Among the issues explored in the conference were sustainability, recycling, inline coating, competing technologies, and even linerless labeling. Corey Reardon, president and CEO of AWA, welcomed the record crowd to Rosemont, where he established the foundation of a growing industry. According to Reardon, 50.9 billion square meters of release liner–both film and paper–were produced across the globe in 2017.
Citing “unprecedented growth,” Reardon explained that, of all worldwide pressure sensitive and non-PS liner applications, Asia accounts for 39%, while North America and Europe make up 27% of the market. Of the release liners produced globally, 49% are destined for labeling applications, and 55% of substrates used for release liners are glassine or SCK paper.
On a consolidated basis, growth for release liners was pegged at 4.9% in 2017, and that number is expected to rise for 2018. Specifically for labels, the growth was measured at 5.2%. North America is seeing 3.6% growth in release liners for labels.
“Across the globe, even from a regional perspective, labeling applications represent nearly half of all release liner applications,” explained Reardon. “Hence the reason why we carved out time here at Labelexpo this specific seminar focusing just on the label market. Labeling certainly drives a lot of the growth for the release liner market overall, at least in most regions.”
With release liners, however, comes waste. A panel discussion and a presentation from TLMI’s director of Environmental Strategies and Outreach, Rosalyn Bandy, explored the need for enhanced sustainability initiatives. Labels and packaging comprise a significant amount of waste, with plastics providing a large effect on marine life. According to Bandy, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050.
The concept of “Reduce, reuse, recycle,” while strong in theory, has not made the intended impact. Globally, one million PET bottles are purchased every minute, and 91% of those bottles do not get recycled.
Bandy noted that tertiary recycling–or chemical recycling–could serve as a game-changer for release liner waste in the future. The process involves recovering the original monomer through chemical depolymerization, which then promotes circular upcycling where the molecules can always be in motion. “One day, all PET liner will be able to enter the circular recycling economy,” she said. “But we need to get to work. Now.”
It is important to identify where PET release liner is in the material stream, and end-user training will be required to separate out and properly recycle these materials. This topic will be further explored at the TLMI Annual Meeting, which takes places from October 14-17, 2018, in Amelia Island, FL. At the event, Bandy said that rollstock supplier members will start talking about these issues and commit to finding solutions.
“We’re working hard at TLMI to find solutions, but we need help,” said Robert Parker, owner of Label King. “We need help from the liner manufactures and the roll manufacturers. We’re hoping to get ahead of everything, and we’re going to need help across the board.
“We have to start somewhere,” he added. “It may not be the ideal way, but we need to find a place to put the liner. That’s the challenge, and we need to work together as an industry to find a solution for it.”
Simon cited Avery Dennison’s work in this field, which gained momentum in 2015. “We need to be proactive and define what plastics do,” said Roland Simon, VP of Global Procurement Materials Group & Corporate Sustainability at Avery Dennison. “How are you sustainable with products that are not fundamentally renewable? What do you do with them so they don’t cause harm to the environment?”
The substrates and adhesives supplier examined sources of internal and external waste, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. The company has also tried to be more transparent in their dealings with liner waste, and Simon said that a diverse workforce with varying ideas on the subject is critical.
“We’re looking to create a foundation built for a whole industry that can thrive and be perceived as sustainable indefinitely,” added Simon. “We all have to work together for this.”
From a converter perspective, Label King’s Parker identified practical ways for recycling liner. The main issue is that recycling liner can be a difficult process that is not cost-effective. Label King, however, offers liner recycling as a value-added service.
“We try to do the right things with employees, customers, vendors, and the environment,” said Parker. “Our motto is, ‘Help us, help you, to help the environment.’ We want to come up with solutions before problems occur.”
Dan Muenzer, during the panel discussion, said that the health of the environment is paramount when dealing with liner waste. “It’s not about competitive advantage, it’s about protecting the industry,” he said. “We really need to focus on collection and on the infrastructure to allow the material to be recycled.”
One solution could involve the proliferation of linerless labels, which has worked at Ritrama. The company has noticed lower transportation costs and less material used, as there is no liner to be recycled. Other benefits include less downtime and more efficiency per roll, plus a carbon footprint reduction. Ritrama noted that the technology is more widely used in Europe, and linerless growth could positively impact the environment.