Almost forty years ago, when Iwas just a commercial siliconiser, people at large did not understand what release paper or silicon paper was. I would jokingly explain it was a product, a protective paper behind a sticker, that would eventually go into wastepaper basket. In real terms the release liner, would be disposed-off in landfills or burnt adding smoke and gasses to the environment impacting it adversely.
Time has changed, concern for environment is a necessity and cannot be taken lightly as a joke. We are responsible for leaving behind a legacy of a cleaner and liveable environment for generations that follow us.
We need to make our manufacturing programs, sustainable. Sustainability means giving back to mother earth what we take from it or reduce drawing the resources that we cannot replenish forthwith cut down generation of industrial waste. Unfortunately, 50% of all that self-adhesive label industry produces goes as waste in terms of waste matrix and release liners. While globally many endeavours are being adopted to reduce liner waste yet in India a lot needs to be done. Switching over to liner less labels where-ever possible, helps but not much work is done in this direction. Using thinner filmic liners does result in reduced tonnage of liners and their recyclability. During this period many a top-end printer has started using clear on clear filmic label materials aiding sustainability to some extent. Global leaders in Labelstocks Avery Dennison has initiated a program to collect and recycle silicone release liners in India, it is a step in the right direction. But given the size of the country and geographical spread of label units, it is a gigantic task. Other than this some printers have adopted waste management by shredding waste and compacting it for use as fuel in boilers and other applications, this is only a miniscule portion of the Industry. Largely, the waste is still sent to landfills or is incinerated. In times to come legislation will come to make sustainability and environment safety an imperative. It is time that the label and print fraternity at large must understand that not only the need but also the larger implications terms sustainability, recyclability, circular economy, environmental protection, etc.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership.
They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go together with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. The Sustainable Development Goal number 12 states; worldwide material consumption has expanded rapidly, as has material footprint per capita, seriously jeopardizing the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. Urgent action is needed to ensure that current material needs do not lead to the over extraction of resources or to the degradation of environmental resources, and should include policies that improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and mainstream sustainability practices across all sectors of the economy. In our labels and packaging industry this is an imperative that needs to be attended to because the percentage of waste generated is high, going to landfills. Some companies do incinerate or send the waste generated as matrix or side trim to kilns for use as fuel. This may look good management but in the longer run we are putting gasses into the air from the different materials going into the manufacture of labelstocks viz.; paper, film, primer coats, silicone, adhesive etc. Each component will produce different type of emissions that have in unison no single solution to treat them. Thus, there is a need for reducing the waste generated, use recyclable materials, reduce the energy consumption etc. to become more sustainable.
The label industry globally has been looking at the possibility of recyclability and reusability of the waste matrix or that of the different components of labelstocks. Since release paper is one item that has its usability only until the label is dispensed to be applied on to the product, after that it ends up as waste. Over the years there have been many solutions tried to reduce the impact of this liner waste on the environment. The used liner would either go to landfills or incinerated and in both cases it its impact was adverse. Due to the silicone coating on the paper biodegradability in landfills was an issue as silicone after crosslinking becomes inert.
For the same reason paper mills would not buy this waste for re-pulping and making fresh paper. Initial steps taken in reducing the liner waste were replacing the paper liners with thinner filmic liners thereby reducing the tonnage of paper and moreover the waste liner can be remoulded. This was a positive sign, but large-scale shift has not happened in a long time because of additional increased investment in equipment and tooling. There have been efforts to go linerless in producing labels but the inability to do custom shapes die-cutting and high-speed label dispensing on automatic packaging lines have not produced a lasting solution. Efforts and development in this direction are going on and we hope one day the industry can shift to self-adhesive labels without having release liners to dispose off, becomes a reality. At Labelexpo Europe 2019, four companies Ritrama, Omet, Spilker and ILTI came together to offer their “Core Linerless Solutions”, other companies like Catchpoint are also making strong efforts in this direction, only time will tell how many brand owners move in this direction and prompt their label vendors to offer the linerless label solutions. Some paper mills in Europe have now devised process of de-siliconising release paper and then re-pulping it to make fresh paper but the collection and delivery to the mills from the printing companies widely spread over large geographical locations is a logistic challenge. However still substantial volumes have started to be reprocessed. In India in recent times as mentioned above Avery Dennison has initiated support to a program in which collection of release liners is outsourced to a vendor and then sent to a mill who have devised a process to re-pulp and convert to paperboard. These are positive steps.
The menace of waste is gigantic and it has become an absolute emergency to counter it. Governments have woken up to act against generation of materials going to landfills. It is preferred that whatever waste is generated in industrial process should be gainfully recycled for usability to achieve the benefits as described in circular economy.
As per a report published in thehindubusinessline.com of 19th September 2019, leading consumer products companies such as Coca-Cola India, PepsiCo India and Bisleri among others have decided to come together to launch a first-of-its-kind packaging waste management venture in the country. The venture, which is called Karo Sambhav, will focus on creating a formal eco-system for collection of post-consumer packaging and optimising material recycling processes. Commenting on the endeavour, T Krishnakumar, President, Coca-Cola India and South-West Asia added, “Through our vision, World Without Waste, we want to ensure that all our packaging material goes for recycling and not to landfills.” Another report appearing in Live Mint 2nd October 2019 states; The government may soon roll out stringent norms and impose heavy fines on corporates, including hospitality industry, mobile manufacturers and packaging industry, for failing to stop use of plastic. Under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, which the government plans to implement effectively, manufacturers, brand owners, and importers of products should realise and bear responsibility for environmental impact of their products through the product life-cycle. Many of the large FMCG companies have started adopting the requirements of EPR. These are other positive steps taken to eradicate waste to landfills to a great extent.
Besides the liner there is the waste matrix which has the adhesive and various kinds of face materials that include uncoated, coated, metallised, coloured, metallised papers, laminates or films with metallisation or topcoats. Side trims are also generated at some label converting units and most labelstock manufacturing units. With increasing prices of real estate besides an environmental issue, the side trims and matrix call for large amount of space to store until disposed off, putting additional pressure on resources. For this reason, larger label companies are shredding and compacting the waste to sell as fuel for boilers, furnaces and cement kilns.
There are some innovative entrepreneurs who convert this waste into pallets, floor tiles, wall panelling and some small furniture items. It is interesting to see such endeavours.
Circular economy packaging is another buzzword when we talk of sustainability and environmental protection. A circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste, continual use and recycling of resources to re-engineer products that are preferably not downgraded. It is contrary to the earlier system “traditional linear economy” according to which the aim was ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production to achieve increased usage of all inputs.
Labels are the face of any product and in time of growing organised retail and in view of stringent consumer protection laws labels provide the much-needed statutory information, besides becoming the marketing tool for any product. In such a scenario we need to design labels in manner that they are able, to be a part of recycling process of the package. For instance, on a PE (polyethylene) container we should have a PE label only so that the whole package is mono-polymer and can be effectively reprocessed and recycled. Multi-polymer plastics are neither recyclable nor biodegradable. It is normal in India that we see ragpickers collect the mono polymer milk pouches but leave behind the fancy multi-layered pouches of instant foods and snacks littered around. This is because the monolayer plastics are resaleable for convenient recycling. Similarly, a paperboard carton should have a paper label.
Sustainability or circular economy must be in the conscience of all manufacturers, it does not advocate compromising safety or user experience of any product. It also does not mean increased cost of inputs. It is a mindset to create products that make life sustainable and do not deplete resources available to humans. There is need to replenish what we extract from our environment and establish a legacy for generations that follow for staying committed to the cause. It is a cause that is impacting humanity across the globe and all efforts to make public of all races and countries aware of the situation and need to contribute towards this issue in unison are necessary.
Written By Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi India February 2020