Packaging Recycling Update – How2Recycle Labels & Plastic Bottle Full-Wrap Shrink Labels

Posted on 5/23/2013 2:59:25 PM By Jeff Timm

It has been a busy month on the packaging recycling front with some significant new updates occurring on topics discussed in my previous Packaging Blogs.  My December 14, 2012 Blog covered the new How2Recycle (H2R) on-package recycling labeling system designed and being promoted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), a project of the sustainability nonprofit GreenBlue.  The H2R Label test launch has been active for a year and the SPC has just issued The How2Recycle Label Soft Launch Report detailing the findings of the encouraging market test.  

The Label

The How2Recycle label is comprised of five pieces of information for each unique packaging component:

how2recycle, recycle, recycle label

The H2R Label was created because of the variation in recycling programs, unclear labeling, and inaccurate recyclability claims making proper recycling a challenge.  The How2Recycle Label was created to provide consistent and transparent on-package recycling information for consumers.  Currently the label only applies to packaging sold in the U.S. 

The How2Recycle Label Soft Launch Report is a trove of detail on recycling.  It addresses the premise that today’s consumers, and the companies who serve them, share a common cause - they want to recycle.  Consumers want on-package recycling instructions and companies want to communicate the recyclability of their packaging.   In the current marketplace, however, violations of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are common, and no harmonized labeling system exists across all packaging materials and types.  The H2R label offers an easy to use solution.  The report findings verify that the H2R label is understood by consumers, leads consumers to action, and elicits positive impressions of products.

The other recent packaging market development is the on-going attention to full wrap shrink labels on plastic, primarily PET but also PP and HDPE bottles and containers and their acceptability and potential contamination in plastic bottle recycling streams.  This was discussed in my February 19, 2013 Packaging Blog.

The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR), members represent more than 90% of the processors of postconsumer plastic bottles in the US, Canada and Mexico.  In early May the APR formed an industry group to address the rapid growth of full-body wrap shrink sleeve labels in the marketplace and the potential contamination issues associated with this increased growth of these labels.  This is the second consortium organized to address these issues.  The first industry-wide consortium organized in 2011 by full-body wrap shrink sleeve label facestock resin producer Eastman Chemical Co., according to reports by Heather Caliendo, Plastic News, May 10, 20`13 caused The APR to have a hissy fit because they claimed they were “not invited to any label consortium," referring to the Eastman group.   This was refuted by the Eastman organizer.  The Eastman consortium consists of representatives from more than 30 companies to discuss the challenges full-wrap shrink labels pose to PET bottle recycling and to find possible solutions.  Brand owners, plastic producers, film extruders, print-label converters, label producers, equipment manufacturers, bottlers and packagers, plastics recyclers and independent testing firms make up the consortium.

According to Eastman, about 80% of full-wrap labels in North America are on PET containers. The labels pose challenges to PET bottle recycling, according to the National Association of PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), yet another association with their finger in the pie.  Full-body wrap shrink sleeve labels interfere with auto-sorting equipment and are hard to remove during the pre-wash process. If the labels make it through pre-wash, they will likely also stay with the PET during the rest of the recycling process, leading to lower-quality recycled PET.

recycle bottles

The two industry groups have both issued “principles” and “solutions” for this packaging recycling problem.

APR Principles for Full-body Wrap Shrink Sleeve Labels on PET Bottles:

  1. The label does not interfere with the ability of a NIR automatic sorter to identify the underlying PET bottle.
  2. The label separates from the bottle in a whole bottle wash step.
  3. Any sleeve label that remains after bottle granulation will float in water.
  4. Label residues present during hot caustic wash will not cause discoloration of PET flakes or molded plaques made from flake.

The Eastman consortium is working on the following solutions:

  1. Floatable labels
  2. Label perforation to aid in removing labels at reclaimers’ facilities,
  3. Delabeling equipment availability at reclaimers’ facilities
  4. Educating consumers to remove the label from the end product prior to reclamation

Even the H2R label, discussed earlier in this blog, has an answer for the full-body shrink label problem...until the issue is resolved, “Bottle Not Recyclable Unless Label Removed”!

The Label

How2Recycle Label for Bottle with Full-Body Wrap Shrink

how2recycle, recycle, bottle, Full-Body Wrap Shrink bottle

I think all parties are reading from the same book here, they might even be on the same page.  Try to work together.  The Packaging Blog has repeated the theme of collaboration as an integral part of solving problems and getting things done as is demonstrated daily in the workplaces of today.  Collaborative approaches are the way to solve issues with the best chance of a positive outcome that hopefully has the best chance of addressing the unintended consequences associated with decisions that are reached the old fashioned silo approach non-collaborative way.  Hopefully these two groups can find a meeting of the minds which will be necessary for these label issues to be resolved and a good sign for the future of recycling and the plastics industry.  

Related Links:

Sustainable Packaging Coalition

How2Recycle Label

The How2Recycle Label Soft Launch Report

Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR)

APR Principles for Sleeve Labels on PET Bottles

National Association of PET Container Resources (NAPCOR)

Eastman Chemical Company, Inc.

Eastman Chemical Company, Inc. Full-wrap Label Consortium

comments powered by Disqus