Labels play a critical role in the communication and marketing of products, services and organisational values. The growing concern for the environment, combined with the visibility of labels, has led to a growing number of requests from customers for information and insight into the environmental impact of labels. Parallel to this trend, a growing number of companies in FMCG are integrating sustainability into their core business and packaging materials, which is helping to raise awareness. A first step in the process of understanding this issue is often to gain insight into the environmental performance of the materials used and to work with suppliers to jointly develop good environmental practices that reduce and ultimately remove harmful outcomes.
Consumer awareness of the environmental problems caused by packaging is rightly creating demand for packaging that protects our environment. We receive requests from customers for labels that comply with all three of the above terms and it is therefore important to correctly understand the requirement and the difference between these terms to match the criteria.
The term, biodegradable, is similar to compostable but with a few distinct differences. The Cambridge Dictionary defines this as, “Able to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful” and “Biodegradable packaging helps to limit the amount of harmful chemicals released into the atmosphere.” While Miriam-Webster defines biodegradable as, “capable of being slowly destroyed and broken down into very small parts by natural process, bacteria, etc.” While this does sound similar to the definition of
Biodegradable labels and packaging have all been created with the ability to slowly break down until they’re able to be consumed on a microscopic level. This is a desirable outcome for landfill but does little to mitigate the continuing demand for natural resources.
The term compostable Is the opposite to recyclable, because rather than reusing something it is letting it break down. According to the Cambridge Dictionary the term compostable is defined as, “Something that is compostable can be used as compost when it decays.” While in Merriam-Webster the term compostable is defined as, “a decayed mixture of plants that is used to improve the soil in a garden.”
The definition itself is self-explanatory, compost is made almost completely of plants of some sort that can ultimately be broken down into something called “Humus” which is then added and mixed within earth to create nutrient rich, water retaining soil that is good for growing plants. Compostable Polymers behave much like other compostable materials in the sense that it needs a catalyst such as the heat generated by bacteria to break it down into compost.
Out of all the sustainability related terms often used “recyclable” is probably the single most used and distinct of the three. The Cambridge Dictionary describes this as “Able to be recycled.” Merriam-Webster defines recyclable as, “to make something new again” which, in its essence, is accurately stated.
The idea of the term recyclable is to find another use for something, whether it’s the same object or restoring it to its original state and reusing it. This term applies to most label materials, papers and Polymers but is perhaps often used incorrectly as the "catch-all" term for a sustainable product.
However, in sustainability terms it is possibly the most important, as it contradicts the continuation of the disposable culture model, partially upheld by the preceding terms, both of which assume disposability of unwanted labels and packaging.
Whether conventional uncoated paper derived from wood pulp or entirely wood free paper i.e. Bamboo, Hemp, Kenaf, Sugar Cane etc, the label material is environmentally safe, being biodegradable, compostable in the case of wood pulp and recyclable.
The term “wood-free” is often interspersed with “free-sheet” and is used to describe 2 different paper types:
The first is made from wood, but no longer contain wood, because the wood is chemically treated to release lignin and produce a pulp that is nearly pure cellulose. Lignin is essentially the glue that holds the cellulose fibres together in a tree. It is darker in colour and gives paper opacity, but does not add strength and makes paper less white. By contrast mechanical (or ground wood) papers are made by mechanically grinding the wood to create pulp and in mechanical pulp the lignin remains and therefore the paper is not wood-free.
Tree-free papers are made from plants like Kenaf, which is related to cotton and can produce as much fibre in one year as pine would do in twenty. Although not widespread at the moment paper making from non-tree sources is growing.
Coated papers i.e. semi-gloss, high gloss, colours and other specialist finishes are not always safe and may require disposal through incineration and/or land-fill.
Typical label materials such as Polyester (PE), Polyethylene (PET), Polypropylene (PP) and Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) are not so easy to manage in terms of their disposal. Most are biodegradable over time being derived from carbon fossil fuel, but may still have unwelcome residual effects, they are not compostable and not always easily recyclable and therefore require disposal through incineration for energy generation and/or landfill. Although this is not the most desirable outcome there are of course options to offset this and to some extent mitigate the environmental impact and carbon footprint.
The research and development to find substitutes for traditional Polymer materials is a priority for material manufacturers and the label industry. Options are gradually emerging and becoming available and can be categorised as follows:
The vast magority of our label material uses water-borne Acrylic adhesive and biodegradable water-soluble, pressure sensitive adhesives are an interesting and novel group of Polymers with self-adhesive properties. The research and development has created Acrylic biodegradable water-soluble PSA characterised by high mechanical and thermal performance to which can be added additional tackifying Acrylic acid alkyl esters to improve the initial “grab” of the label when first postioned on difficult to label surfaces and all of it still environmentally safe.
While paper labels and water-borne acrylic adhesive are biodegradable, previously and traditionally the layer of Silicone used as a release liner on the liner/backing paper to prevent the label adhesive from curing and making the labels impossible to remove, has not been. Which has meant that the backing sheets or rolls remaining once the labels have been applied have been sent for incineration or landfill.
However, manufacturers of label materials are now dispensing with the need for a Silicone release liner by polishing the surface of the backing paper/liner through a process called “Calendering” or “Super Calendering” making the paper impervious to the pressure sensitive adhesive on the label and keeping it in an inert condition until removed and applied.
In paper manufacturing, calendering is the process of smoothing the surface of the paper by pressing it between hard pressure cylinders or rollers, “the calendars” at the end of the papermaking process. Calendering is a standard part of the papermaking process and occurs in-line as the paper is being manufactured. It is usually the last step of the process before the paper is cut to standard sizes.
When an additional set of offline calendars called super-calenders are used after the initial papermaking process but before the paper is trimmed to size, they produce an even smoother and glossier paper called super-calendered paper or SC paper. The super-calender consists of several cylinders alternating between polished metal and soft resilient surfaces. The super-calender runs at high speed and applies pressure, heat, and friction to glaze both surfaces of the paper, making them smooth and glossy.
We use Kraft backing paper for labels on sheets (A5, A4, A3 & SRA3 formats) and Glassine for labels on rolls.
Glassine is a smooth, translucent paper made through the manufacturing process super-calendering, the polished paper has an enamel-like finish and very smooth quality. Glassine is pH neutral, acid free, food safe, and provides protection against grease, water, air, and moisture. Because of these unique properties, it is also used extensively in packaging for seed, food, medical, and collector markets. Glassine paper is environmentally friendly, it starts from 100% sustainability-managed forests and is 100% recyclable and biodegradable.
Deriving its name from the German word for “strong”, kraft paper is a sturdy machine-made paper that is created using wood pulp. The finished product can be used in a number of different applications, ranging from wrapping meat at the butcher shop to paper grocery bags. It is used as the backing paper to label sheets because It has high tensile strength and the heavier weight of the paper helps the sheets not to curl and lay-flat. Kraft paper is also environmentally friendly and starts from 100% sustainability-managed forests and is 100% recyclable and biodegradable.
The demand for biodegradable and compostable labels and packaging is increasing across all sectors of commerce, but when transitioning to materials that meet this requirement it is still essential to maintain the same level of product performance and productivity. The growing range of labels available within this criterion assists brand owners, retailers and suppliers to meet consumer demand for sustainable solutions and also addresses the anticipated future legislative requirements on landfill and sustainable packaging.
Consumers are increasingly focusing on healthy lifestyles and environmental protection. Therefore, our Eco-friendly label range with biodegradable, compostable and recyclable adhesives and materials is proving to be the primary choice by customers and all of the paper face-stocks included in the range are made with FSC* certified pulp and/or recycled.
Always look for a FSC Credit and/or Mix Credit, Chain-of-Custody No. CU-COC-807907 (Example) in the label material specification.
Our range of label face-stock, adhesive and liner combinations that are environmentally friendly.
The amount of ink deposited by inkjet printers onto labels is relatively minimal, by comparison with the residual in empty cartridges requiring disposal. The droplets of ink used to create print are extremely small (usually between 50 – 60 microns in diameter), so small that they are less than the diameter of a human hair (80 microns). The amount of ink dispensed by the print heads is measured in Picolitres (1 Trillionth of a litre) enabling a very precise positioning of ink dots and high-resolution images from relatively small amounts of ink.
The biodegradability of inkjet ink is dependent on the ingredients used in its production. Desktop inkjet printers, as used in offices or at home, tend to use aqueous inks based on a mixture of water, glycol and dyes or pigments. These inks are inexpensive to manufacture, but are difficult to control on the surface of media, often requiring specially coated “Inkjet” media.
The two main category of inks used in commercial printing are petroleum-based and vegetable oil-based, although the two can be mixed together and the biodegradability is dependent upon the percentage of vegetable-based oils.
Because they dry faster than vegetable-based inks, petroleum-based inks have become the widespread standard in the printing industry. Even Soy-based ink and other partially biodegradable inks contain petroleum-based chemical derivatives which consist of inorganic compounds and minerals that are not biodegradable.
Because they are less toxic than petroleum oils and decompose over time, biodegradable inks take up less space in landfills. While some inks available to consumers contain vegetable-based oils and are biodegradable in part, there is still no widely available ink that is completely biodegradable, as of now. Most soy-based inks, for example, still contain at least 10 percent petroleum oils, according to the EPA.
Soy bean oil has increasingly been used in combination with petroleum based-chemicals in inks. According to the EPA, any "soy ink" must contain at least 20 percent soy-based oils, and ink biodegradability increases as this percentage of soy oils increases. The manufacturers hope to develop a highly biodegradable ink with high performance properties made from 100 percent soy-based oils and no additional petroleum-based chemicals.
HP Indigo digital printing inks are now certified for compostability in both home and industrial settings.
TUV Austria awarded the ‘OK Compost Home’ and ‘OK Compost Industrial’ marks to HP, verifying HP Indigo ElectroInks can be used as printing inks for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation in accordance with leading standards, such as EU regulation EN 13432.
Laser printers use a combination of toner, static electricity, and heat to produce printed documents and labels. Many customers ask the question; is toner biodegradable? More importantly with the need for environmental sustainability gaining traction, is it recyclable?
Toner is a densely-packed chemical powder with electromagnetic properties, it is not a form of ink. It is not biodegradable because of its composition of chemicals and Polymer resin. Some toners contain iron oxide, styrene ad acrylate, which do not break-down and are associated with environmental damage.
In addition, black toner almost always contains carbon black, which is a fine, soot-like powder, closely related to coal and pencil lead which is on the WHO (World Health Organisation) watch-list and classifies it as a possible Class 2B carcinogen.
The Polymer resin also prevents toner from breaking down naturally. This resin is a plastic-based molecule which helps the carbon black and other chemicals fuse to the paper during printing.
If you are interested in this topic and wish to learn more please use the link to read a report on the “Life Cycle Assessment for the Self-Adhesive Label.”
FINAT The Association for the European Self-Adhesive Labelling and Adjacent Narrow
Web Converting Industries
TLMI Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute Inc. (USA)
In January 2017 AA Labels achieved the ISO 14001 2015 certification for environmental management, certifying that as a company we have in place the management systems that help organisations reduce their environmental impact. The standard provides the framework for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to the environment and sustainability by:
We already send huge quantities of waste material trim, backing paper/release liner, cardboard and plastic wrapping, to be recycled and continue to work assiduously to reduce the environmental impact of our processes. We have also made a commitment to continue researching and introducing sustainable label materials into our product range.
Our reputation for innovation has resulted in continuous change toward care of the environment and sustainability in our processes and we recognise that this is also a growing requirement of our customers. However, if you think that there is something that we could improve please contact our customer care team via the live-chat facility on the page, our website contact form, email or telephone and we will be happy to discuss this.