Of course, as in all responsible industries, the route to success in this arena begins with lean manufacturing practices and a reduced carbon footprint. FINAT member companies – including label converters, raw material suppliers, press and auxiliary equipment and automatic label applicator manufacturers, and self-adhesive laminators – are already experts here. At all levels of the chain, reduced set-up time and material waste have already been achieved, and technology advances have delivered considerable energy savings in such areas as drying – both of labelstock during manufacturing, and inks on-press. Digital technology advances have also streamlined pre-press activities as well as digital label print – both of which create a hugely flexible platform for label making that even enables multiple short label runs on the same labelstock to be ‘piggybacked’ on press for optimal efficiency in material, time, and energy usage. In some European countries – significantly Germany – practical financial assistance in achieving technology advances in support of sustainability is offered. Additionally, leading labelstock laminators are also offering a collection service for labelstock waste products from their converter customers.
At our recent FINAT Congress, a ‘round-table discussion’ brought together a panel of label converters from both sides of the Atlantic who all confirmed – and proved -- their commitment to grasp every opportunity to save waste, time, and cost – both for the benefit of the environment, and their businesses. It is at the converter level of the label industry that self-adhesive labels actually make their physical appearance, and are then passed on to the brand manufacturers and contract packers who will apply them. While release liner plays its part in ensuring accurate, smooth, fast, label application at the packer’s premises, label matrix waste remains with the converter, in need of a solution that does not involve landfill.
Saying ‘no’ to landfill
It is one of FINAT’s major challenges to assist converters across Europe in making sustainable use of their matrix waste. The waste-to-energy channels already mentioned are an option. In addition label matrix waste can also today be recycled into wood-plastic composite products.
However, FINAT sees its prime role today as a facilitator in creating a ‘chain of custody’ for spent release liner involving the end user. For end-user companies that choose to take advantage of it, financial payback is available from industrial recyclers for film release liner, both PET and PP. Siliconised paper release liner, however, requires more specialised treatment. In this respect, Germany has led the way. VskE, the German label association, has actively promoted the services of the specialist recycling company Lenzing Paper Mill in Austria, working with independent facilitators Cycle4green (C4G). Together, they are actively closing the loop between converter, end user, and recycler. A regular collection rota has been created for spent release liner from end users’ packaging lines identified by converters, and who are prepared to participate in the scheme. C4G manages the logistics – collecting and delivering recyclables -- and maintains the day-to-day contacts with converters and brand owners ‘customers’.
Major release paper manufacturers, too, have developed two important waste collection initiatives in central Europe. UPM offers a closed-loop system for release liner recycling in its paper production. Paper release liner is de-siliconised at UPM’s Plattling mill in Germany, and then re-used as raw material for different paper grades. This initiative is open to the whole labelling value chain, across the whole of Europe, regardless of the origin or colour of the material. Customised liner waste collection and logistic solutions are offered, alongside the company’s labelstock waste management programme.
Most recently, Ahlstrom has announced it will collect spent glassine liner (supercalendered kraft paper) and recycle it into the production of the company’s specialty papers at its Osnabrück mill in Germany. Ahlstrom’s logistics partners will collect the material from brand owners or printers free of charge, provided a minimum collection quantity is met. The scheme will work across Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands.
A parallel system is in the course of start-up in Switzerland, where three leading label printers have created a ‘map route’ of their customers in the country’s industrial areas, for collection of spent liner by logistics and support partners C4G for recycling at Lenzing. The scheme will be rolled out to smaller printers and their customers, as in Germany, in due course.