Sustainability Plays a Part in Packaging Success
Today’s consumers demand sustainability in their products and packaging. Recycling may be languishing, but there are other paths to packaging sustainability. Labels can play a major role.
The demand for sustainability among consumers continues to grow, and they are backing that demand by increasing purchases of sustainably produced products. While quality and price remain key purchasing points, there has been a “massive shift” toward sustainable products over the past five years, according to a November 2019 article in Fortune.
Research from Avery Dennison reveals that millennials — who drive much of today’s buying market —are the leaders of this commitment to sustainability. This has a strong influence on their purchasing habits.
Brands are responding. Many popular products have a sustainability story to tell, and part of any brand’s sustainability story is its packaging: how it was sourced, its ability to be recycled and how it fits within the brand’s overall carbon footprint. But even though packaging is one of the most visible elements of a product’s sustainability, it has run into challenges.
A package or container’s recyclability was once one of the primary ways a brand could lay claim to sustainability, but recent events have made that feature less evident. Since China enacted its National Sword policy in 2018, which states that it would no longer buy the majority of plastic waste from countries such as the United States, major cities have announced reductions in or have abandoned their recycling programs or have made the ability to recycle containers more selective. Just because a container, such as a clamshell that contains fruit or produce, shows a recycling symbol, it isn’t necessarily something that can be recycled in all communities.
Plastic overall presents an enormous challenge. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation — which works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design — estimates that by the year 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish, by weight. The Foundation also estimates that if consumption does not change, new plastics will require 20% of petroleum production within the next 35 years.
That number was only 6% six years ago.
So, while demand for recycling and sustainability has never been greater, the path to accomplish such is filled with twists, turns and occasional roadblocks. Many brands are at a crossroads and working with packaging designers, labeling manufacturers and converters to enhance their product packaging’s recyclability and sustainability story.
Smoothing the Sustainability Road
One way that brand owners and converters can enhance packaging sustainability is to select labeling products and materials that adhere to the same principles. These include offerings that reduce the amount of raw material required while taking advantage of materials that are recycled, create less waste and enable recycling.
As a result, Avery Dennison introduced its ClearIntent™ Portfolio, an industry-leading collection of labeling resources developed to help converters and brand owners reduce material consumption or shrink their environmental footprint while supporting safety, fairness and human rights. The portfolio is constantly growing and now includes more than 500 products that have components that meet at least one of four sustainability standards:
- Recycled Content. Does it give a second life to what we have already used?
- Enables Recycling. Is the packaging recyclable? Does it enable recycling?
- Responsibly Sourced. Does it come from sustainably sourced materials? Choose from hundreds of facestocks made with paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or film and paper facestocks made from renewable resources.
- Reduce. Does it offer comparable or superior performance using less materials? Use less material to help conserve limited natural resources (and capture lower costs).
Here are five examples of how labels and adhesives can play an active role in helping brands enhance their sustainability story.
1. Using recycled materials saves resources
The newest introduction to Avery Dennison’s ClearIntent™ Portfolio is the rPET liner for semi-gloss paper facestocks. The liner backs the die-cut label and releases the adhesive-backed label to the package or product. The rPET liner uses recycled polyester (PET) from bottles — more than 30% post-consumer waste — and delivers the same reliable converting and dispensing performance as traditional liners. Avery Dennison will continue to expand the portfolio of paper and film products available with this liner to include performance materials that will meet the needs of converters and brand owners.
Using recycled materials in liner construction reduces the need to use new resources, but it has advantages well beyond that. It also reduces the amount of water, energy, fossil materials and greenhouse gases used in the manufacturing process — truly a win-win for converters and brand owners.
2. Eliminating the liner altogether
Some applications can take advantage of a Direct Thermal Linerless technology designed for linerless-enabled hand apply and auto-apply printers. The technology employs a thin release coating on the facestock that prevents the adhesive sticking to the layer beneath, reducing waste by avoiding the need for a liner and matrix.
The technology uses less material than traditional methods; self-wound rolls are 35% thinner than standard products, delivering up to 60% more labels per roll.
This cascades into more benefits: fewer roll changes and more printer uptime, saving labor and increasing safety by eliminating “slick” liner waste on the shop floor. And as each roll yields more labels, there’s less to ship. This helps converters manage their shipping costs and save fuel costs.
3. Reducing plastic content
The new heat-sealable reclosure systems replace plastic lids with a peel-reseal film welded to a tray. The film and adhesive properties can be designed to meet a wide range of performance characteristics including:
- venting and barrier properties to optimize shelf life and content freshness
- seal strength and water resistance levels to deliver excellent user experience
These systems have a significant positive impact on sustainability since they reduce the plastic content by up to 40% versus a plastic clamshell or tray with lid. They can be used in a broad range of applications including produce and bakery.
4. Enhancing a PET container’s sustainability
It’s a fact that well-designed labels can enhance a product’s desirability. But in the case of PET containers, it’s also a fact that removing the pressure-sensitive label after the product has been consumed gives that vessel a better chance of being recycled into food grade rPET than as a component of a park bench, carpeting or a t-shirt — or worse, ending up in a landfill. That also capitalizes on the renewable energy of a PET bottle.
Not every consumer is willing to take the time or make the effort to remove a label, and while there are some folks that do so, adhesive contamination can still be a roadblock. To enhance a container’s chances of being recycled throughout the value chain, Avery Dennison offers its CleanFlake™ Portfolio of labeling solutions. CleanFlake adhesive technology cleanly separates in reaction to the recycling processes’ caustic bath, and leaves no adhesive residue on the resulting PET flake. The CleanFlake portfolio passes the highest form of testing available from the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
5. Recycling even the adhesive
An all-temperature adhesive — Avery Dennison TrueCut™ AT2550 — not only performs at room and cold temperatures for paper shipping facestocks, it is also fully repulpable with the shipping container. It meets the testing criteria of the Tag and Label Manufacturers Industry Recycling Compatible Adhesive LRP-2 Lab Test protocol.
The tests confirm that the adhesive meets key criteria of the recycling industry. There’s no need for the labels to be removed from corrugated packaging prior to recycling. Given the growth of online shopping (and shipping), this solution enhances sustainability by helping to keep more materials out of landfills.
Labeling Sustainability a Success
Brand owners and converters face challenges today unknown to the packaging industry even five years ago. Sustainability is just one of those challenges.
By focusing on the environmental impact of a package, while enhancing brand personality and the package’s performance, a brand can move forward in its goal of achieving sustainability. A labeling commitment that focuses on reducing, reusing and recycling is one that not only consumers are demanding, but is well within the reach of any brand.
Michael LeRoy is a senior product manager for Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials. LeRoy manages the prime paper portfolio to drive innovation and bring new products to customers. He continues to support solutions that will help converters and end users with their evolving packaging needs.
Avery Dennison designs and manufactures a wide variety of labeling and functional packaging materials. Our label solutions help customers sell products, increase shelf-appeal and be more sustainable.