When it comes to pressure-sensitive (PS) labels, there are multiple ways to design for sustainability. In developing an earth-friendly package, any of these approaches can be used by themselves, or in combination with others. Let us look at these options:
Recyclability is probably the first thing one thinks of when designing a sustainable label. Creating a label which is capable of being recycled involves choosing recycle-ready face stock and adhesive. As with any label, these material choices will largely depend on the final application for the package. Typical materials capable of being recycled are paper, polypropylene (PP; BOPP), and polyethylene (PE). But if you were to pair these recyclable stocks with a conventional adhesive, you would prevent the label from being recycled. Most traditional adhesives will contaminate the recycle ‘stream’ and render the processed material unusable. A ‘wash-away’ adhesive is capable of being removed at the front end of the recycling stream, leaving only the recyclable base label material. This is a more complex operation than described here, but you can learn more at this website. An increasing number of PS label stocks are being developed with wash-away adhesives.
Post-Consumer Recycled Content
Another approach to increasing the sustainability factor of a PS label is to utilize stock materials composed of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. As the name implies, PCR stock is composed of a certain percentage of recycled content. The benefit to the environment is the decreased amount of original source material required to ‘build’ the material. Paper stocks commonly have some degree of PCR content, as do some PET film materials. Some of these stocks are recyclable themselves, providing an additional sustainable benefit. Recycling technology has advanced substantially over the past few decades, and the quality of plastics derived from PCR processes has improved to the point that some of these materials can meet strict food safety regulations. Read more…
Less Material to Start
The material reduction approach is gaining momentum since it is an easy way to realize sustainable benefits without changing the nature of the label stock. As application equipment has improved, thinner label stocks have been developed, and widely used, in the PS realm. The benefits are many, but primarily, thinner materials reduce the amount of raw materials required to create the same number of labels as a thicker stock. Designing a thinner label out of a recyclable PCR material would check a lot of boxes on the credit side of a sustainability ledger! If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the environmental benefits of going to a thinner material, take a look at this life cycle assessment which illustrates the results of moving from a 2.6 MIL material to a 2.4 MIL: Thinner Substrate LCA. These same benefits can be realized by decreasing the area of a label.
Renewable content is derived from raw materials which can be replenished naturally. Creating labels from a renewable resource has multiple sustainability pay-offs. At the top of the list is decreased reliance upon finite raw materials like petroleum. Renewable materials include paper and bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA), derived from corn. These original sources are managed under stewardship entities like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and are certified as such. Renewable raw materials have an additional benefit in that they generally require less energy to extract, providing a proportionate positive impact on emissions and production waste.
As stated previously, the final composition of a sustainable PS label will depend on the market application, the package, and environment in which it will reside. But the options for getting to a sustainable solution are expanding. Talk to the experts at AWT to find out how your next PS label project can benefit the environment.