When we think about sustainable products, our thoughts go immediately to the products themselves, often without considering any of the labeling or packaging that goes with the product. But labels and packaging play a crucial role in determining just how sustainable that product might be.
First and foremost, your label and packaging must perform – not only as the product is used, but also as it’s distributed throughout your supply chain. Picking environmentally friendly options for labels and packaging won’t mean much if they don’t survive the supply chain to your customer!
That means you may have to make some compromises to balance performance and sustainability.
Many people tend to equate sustainability only with recycling; true sustainability goes well beyond recycling. Even if the label material you need to meet performance requirements isn’t recyclable, you may still have options that will allow you to meet your corporate sustainability goals.
In this article we will discuss some of the ways that you can join forces with your label vendor to improve your environmental footprint.
For starters, brands can now work with their label vendors to choose the right materials to support the circular economy by:
- Reducing weight by using lighter weight materials
- Increasing the amount of recycled content in your label and packaging materials
- Sourcing materials made from renewable sources.
- Enabling recyclability of your products’ label and packaging
These choices keep resources in use for longer, which reduces waste and improves their productivity. Let’s explore some options:
1. Adhesives and Face Stocks
Labelled products are often tossed in the recycling bin without regard to the label. But the adhesive can contaminate the byproduct during the recycling process. Now label materials are available with adhesives that allow the label to be easily removed from the product container by exposing it to water first, allowing the container to be recycled.
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified
The Forest Stewardship Council is a global, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of responsible forest management worldwide. Ask your label printer for your paper labels to be sourced from forests that are managed to be sustainable. These certified recyclable content and reclaimable materials come from wood that has been harvested with little impact on the climate.
Paper label materials can be created from pre- or post-consumer waste products. The paper waste products are made into pulp and then again into paper. Film label materials are melted down and made into more film.
Some face stocks and adhesives can be reintroduced into nature, meeting the increasing demand for compostable packaging.
It’s important that your label vendor understand the available options to help you combine a highly performing label that also meets your own sustainability goals.
2. Inks and Coatings
Inks and coatings bring your label to life, protect it, and provide your customers with valuable information.
But as with adhesives, certain inks and coatings can compromise the sustainability of your product. For example, the inks might seep into the recycling stream, colorizing the material and limiting its potential for reuse. Petroleum- and solvent-based inks can release volatile organic compounds into the environment.
Eco-conscious organizations should speak with their label printers about their selections of ink and coatings. Low-impact alternatives are available, such as soy- and vegetable-based ink and environmentally benign coatings.
One simple way to boost the sustainability of your product label is to use less ink. Maybe this is the year you swap out your busy design for a trendy minimalist look.
If we don’t often think about the sustainability of our product labels, we think even less about label liners. Liners are the material that carry a label through the manufacturing process, shipping, and storage – right up until the label is applied.
After a label is removed from its liner, that liner becomes waste. Unfortunately, most liners are coated in silicone, which helps ensure clean label removal, but is not recyclable using conventional methods.
Environmentally friendly label suppliers have several methods for reducing liner waste. For example, your label printer may provide thinner liners, which are typically less expensive, use less energy to produce, and take up less space in landfills.
Liner materials are also now being made using recycled content, playing a large role in the circular economy.
Film liners are more easily recycled than paper liners. And some raw material manufacturers are working to develop liners that use non-silicone coatings.
Serious About Sustainability
What once was an afterthought has gone mainstream as more and more companies are taking the sustainability of their products seriously. Awareness is growing among brands — and the consumers who love them — that Earth’s resources are precious and often finite. We all have a responsibility to lessen our impact by choosing materials that are (or can be) recycled, limiting our energy consumption, and minimizing waste.
At the Label Printers, we work with some of our customers to collect their spent liners and transport them to facilities that convert the liners to energy. Ask your label company if they offer a similar program.