The Association of Plastic Recyclers

March 2, 2018 - Plastics Technology

 

March 2, 2018 - Plastics Technology

APR in the News

Recycling Needs Drive Innovation in Sleeve Labels

Shrink-sleeve labels: You see the eye-catching designs everywhere these days on food, beverages and consumer products. Brand owners love them because they offer plenty of real estate on the container to communicate what the product is and overall messaging on a 360° marketable area of the package. And the trend isn’t slowing down—the shrink-label market is expected to grow at a 5.2% annual rate through 2021, reaching $245 million in sales, according to The Freedonia Group’s study, Stretch & Shrink Sleeve Market in the U.S.

While the labels are a success story for brands, they also present a headache for recyclers. About 20 years ago, PVC had the largest market share of shrink-film labels. But 10 years ago, the industry started shifting away from PVC shrink labels because of environmental concerns.

“It’s highly undesirable to have PVC mixed with PET in recycling,” says John Standish, technical director of the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), Washington, D.C. “One of the most important steps in recycling PET is called ‘float and sink’ and PVC has a high density and sinks in the water. It gets mixed in with PET and gets trapped in the ‘float and sink’ step.”

The industry started to shift to PETG-based film, but that also created issues for recyclers. According to a 2014 APR report, shrink-sleeve labels that are PVC-based or PETG-based film have a density higher than water and can’t be separated from PET flakes during the sink-float separation step of the recycling process, so they contaminate the recycled PET stream and deteriorate the quality of recycled PET (rPET) products.

With the increased usage of these labels, recyclers were experiencing a rising volume of shrink-labeled PET containers that were not recyclable. It is estimated that PET bales contain approximately 5% shrink-labeled containers. The challenge of removing shrink labels during PET recycling was brought to the industry’s attention by APR and the National Association of PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Florence, Ky., in 2012. APR established guidelines for label manufacturers and an official Critical Guidance Recognition program to encourage development of labels that are more compatible with PET bottle recycling systems.

But the big push came from brand owners: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Walmart, and Unilever are among those who have made pledges to use 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.

“Labels create a variety of challenges, as they add to the complexity for the PET recycler,” Standish says. “But thanks to brand-owner requirements, the recycling aspect is a must-have. We know major brand owners are evaluating the options and we believe that 2018 will be the year we start to see the new options in the marketplace.”

 

Read the full article here on Plastics Technology.

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