Our current society is consuming more resources than the planet can regenerate in a year. While that may not be groundbreaking news, it is important to understand the concept of “Earth’s Overshoot Day.” That is the date in which humanity's demand on the environment exceeds what Earth's ecosystems can renew in a year.
In 1971, Earth’s Overshoot Day fell on December 25th. According to Sarah Sanzo, Avery Dennison’s sustainability and compliance manager for North America, that day fell on July 29th in 2019. What’s more, society is currently using 1.75 Earths worth of resources.
“We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate, which is leading to the planet warming,” says Sanzo. “This has exposed us to flooding, severe droughts, heat waves and more. More and more people are becoming aware of sustainability, because it will impact how others will live tomorrow.”
One of the main culprits is single-use packaging. Globally, some 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste have been generated since the 1950s, with most of it occurring in the past two decades. When looking at disposal and waste practices, 25.2% of waste goes to landfills while open dumping accounts for 33%. Only 13.5% winds up being recycled, which highlights a lack of education.
During two recent Avery Dennison webinars, the adhesives and substrate supplier detailed how the company has committed to sustainability and recycling. Avery Dennison has established 2025 sustainability goals, and the company has launched its ClearIntent portfolio and GreenPrint tool to help customers lower their carbon footprint.
Avery Dennison has designed product portfolios to balance the needs of label converters. The challenge, for suppliers, converters and brands alike, is balancing socioeconomic and environmental strategies.
Consumers are increasingly demanding responsibly sourced and certified packaging, packaging with recycled content, and lightweight packaging to reduce carbon footprint. In order to reduce carbon footprint, companies must reduce material usage.
Avery Dennison has established eight sustainability goals for 2025. These goals set standards for papers, films and chemicals, as well as for waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Avery Dennison will source 100% certified paper, with 70% comprising FSC-certified materials. In addition, 70% of the films the company buys will conform to its sustainability principles.
“We’re actively engaged in diverting matrix and liner waste out of landfills and designing them to be used again,” explains Sanzo. “This contributes to a circular economy.”
A circular economy is defined as a regenerative system in which resource input, waste emission and energy leakage are minimized by slowing closing and narrowing energy and material loops.
Other examples include the company’s Wine Portfolio, which features six high-end facestocks that are designed for environmental friendliness and shelf appeal. Meanwhile, the rPET liner contains more than 30% recycled post-consumer waste from PET bottles. Avery Dennison is also promoting recycling with CleanFlake Adhesive Technology.
Responsibly-sourced materials are also critical for Avery Dennison. Sanzo states that 80% of the company’s paper facestocks in North America are FSC certified.
Sustainability is a collaborative process, too. Avery Dennison’s GreenPrint Analysis tool is a life cycle assessment where sustainable products are developed in tandem with customers. The tool communicates the environmental impact of a product across six key categories, from material extraction and processing to the product’s end of life.
These endeavors are designed to meet the challenges associated with recycling. Several large cities have cut curbside recycling, while a handful of US municipalities – larger than 50,000 people – have canceled their recycling programs or reduced the types of accepted materials.
“We don’t have a strong recycling infrastructure in North America,” says Sanzo.
Part of the problem is education. According to Avery Dennison, a national poll stated that the vast majority of Americans want to recycle – and they continue to do so despite doubts about its efficacy. Many believe their recycling still leads to products winding up in landfills. In the survey, 44% of recyclers don’t believe their products are actually being recycled. The intent is there, though, as 92% of respondents between 18-34 said they recycle, and 68% of people 65 and older said they recycle.
A 2017 AWA report stated that 71% of pressure sensitive labeling waste has been sent to landfills on annual basis. Paper and PET liner can be recycled, while paper liner can be recycled into new FSC-certified fiber.
“Avery Dennison looks for other methods to divert materials from landfills,” says Sanzo. “We work with many associations, primarily the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). We’re trying to identify roadblocks in the system and alert a wide range of industry players about problematic materials.”
Recycling rules will continue to evolve. Currently, Recycling rules are set by states, but they are changing every day. Legislation continues to direct the EPA to strengthen recycling in the US.
There are three pivotal 2020 bills on the ballot in California that are designed to reduce the glut of plastics and revamp the recycling industry.
“We want bills to pass in some fashion this year, and this could radically change recycling in California and serve as a model to all the other states,” notes Sanzo. “Maine and Vermont are also looking at broad recycling bills.”