26th February. Posted in Insights.

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. This means that materials constantly flow around a ‘closed loop’ system, rather than being used once and then discarded, destined for either landfill or incineration. For those organisations who are setting ambitious targets to achieve net-zero waste, developing a sustainability strategy that supports commercial, social and environmental benefits is a priority.

An area influencing these targets for many business is packaging choice, and particularly print and apply labels where backing sheets and thermal transfer ribbon cannot be readily recycled.

Let’s take a closer look.

So why can’t label backing sheets be recycled?

Print and apply labels remain a key area for businesses looking to reduce costs and further improve their environmental performance. A typical print and apply label produces label backing waste with silicone release coating and thermal transfer ribbon waste which consists of plastics, waxes and resins, all of which are multi-material and non-recyclable.

Label backing sheets are a hybrid form of paper found on the back of stickers and address label sheets. While usually the rule is “if it tears – you can recycle it”, with paper, this is one exception to the rule, and here’s why: the paper component of label backing sheets is known as glassine, named because it is translucent. The paper fibres are so thin that you can nearly see through the paper. While the most common use of glassine is in backing sheets, it’s also used in envelopes, food wrappers and pastry bags because it’s smoother than normal paper. The process of manufacturing glassine involves flattening the paper fibres so that they’re smooth and running in the same direction. Unfortunately, the entire market for paper recycling involves the strength of the fibres, so glassine on its own has a limited recycling market because it’s difficult to extract pulp from the fibres.

The second step in making a label backing sheet is to coat it with a release agent, which is what allows us to peel the label or sticker away in the first place. There are three common release agents for backing sheets: silicone, PET, plastic resin and polypropylene, or plastic resin. No matter which release agent is used, it would need to be separated during the recycling process in order to reclaim the paper. On this basis, it is easy to understand why backing sheets can’t be recycled. As a further consideration, the label itself can also hinder the recyclability of the substrate it is applied to, as the glues used to apply the label can clog up recycling machines.

Therefore for many businesses, the continued use of print and apply labels is hampering organisational progress towards achieving a zero-waste, truly circular ambition and a better risk management of raw materials.

Now for a viable alternative

Being a highly effective substitute for print and apply labels, the DataLase Case Coding solution can help businesses move towards their circular economy goals. As the solution uses laser to provide a fast and highly efficient method of applying variable information, such as barcodes, date & lot codes, QR codes, graphics and sequential batch numbers, onto corrugated boxes and shelf ready packaging (SRP), there are instant sustainability benefits available to businesses, not least being the ability to move towards a zero waste to landfill status.

The DataLase Case Coding technology can be applied at the latest stage in the product supply chain, enabling the supply chain to be responsive and flexible to consumer demand, without the additional waste and excessive SKUs this often brings. Each individual box can be printed according to language, regulatory, nutritional, brand or geographical needs, minimising packaging production, shipment and storage, therefore lowering the associated carbon footprint. SKU rationalisation brings multiple benefits to a supply chain in its own right, including: improved manufacturing efficiency thanks to reduced changeovers; reduced costs through better inventory management; reduced warehousing and logistics requirements due to more accurate planning and forecasting; and ultimately, an improved bottom line due to a reduction in operational costs.

To find out more about DataLase Case Coding, visit www.DataLase.com/case-coding/