Packaging certainly has gotten its share of scrutiny in recent years from those concerned about the environment; beverage packaging especially given the enormous volume of material that the industry uses each year. Increasingly sensitive to this, and also driven by the efficiencies sustainability brings to beverage manufacturing and distribution, marketers have been looking for new ways to make the packaging supply chain more sustainable.
One way is through choosing greener labels. While some beverage labels long have been a thorn in the side of PET recycling as they can pollute the supply of pure PET available, that is beginning to change.
Demand for post-consumer recycled plastic is projected to reach 3.5 billion pounds in 2016, according to a recent study published by the Freedonia Group. And yet, contamination in the recycling process is limiting the amount of food-grade quality recycled PET (rPET) material that can be remanufactured in high-quality applications such as new bottles. The ultimate goal is a viable bottle-to-bottle system. Yet, in 2012, rPET yields averaged only about 65 to 75 percent for U.S. PET reclaimers, according to a post-consumer plastics bottle recycling report released by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).
To solve this issue, label suppliers have introduced new adhesives that more cleanly separate the labels from the bottles, enabling a cleaner supply of rPET. For instance, Avery Dennison (AD) offers a “switchable” PS label adhesive for PET bottles it calls CleanFlake. The goal was to give brand owners the same adhesive and design beneﬁts as PS adhesive labels, while giving recyclers a label that is easy to remove and 100 percent recyclable. Explains Laura Clark, AD’s global director of beer/beverage, “Avery Dennison has worked closely with recyclers and industry trade organizations like the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (North America) and European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) to validate the performance of CleanFlake, our switchable pressure-sensitive adhesive for PET bottles. CleanFlake is commercially available and we are working with a number of multinational brands on qualification.”
The water-based CleanFlake adhesive adheres to the PET bottle until the cohesive bond is broken by the caustic solution in the recycling process. This allows the adhesive to remove cleanly from the PET, but stay attached to the facestock and float away from the PET flake during the float/sink process to deliver a pure, recycled, food-grade PET product and with no contamination. “It is a tight race between North America and Europe on who will be the first to commercialize CleanFlake,” says Clark. “It should be on retail shelves in North America by the end of 2Q14.”
Another label supplier, Spear, offers SpearRC, a pressure-sensitive material that also allows PET bottles to be recycled into new bottles/resin. SpearRC is printed and applied to PET bottles like any other pressure-sensitive substrate. Upon being returned to the recycler the label separates from the PET flake in the wash bath and due to its different density floats as the PET sinks. The PET flake is then pulled out and can be used for new bottles with the same clarity and haze as traditional PET inputs. Options include clear, white and metalized film.
On a related front, the UK-based Gard Chemicals has now launched products for removing “label residue” from either plastic/glass bottles. “The range of adhesive cleaners which we have developed for both hot and cold glues has been formulated due to industry requests to move away from flammable solvents (which damaged machine guards) and citrus-based cleaners,” says Jim Knox, Gard’s Technical Sales Director. “The common denominator across a multitude of production facilities was for safe yet effective cleaners which were no longer derived from citrus, as bottlers needed to eliminate strong citrus odors within a facility, a particular concern within water bottling plants as the risk of cross contamination/tainting the finished product was becoming highlighted. This combined with citrus products becoming unstable due to increased prices led our R&D team to develop a totally new range of cleaners which are biodegradable, environmentally friendly, operator safe and NSF approved.” The products developed include external cleaners, tank and hose cleaners and specialist release agents for both hot and cold glues.
And then there is the actual label material itself. Monadnock Paper Mills recently announced the availability of its wet-strength paper label, designed specifically for craft beers. Monadnock Envi Label is made from 100 percent FSC-certified, post consumer waste fibers and withstands the rigors of challenging print images, bottling lines and cold, wet coolers, the company says. Made in New England, home to many iconic craft brewers, Envi Label offers American brewers a home-grown source for label stock. “Envi Label is unique because it’s the only product that meets our brewery’s commitments to innovative packaging as well as environmental sustainability,” says Jordan Bamforth, creative director at Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. “It works well on our packaging line and gives us a green alternative to a standard C1S beer label. Sustainability is a founding principle of our brewery, and using an environmentally positive label paper was very important to us. We set out to use 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper whenever possible—from our packaging, to our marketing materials, and even our printer paper.”
Monadnock provides the custom sustainable paper for the beverages, which the Deer Park, NY-based DWS prints for final application to Beau’s bottles. Adds Bamforth, “The paper has a versatile, un-coated quality. It has a reassuring natural hand, and fits with our brand and overall packaging strategy very nicely.”
And Fort Dearborn Company has introduced an innovative Shrinkable Cut & Stack label to its product line. The label combines the application benefits of cut & stack labels with the shelf impact of a shrink sleeve. With an OPP-based film structure, the label offers up to 15 percent shrink and overcomes the challenges of traditional cut & stack that are limited to straight wall container applications. Since the label is provided in cut & stack format, existing cut & stack application equipment with hot melt adhesives can be used to apply the labels along with a dry heat tunnel. The label has a variety of application possibilities including slightly contoured containers and tapered aluminum cans.