In an industry where the value chain and the master product are both complex, it is hardly surprising that developing an all-embracing programme of environmentally-friendly business activities is taking time. That said, however, in my position as Managing Director of the self-adhesive label industry association in Europe, I have seen significant advances in the last year that are delivering practical, quantifiable results that prove our industry has genuinely moved on from rhetoric to establishing a real pathway to sustainability.
FINAT has enthusiastically embraced the key role of providing its members with an information source on all aspects of environmental conformance, driven today by specialist sub-committees focussing on sustainability and recycling as well as technical issues and test methods, and industry trends, and supported by the association’s raft of industry-standard technical publications and test methods and events around Europe. In the sustainability arena, FINAT is currently actively engaged in projects involving label release liner recycling, both paper and film; the recycling of label matrix waste into energy; solving the issues around contamination of thermoformed PET containers by self-adhesive labels; and defining the parameters for environmentally-friendly adhesive technology.
FINAT’s partner association in the United States, The Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI), is also extremely active in the area of sustainability. Its LIFE (Label Initiative for the Environment) programme offers an audited business sustainability certification process tailored to the label converting industry. TLMI has also separated its focus on sustainability issues into specific task forces – with matrix waste and spent release liner (again, both paper and film) the two main targets. With just one country to take care of, TLMI’s mission may seem simpler than that of FINAT, which mentors around 50 different sovereign states – but the distances involved in waste collection in the United States are challenging. According to TLMI, around 270,000 tons of label matrix waste are currently generated in North America, and only an estimated 1% is recycled. A similar measurement for Europe is not available, but I somehow doubt that the outcome would be any better.
It is also true to say that the focus on sustainability and recycling in our industry is now world-wide. The Global Label Association, L9, has unanimously committed to a reduced carbon footprint in every aspect of the self-adhesive labelling supply chain – from raw material manufacture to end-use application and spent liner recycling. The Association embraces members from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand, as well as FINAT and TLMI, and is actively liaising with both brand owners and major retail groups as well as the public sector to achieve environmental sustainability for self-adhesive labelling. This is an inspiring example of how, at a regional and local level, global goals can be pursued and achieved.
A growing spectrum of opportunities
Potential uses for both waste matrix and spent release liner – from closed-loop recycling through, for example, fuel pellets, engineered fuels, and waste-to-energy are, of course, being identified, examined, and recommended to member companies by all the label associations.