These pathways would appear to be the very best answer for reclaiming valuable spent paper release liner into new paper production: true closed-loop recycling. They however face the significant challenge of moving from being an opportunity to being a widely-adopted route, achieving economically-viable throughput volumes of spent liner to keep the mill systems running and reduce landfill. To give an example of the challenge, the label industry is so far contributing less than 10% of the Lenzing mill’s annual paper waste intake.
The long, long road to success
It is here, therefore, that the self-adhesive label industry needs help from the end user brand-owning and contract packing companies who use its label products. Reaching the right people to set up liner collection is a difficult task. First, the converter or his representative needs to get ‘buy in’ from the sustainability leader in the end-user company – often a person at board level, far from the location of the packaging line the converter serves. That achieved, purchasing and packaging managers have to be convinced that there are sustainability improvements and cost savings to be made by buying into a label waste collection process – a process which involves far smaller quantities than for, eg cartonboard or plastic films. Finally, the site manager must be contacted: he is finally the person with whom to organise preparation of spent liner waste, and collection timings. This affirmation cycle can take weeks and months.
There are, I believe, around 8,000 end-user customers of self-adhesive label converters in the EU alone. All of them have a contribution to make to improving not only the sustainability credentials of their own companies, but also that of the self-adhesive label industry. In the process, liner collection and recycling can give new life to valuable paper-based products. On behalf of Europe’s 3000 or so self-adhesive label converters, I appeal to brand owners – especially those in high-volume market segments such as food, beverage, and personal care – to facilitate a path to spent release liner collection. FINAT is here to help identify available local pathways that answer companies’ individual needs without creating difficulty or complexity. As raw material costs continue to escalate and the world’s natural resources diminish, this is a true opportunity to contribute to the sustainability of a leading product decoration technology.