The Environmental Vs Commercial Challenge Of Label Waste Disposal
The label industry has an ongoing challenge to find environmental and cost-effective ways of disposing of non-recyclable label backing liners.
An estimated 180,000 tonnes of label waste is dumped by printers into UK landfill sites each year. The reason this occurs is because the backing liner of adhesive labels is unable to be recycled following the typical methods that paper, cardboard and plastics are repurposed.
Chemically Backed Materials
The backing liner to labels is made from various materials that are laden with chemicals before being mixed together – these might typically include silicone, ink, adhesives and paper. The combination of these substrates that are fixed together on the same reel means that recycling is either labour-intensive, expensive or just not possible. Where recycling opportunities do exist, they require sophisticated methods of removing silicon from the sheet before being able to separate the various waste streams.
Various environmental groups and businesses are taking up the challenge of dealing with this frustrating issue which is causing problems for our environment and future generations. The key focus is on enabling businesses to reduce their landfill volumes without affecting their profit sheets too heavily.
Of course if a positive culture change really is to occur, then the label industry would be motivated towards the recycling of label waste in order to save the environment as well as protecting their own finances. Yet it is understandable that the industry turns its focus to the cost-effectiveness of managing their label waste. Currently landfills offer the most affordable and legal way of removing label waste from their site, so it is unsurprising that this is the most popular method of disposal.
Waste To Energy
However, another option which is available to label manufacturers is the opportunity of turning label waste into energy. This is the process of generating heat or electricity from the treatment of label waste which would be mixed with other excess materials to create a combustible fuel. Unfortunately, this is not always a viable option for label makers in the UK at present because the waste must be treated and broken down before being presented to the Rubbish Derived Fuel (RDF) plants.
Although the cost of the treatment is similar in price to the gate fee at a landfill site, there are relatively few RDF plants in the UK which means that the transportation costs of getting to the sites make a dent in the margins of a label business.
Environmental campaigners are joining together to work on a Zero-to-Landfill project. A pilot scheme has been set up in West and South Yorkshire due to the density of label printers in the region. These businesses have been provided with steel cabinets in which to collect their label waste for a trial period. The commitment of the entire supply chain has been secured and focusses on the movement of material as a product rather than as waste. This has made the process cost-effective to businesses and has so far ensured that around 1,000 tonnes of label waste will not be bound to a landfill site this year.
On-site shredding is another initiative that has launched and means that the waste material can be presented to RDF plants without the need for pre-treatment shredding at a separate facility beforehand.
Changes such as the opening of more UK RDF facilities are likely to occur in the fight against label waste. Moving forward, the biggest challenge will be educating businesses about the new options for label waste disposal.