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PET full body sleeve label recycling: no easy answers

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PET full body sleeve label recycling: no easy answers

April 23
13:14 2013

No single solution for recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) full body sleeve labels will suit everybody and make the issue easily solvable, according to Eastman Chemical Company.

The firm aims to tackle the problem of full-wrap labels on PET bottles in the recycle stream and is heading a group of 30 companies that will develop solutions to benefit industry across the value chain.

The label is heat shrunk around a significant portion of the bottle surface, running contiguously, with no seam or other break.

The consortium will meet again next month to assess potential solutions to the problem with a focus on additional equipment options that are available and the viable next steps to implement workable solutions.

Perforated labels and floatable labels are alternatives proposed but have issues to overcome before becoming commercially viable.

Approximately 80% of full-wrap labels in North America are found on PET containers, the most recycled plastic on the market.

Value chain impacted

Holli Whitt, market development manager, sustainability for specialty plastics, Eastman Chemical Company told FoodProductionDaily.com that all parts of the value chain are impacted so everyone needs to work together to strive to find a solution.

“Equipment removal is evolving daily and helping to provide the information on how to get the most successful method of label removal without too much modifications and removal throughout the chain is critical.

“Fully body sleeve labels have a great impact on the shelf and grab the consumers’ attention. Brands are able to use contours and different shapes and 360 degree graphics, which has led to increased success and market share.

“There is not one single solution to make the problem easily solvable and it is a collaboration across the value chain.”

High density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP) does not cause the same problem as it has a density of less than 1 gram per cubic centimetre so the bottles and labels can be separated using conventional equipment.

As full-wrap labels are becoming more popular because of increased shelf appeal, many PET bottles also have been downgauged, said Eastman.

APR: “Critical level”

Speaking to this site earlier this year about the issue , Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), said the issue is hitting critical levels.

“We see more of the full body sleeve labels each month and expect to see more as marketers use the sleeve labels to greater advantage. Sleeve labels have many positive characteristics, such as absence of adhesives and coloured bottle plastic.

“Reclaimers update their capability constantly, but you cannot buy what does not exist and should not buy what is unaffordable. If some sleeved bottles stop the recycling systems, they become unrecyclable and should be so identified.

“Packaging designers and specifiers need to keep their decisions within the realm of what is helpful and avoid magnifying the difficulty of recycling their package.”

The first meeting of the Eastman-headed group, held in August last year discussed how labels are creating challenges in the recycling process and began exploring solutions.

The second meeting, held in November, considered the viability of potential solutions and identified critical success factors.

The group is made up of consumer goods manufacturers, resin and label producers, film extruders, print converters, equipment manufacturers, bottlers and packagers, recyclers and testing firms.

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