Label substrates are evolving rapidly to meet the growing number of legislative and brand mandates for the circular materials economy. This means diverting packaging from landfill and towards recovery and clean separation of materials, which then become feedstock for new labels and packaging products.
This has led to the increasing incorporation of post-consumer recycled (PCR) material into new label face papers, films and release liners. PCR cannot simply be process scrap, but must be from the packaging discarded by consumers, collected, sorted and reprocessed.
The move towards incorporating PCR is matched by ongoing research into thinner materials which retain their original performance characteristics. Apart from savings in raw materials, there are also reductions in transportation costs and fewer roll changes required on press for the same roll size roll.
Suppliers are also turning to more sustainable biomass sources to manufacture both papers and films, and these products can also contain PCR. Labels are also helping in the recovery and circular reuse of plastics and glass containers. Adhesives that wash off from PET containers in a recycling system mean there is no contamination of the PET flakes from the PP labels – both materials streams can be separated and recovered.
In the glass market, reuse/refill is becoming a key circular economy application, and here the requirement is again for the adhesive to wash off cleanly, allowing the bottles to be cleaned, returned to the brand, refilled and re-labeled.
At the same time, refillable/reusable containers also require permanent labels which will stay with the container throughout its life cycle. The function of these labels is to identify the container, the material it is made of, and how many times it has gone through the refill/reuse loop. With the Holy Grail project, we also see labels allowing materials to be identified and separated at sorting stations using bespoke machine-readable codes.
Another key point of interest is a resurgence of interest in linerless labels. Linerless is a well-established technology in the logistics and industrial labels sectors, but linerless has still to make an impact in the primary (prime) label market, and this is where an increasing research and development effort is focused.
Although we have focused a lot on initiatives in the self-adhesive sector, there are also exciting initiatives to make shrink sleeve labels more sustainable. The key problem up to now has been the inability to separate cleanly the PET container material and PET shrink sleeves, meaning the inks contaminate the PET recycling stream. A new generation of ‘floatable’ sleeve materials with different molecular weights have been developed to help solve this issue.
New at Labelexpo Europe 2023
All these trends will be on show at Labelexpo Europe 2023, as can be seen in this brief A-Z summary.
Ahlstrom launches its Acti-V RF Natural glassine release paper, which contains a minimum of 15 percent post-consumer recycled cellulose fiber and enhances its sustainability profile by using unbleached cellulose fibers.
Avery Dennison shows its full range of recycling-friendly adhesive constructions for both glass and PET containers and new linerless products (see below).
Bio4Life showcases its range of certified compostable materials with a focus on applications for fruit labels. The face materials are coated with BioTAK compostable adhesive. The product range includes paper fibers sourced from agricultural waste and a variety of bioplastics. The products comply with EN13432 and are certified by DinCertco or TÜV Austria.
delfort‘s Tersil UltraLightBase glassine is claimed up to 40 percent lighter than what the company calls ‘current market alternatives’.
Dow showcases its INVISU 7007 washable adhesive for filmic labels. This adhesive allows PSA labels and PET bottles to be recycled separately, resulting in cleaner recycling and higher-value applications.
Evonik launches the next generation of its Tego RC products made using recycled silicone feedstocks, curable by either LED or traditional mercury lamps. Henkel’s ECO and RE PSA adhesive portfolio for labels use high-quality recyclate.
Innovia Films showcases Rayofloat APO and APO-HS (high shrink), floatable polyolefin shrink sleeve films designed to improve the purity of recycled PET bottles.
Italstick presents label papers made from 100 percent post-consumer paper waste and up to 40 percent grass fibers without the addition of coloring agents. The company is marketing the benefits of natural colors to increase shelf appeal.
Jindal SMI launches its polyolefin base conformable PP, claimed 40 percent thinner than what the company calls ‘standard’ PE films. The company’s PCR PP, meanwhile, is made with 30 percent post-consumer recycled content.
Klöckner Pentaplast introduces SmartCycle Pro, a shrink sleeve label film that is recyclable in the RIC (Resin Identification Code) 1 stream and made from 30 percent certified post-consumer recycled material.
Leonardus SRL launches a certified recyclable holographic metalized paper claimed to deliver the same performance as traditional holographic film. The 70 g/sqm paper is recyclable in compliance with Aticelca501 standards.
Lintec Europe launches MMP Mono Material Polyester (PET) designed for application to single-use PET containers. Both film and adhesive are manufactured from polyester, reducing the risk of contamination if the labels are not removed before the washing and grinding process. A special top coating also enables the labels to be de-inked in an alkaline washing process.
Polyart Group shows r-Polyart, a synthetic paper made of 30 percent post-consumer recycled material, and Fiberskin, a weather-resistant synthetic paper which is recyclable, biodegradable and printable by dry toner.
Premier Coating & Converters displays its Premeco range of biomass-based and PCR content films. These materials are BS EN 13432 certified biodegradable or compostable.
Sihl demonstrates films manufactured with up to 90 percent recycled content.
Synthogra introduces SYN-BOPP transparent HB top coated film, made with 70 percent used cooking oil and available in 26 and 32 micron grades. The film is suitable for direct food contact and is designed for use in horizontal and vertical form fill and seal flexible packaging machines as well as in overwrapping applications.
Taghleef Industries presents its biobased PP films and reLIFE films manufactured with PCR content and unveils Shape360 TDS, a floatable shrink sleeve label film.
UPM Raflatac introduces Ocean Action Labels, made from ocean-bound plastic waste, and the PureCycle paper wash-off labels that cleanly separate from primary packaging in PET and HDPE recycling streams. The RAFNXT+ paper label material range is certified as carbon neutral.
Linerless will be a major sustainability focus at Labelexpo Europe. Avery Dennison shows its new ADLinrSave linerless system targeted at the prime label market. ADLinrSave is a joint project with BOBST, which developed the inline silicone coating head and Harland Machine systems, which developed the applicator.
Maan Engineering will have a linerless label converting line on the ABG stand, signaling a new partnership between the two companies. The Maan line allows label converters to manufacture both laminated and linerless PS label structures.
Linerless systems targeted at VIP applications will also be shown by a range of companies including Avery Dennison, UPM Raflatac and Herma.
Wider sustainability issues
Sustainability now encompasses not only materials, but every part of the label converting process from reduction of set-up waste to more energy-efficient curing systems, to handling of self-adhesive production waste.
And there is much interest to see at Labelexpo Europe 2023 from this wider production sphere.
One example is a move towards water-washable flexo plates and processors, part of the quest to eliminate solvents from the press room. Asahi Photoproducts debuts a wastewater recycling unit for its AWPTM plate processor claimed to reduce wastewater by 75 percent, and detergent usage by 40 percent.
The company’s water-washable AWPTM-DEW CleanPrint flexographic plates have been certified Carbon Neutral by the Carbon Trust.
Hans Lüscher is a veteran pioneer of direct exposure flexo plate making systems, and his Drop AG company launches the Drop DirectPoser based on EPDM materials. Laser engraving is another route to reduce usage of processing chemicals, and it will be interesting to see how this technology is evolving.
Turning to inks and curing systems, we see a continued move towards LED-UV, with its associated sustainability benefits of energy reduction, longer lifespan and elimination of mercury.
Coatings and adhesives also evolve towards water-based systems, and it will be interesting to see the areas where solvent-based products are still required. Foiling is another area where sustainability is driving change with the reduction of foil waste.
ACTEGA demonstrates the ACTEGA Ecoleaf digital metalization technology, which eliminates all foil waste by adhering metallic flakes from a donor roll to a printed target. Kurz also demonstrates its range of digital metalization technologies, including an inline solution for Xeikon’s new TX500 dry toner press.
Then there are the more obvious sustainability building blocks in terms of dealing with matrix waste on the press. Lundberg launches its MatrixCompactor 200 matrix handling system and Matho launches the CB-100 mobile cutting and extraction system for edge trims, die cut pieces and matrix waste.
Tying these trends together will be a Sustainability Masterclass at Labelexpo Europe 2023.