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Learn about the latest sustainable label trends, how Bostik is prioritizing sustainability and what it means for the label industry.

As the adhesive solutions segment of the Arkema Group, Bostik has emerged as a top adhesive manufacturer in a wide range of industries. Our solutions, however, must work in tandem with sustainability. In this Q&A with Lauren Alexander, Bostik's Technical Service Representative for Pressure Sensitive Adhesives, gain a better understanding of sustainability’s impact on the label industry and what that means for adhesives now and in the future.

Q: Sustainability is a very broad term, yet it’s a big focus across all industries right now. What do you feel are the key, concrete aspects the label industry needs to know when it comes to sustainability, and why?

A: Sustainability is certainly a broad term, encompassing everything from assessing raw materials used in label design to considering what happens to the packaging and label after the consumer disposes of it.
While the level of importance each company gives various elements within the sustainability umbrella may differ, it’s important to work towards what I like to call the “big-picture must-haves”. Meeting these elements is how the label industry will be able to address brand owner demands, consumer expectations and, ultimately, global regulations.
These include ensuring your labels*:

  • Enable 100% of plastic packaging to be recycled, reused or composted by 2025
  • Possess the ability to adhere to non-virgin plastic packaging
  • Contribute to increasing the share of post-consumer recycled content (as 27% annual growth is needed to reach 2025 target)

To do this, it means the industry needs to approach developing labels with a “sustainability first” mindset. Each element in the label, including additives, such as the inks, coatings and adhesives, impacts how the label contributes to circularity. If one element is not considered, then it can negatively impact the label’s sustainability level as a whole and ultimately the end-use packaging.

Q: As you know, brand owners are making public sustainability commitments. Can you give an example of a commitment that impacts labels, and why should converters and brand owners take note of it?

A: Yes; brand owners’ public sustainability commitments are cascaded throughout the value chain, causing everyone to have a vested interest in accomplishing them. One commitment, in particular, that impacts labels is that all plastic packaging is to be comprised of 100% recycled content by 2025, as cited in the Ellen MacArthur Report. This means that all packaging materials, including labels’ adhesives, facestocks and inks along with the plastic, should receive qualifications through entities such as the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), proving they meet recyclability standards and contribute to the goal of using 100% recycled content.

In order to reduce contamination in recycling streams, the label materials must all offer wash-off capabilities. As qualification can take several months per material, converters and brand owners should work on this sooner rather than later to assess how each element within the packaging impacts recyclability.

Q: What sustainable label trends are happening right now, and in what ways do the trends impact adhesives?

A: The key sustainability trends I’d like to note are recyclable, repulpable, linerless and compostable labels.

  • Recyclable labels are designed for plastic packaging and ultimately go through recycling streams. This means they must fully wash off from the packaging to reduce contamination. Label adhesives, along with inks and face stocks, must offer wash-off capabilities as a result. Choosing adhesives that meet APR’s critical guidance criteria will help converters manufacture a wash-off label faster than if they have to qualify it themselves.
  • Repulpable labels are for corrugate packaging that needs to be recycled into new paper-based packaging substrates. Therefore, the label adhesives, along with the inks and face stocks, must be able to repulp to ensure recyclability. For adhesives, this means they form “stickies” and get skimmed off and separated out of the repulp process.
  • Linerless labels aim to reduce waste and carbon emissions by eliminating the need for a release liner and enabling more labels per roll. Designed for quick-grab, high tack and variable temperature application needs, adhesives designed for linerless labels specifically must also possess excellent self-adhesion properties to enable the label to print properly without a separate liner. 
  • Compostable labels are the newest trend in the industry; all elements within them must be qualified and able to break down in a composting environment, which poses certain limitations regarding material selection options. In particular, it means ensuring the adhesives are formulated to function with high-quality standards for their specific use and then degrade overtime in an industrial composting facility.
Q: Given the volume of sustainability information out there today, it’s likely that not everyone in the industry is clear on all aspects of it. Do you feel there are any points of confusion or misconceptions around labels or adhesives specifically with regards to sustainability?

A: Great question. It’s important to note that sustainability keeps evolving, so it is understandable that there may be confusion ranging from what different terminology means to what options to consider when manufacturing sustainable packaging. Regarding labels and adhesives, in particular, I’d like to clarify some key misconceptions:

Paper labels are often deemed sustainable because they are made from paper. However, that is not always the case; in some cases, they cannot be skimmed off and removed properly. This occurs when paper labels are used on plastic packaging; they decrease the plastic quality and therefore its value due to contamination during the recycling process. Instead, filmic labels, which are based on plastic, are the best option to enable plastic packaging sustainability. 

Another misconception in the industry is that if something is compostable, it will automatically compost no matter where it is discarded. However, that is not the case, and home vs. industrial composting systems are very different. For example, if the packaging is designed for industrial composting systems, then it needs to be in the appropriate environment in order for it to decompose. Otherwise, it ends up potentially harming the environment instead of helping it. It’s important to note that industrial composting capabilities are limited in the US, and that packaging should clearly identify for which system it is designed.

Lastly, I’d like to clarify the misconception that the label doesn’t matter to the packaging’s sustainability levels. This is not the case; it absolutely matters. For example, a recyclable label must be designed so that it can be removed properly and must use an adhesive that enables that removability. If the label is not able to remove properly within the recycling stream, the entire stream will be contaminated, and the recyclability level of the packaging impacted as a result.

Q: What is a gap you’ve observed in the market when it comes to sustainable labels in general, and how do you feel adhesives can help address them?

A: At Bostik, our technical experts work closely with converters to understand what they are trying to accomplish and what limitations or challenges they may encounter in doing so. For PET plastics, we saw that they were using wash-off labels to address end-use packaging sustainability goals. This worked great for many applications; however, because the market’s available wash-off label adhesives could not adhere in freezer grade conditions, it meant that cold-fill packaging applications were unable to use wash-off labels and be as sustainable as other packaging. Instead, these applications could only use traditional, non-wash-off labels, which impacted recycling streams. To me, this is a perfect example of the powerful impact label adhesives have on end-use packaging.

Q: As a global adhesive supplier and part of the Arkema Group, how is Bostik contributing toward sustainable labels and ensuring converters and brand owners’ needs are met?

A: At Bostik, we are committed to ensuring our products reduce carbon footprint and help promote the circular economy so that converters and brand owners can more easily meet their goals. To do this, we put sustainability at the forefront of everything we do. This includes initiatives such as sourcing bio-based raw materials, developing a UV acrylic product line, increasing solids percentages and manufacturing an all-temperature wash-off label adhesive.

Additionally, we offer a wide product portfolio at global scale, including UV acrylic and rubber solutions, bio-based, wash-off and linerless – all designed to enable our customers to improve sustainability based on their capabilities.

Q: What future trends do you think are coming for label sustainability?

A: While sustainability within labels keeps evolving, it is safe to say that the market applications for linerless labels will grow in order to reduce waste and carbon footprint. Additionally, I believe wash-off labels will become the norm to participate in the market and improve recycling stream effectiveness.

To help our customers meet tomorrow’s trends today, Bostik offers innovative linerless and wash-off label adhesives to address sustainable label demands in addition to the market’s most complete pressure sensitive adhesive portfolio (UV acrylic and rubber, hot melt, moisture-cure, waterborne and specialty solution acrylic). 

This Q&A was originally submitted by the technical experts at Bostik for Label & Narrow Web. If you have any questions about label sustainability trends and the information noted here, contact a Bostik expert today and find out how our adhesives can help reduce your environmental footprint.

Other Relevant Content: 

On-Demand Webinar: Understanding the Value of an All-Temperature, Wash-Off Label Adhesive

Why Label Converters Should Prioritize Mechanical Circularity 

Q&A: Bostik’s Role in NEXTLOOPP’s PP Recycling Initiative



*Cited in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s 2022 Global Commitment Report

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