, USA, at Mark Andy’s headquarters. The Summit provided landfill-free sustainability practices, as well as information from a panel of recyclers and regional waste-hauling companies.
Avery Dennison works closely with the Association of Plastic Recyclers, and this year the company joined the APR Recycling Demand Champions Campaign, which expands market demand for recycled resins and improves plastic recycling in North America. Additionally, FINAT and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation provide resources to ensure a greener future.
“We have built partnerships to innovate more sustainable products and services and to do our part for a smarter future,” says UPM Raflatac’s Matusevich. “This includes our participation in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.”
Green goals abound in the labels and packaging industry, as Wausau Coated Products is trying to create more pull to get rPET film widely available. The company will continue to develop sustainable alternatives for flexible packaging in the future. “We also seek to have the Biodegradable Plastics Institute (BPI) make their compostable test process for label and packaging composites simpler and less costly,” explains Wausau Coated’s Sheibley. “In our own facilities, we are upgrading our recovery processes to have our by-products become reusable or turned into energy while also reducing material and energy waste through Lean Six Sigma improvement projects. The Zero Landfill successes reported by TLMI members need to inspire us all to take positive action.”
UPM Raflatac is also determined to increase the use of renewable energy in its factories, of which four of 10 worldwide are now powered by 100% renewable electricity. “Sustainability is an integral part of UPM Raflatac’s DNA,” states Matusevich. “Our target is to go 100% landfill-free and source 100% of our fiber from chain of custody sustainably managed forests.”