29th September. Posted in Insights.

Introduction

Single-use plastic bottles have gained much public attention due to their potentially adverse impact on the environment. To address this, the industry is seeking technical solutions through advanced recyclable materials. Whilst much effort has gone into the search for alternative plastics, challenges remain in filmic and paper label replacements, which necessarily decorate and inform, but critically also contribute to waste. These labels are generally difficult to de-ink in recycling processes and may cause unwanted contamination and colouration.

This document examines DataLase’s solution for label replacement, specifically for HDPE bottles commonly used in pharma, personal care and household products. It highlights that DataLase’s label-free imaging method and pigment chemistry contribute to a 100% recyclable solution for bottle decoration, reaching a Grade A classification in recyclability through RecyClass, a cross-industry body centred on a circular plastic future.

What is DataLase’s label-free pigment technology?

DataLase is a world leader in photonic printing, a technique which employs laser energy to convert colourless pigments to colour in any chosen pattern. This generates customised graphics, unique bar codes, QR codes and serialisation, all without the usage of ink. In the case of HDPE bottles, DataLase colourless to black pigment is incorporated at the masterbatch stage, alongside all the other additives and resins. The resultant plastic bottle shows no visible indication that the DataLase pigment is present, remaining colourless until laser imaged.

Recyclability of HDPE bottles containing DataLase pigment

HDPE bottles containing DataLase colourless to black pigment were laser-imaged and submitted to RecyClass for testing. The results from this merited a Grade A rating, a world’s first for a laser-active pigment. According to RecyClass methodology, this grading indicates that ‘the packaging does not pose any recyclability issues and the recycled plastics can potentially feed a closed-loop scheme to be used in the same quality application.’

Benefits of DataLase’s label-free pigment technology for plastic bottles

  • Class A recyclability rating from RecyClass: DataLase’scolourless to black pigment is the first laser marking pigment to achieve such a rating from RecyClass. This innovative material is globally patent-protected by DataLase, contributing to customers’ reassurance within the supply chain.
  • No contamination or colouration in bottle recycling process: DataLase pigment is incorporated at low concentrations, imparting excellent decorative qualities without compromising the recycling process.
  • Print customisation without wet-inks or etching: TheDataLase solution provides an energy-efficient alternative to direct surface printing with wet-inks, or surface destructive etching.
  • Elimination of labels, inks and consumables on plastic bottles: Supply chains are greatly simplified, energy costs lowered, and environmental impact lessened by using Datalase’s label-free solution.
  • Durable graphics, bar codes, QR codes and serial numbers: As the DataLase chemistry is incorporated within the plastic bottle, a robust product results, without compromising the bottle’s integrity.
  • Simple method of incorporation to masterbatch: DataLase pigment is added at the masterbatch stage and processed alongside all other bottle formulants in a convenient one-step method.

Conclusion

DataLase has developed a solution that enables the decoration of HDPE plastic bottles without the need for labels, inks, or filmic material. This is made possible through the use of laser-imageable technology which is both durable and easy to adopt. Importantly, this innovative technology has no negative impact on the recyclability processes conducted by RecyClass, and has achieved a grade A rating, the highest level possible, according to their testing. This solution not only potentially helps to address recyclability issues in the plastic bottle industry but also supports members of the supply chain in achieving their sustainability goals.