The event, which was sponsored by Avery Dennison, Dow, Elkem Silicones, ETI, UPM and more, was co-located with AWA’s Linerless Labeling Seminar.
AWA explored paper versus release liner in the labeling market, supply and demand issues, sustainability, and recycling opportunities during the seminar. Sustainability served as a key focus, with AWA focusing on solutions and not just the challenges facing the industry.
According to Corey Reardon, president and CEO of AWA, there were 52.8 billion square meters of release liner produced in 2018– with North America and Europe each accounting for 27% of the market. This figure includes pressure sensitive labels.
Glassine and SCK papers account for 37% of the release liner market, and Reardon said, “This is the predominant substrate for release liners, 56% of which are in the label market.”
Reardon added that 49% of all release liners are targeted for labeling applications, with other markets including specialty tapes, industrial, hygiene, etc. “Labels are the main user of release liners produced worldwide,” he noted.
According to Ritta Salo, consultant at AWA, of the 27 billion square meters produced for labeling applications, 87% of release liners were paper while films accounted for 13%. In North America, papers make up 81% of the market compared to 19% for films. North America mostly relies on SCK papers for its release liners.
Currently, the label release liner market is growing at 5.2%, which is faster than the overall release liner market. Pressure sensitive labels require 40% of the release liners in the labels market, with glue-applied accounting for 35% and shrink sleeves 19%.
“Pressure sensitive labeling is still growing at one of the fastest rates of any labeling technology,” explained Reardon. “It’s the dominant labeling technology among all formats. Its efficiency, in terms of application, will allow it to continue to grow.
“Our prediction for shrink sleeve is the market will retain the current growth level,” he added. “We don’t see the same growth we saw 5-10 years ago, so it’s come down to market growth rates.”
Linerless labeling is a relatively small market now, but it comes with high growth expectations. “There will be a bit of a funneling of solutions toward linerless that are feasible in terms of production and financing,” Reardon said. “I don’t think it’s going to disrupt the pressure sensitive label market as we know it, but it will find its niches in certain applications.”
Growth drivers will continue to vary across the labeling segment. Pressure sensitive labeling is deemed more mature, and it will see competition from other labeling formats. Sustainability will remain a technology driver.
“Sustainability has been getting more attention, and it will certainly have an impact on how companies package their products in the future,” said Mikko Rissanen, director, business intelligence and development, UPM.
“I don’t think we have a choice–we have to be sustainable and we have to keep liner out of our waste stream,” added Calvin Frost, Channeled Resources Group.
According to Frost, the industry is not even recycling 10% of available fiber. In many cases, long supply chains make it difficult to harness the responsible party. The roll label industry is generating 60% waste, with 40% coming from release liners.
“The release liner is the backbone of our industry, but the majority winds up as waste,” stated FINAT’s Mark Macare. “Brand owners like Coca-Cola, Unilever, and P&G are now committing to sustainability goals by 2025-2030.”
In North America, 270,000 tons of release liner are being thrown away. “I say we have a problem of knowledge in our industry,” Frost said.
Possible solutions include repulp versus reuse and viable collection programs. According to Macare, only 1-2% of brand owners are actively involved in release liner recycling.
“We’re in a much better position than when I started,” Macare concluded. “There are logistical opportunities and the opportunity for cost savings, which will also provide environmental benefits. We still have a lot to do in terms of outreach and engagement, though.”