How to Overcome Sustainable Packaging Challenges

Label and packaging manufacturers are likely tasked with increasing sustainability levels in their processes and end-use products to meet brand owner and consumer demands, pass public progress trackers and increase ease of recycling. However, doing so without compromising productivity and performance can get complicated. 

Therefore, it’s a good idea to understand how adhesives play an important role in helping meet these challenges and improve sustainability overall.  

Challenge #1: Meet Brand Owner and Consumer Demands  

Many brand owners have initiated sustainability goals in an effort to address consumers’ increasing environmental awareness and preference for packaged products from companies that they feel are actively reducing environment impact and making the world a more sustainable place. Along with gaining consumer trust and loyalty, brand owners are looking to use sustainable packaging knowing that it will likely grow their revenue as well. They rely on converters and suppliers to offer insight on market trends expected to impact sustainability needs and desires on a global level. However, meeting sustainable packaging demands and having knowledge of what trends are next puts pressure on converters to provide materials that will offer the sustainability requirements while still providing the performance levels brand owners desire. For example, converters must invest time into testing and ensuring the materials pass certain certifications before going into production processes. This can impact operational efficiencies and increase production costs. 

Challenge #2: Pass Public Progress Trackers 

As more brands set sustainability goals and market those plans to consumers, non-governmental organizations are taking note and holding them accountable. In fact, some private companies are tracking brand owners’ progress to reach their goals and posting it online. These public assessments have a domino effect on converters. Brand owners rely on them to find sustainable packaging materials, but as this sector of the industry continues developing, it’s challenging for converters to make quick changes as they wait for more sustainable options that can also provide the same performance, production time and costs. Converters understand, however, that if they do not show significant strides towards reaching sustainability goals, their metrics may affect the entire value chain of converters, suppliers and brand owners. Therefore, pressure is rising for converters to help brand owners deliver on their promises; otherwise, the brand owners could face criticism if they are not publicly showing progress towards reaching sustainable goals. This could hurt their chances of gaining trust and brand loyalty from consumers, which in turn may affect the converters’ business. 

Challenge #3: Increase Ease of Recycling 

It is also challenging to increase overall package sustainability levels when considering that the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) requires all package components to offer certain recyclability levels in order for the package itself to be recyclable. This includes the adhesives, which previously were not examined, as they are considered a small component of an overall package when compared to larger components, such as corrugated board stock, plastic or paper. Previously, the lack of recyclability in adhesives did not stop a package from going through a plastic recycling stream. Rather, the focus for adhesives was on how they impacted the recycled package’s transparency and aesthetics. This is because the adhesive caused the plastic’s next application use to be limited as a result of how the adhesive “broke down” and formed gels; the plastic became translucent or opaque, decreasing the opportunities for the plastic to be used in a similar format again. 

However, now converters must consider the sustainability of all package components no matter how much of that component is used in a package; they must also know whether those components can go through a single recycling stream. This means the finished package must have recycling compatibilities that pass APR guidelines, which include: 

  • At least 60% of consumers having access to a collection system that accepts the product 
  • The substrate’s recyclability being clearly identifiable to ensure it will be sorted correctly, having market value  
  • The substrate being capable of successfully processing in a feedstock to form new products 

This means that adhesives can no longer be overlooked and must be considered in terms of how they impact recyclability. It also means that converters must take steps to make sure all package components meet these APR criteria. This can take a long time, placing pressure on converters to find ways to do it fast, efficiently and accurately. 

How Adhesives Provide Sustainable Solutions: 

Enhanced Sustainable Manufacturing Processes 

Adhesives can help manufacturers reduce carbon footprint through improved processes. Sustainable adhesive technologies have been formulated specifically to allow manufacturers to rely on one technology for multiple applications, such as room temperature standard and freezer grade label adhesives. This helps manufacturers reduce downtime for equipment changes and clean-up since they can use the same technology throughout production for different products. Additionally, sustainable adhesives are solvent and isocyanate free, eliminating harmful chemical risks for workers.  

Adhesives also allow manufacturers to reduce plant energy usage. With water-based adhesives, no heat is required for curing because the water evaporates to form a bond. This helps mitigate energy usage throughout production by eliminating the need for a heat source. Manufacturers can also mitigate energy usage and material waste with sustainable hot melt adhesives in drum unloaders. The use of a holding tank is optional with drum unloaders, as they can be directly connected to a line. This allows manufacturers to soften and melt adhesive as needed, which decreases the need for continuous energy usage to keep the adhesive warm. This also reduces charring and adhesive waste for manufacturers, which results in less downtime and more focus on getting the finished product to the brand owner on time. 

Increased Readily Available Options for Trackable Progress:  

Adhesives offer lasting impact on overall sustainability levels that converters can utilize as measurable, sustainable improvements for their brand owners to note as progress. In particular, converters can switch to different adhesives to show measurable progress to increasing overall package sustainability levels.  

Linerless label adhesives, for example, are useful for many applications, including ecommerce and food-related industries. These label adhesive solutions can bond to a surface without requiring a release liner. This enables converters to reduce product waste throughout their production and increase the number of labels per roll. As a result, more rolls can fit in a shipment, which also means more boxes can be shipped per transport; this reduces the amount of trips a truck makes, which cuts carbon emissions. Linerless label adhesives also help reduce warehouse storage space so that it can be utilized more efficiently. By incorporating linerless label adhesives into their overall product packaging, brand owners can show how they’ve reduced waste and carbon emissions, both key areas being tracked.  

Additionally, using adhesives formulated with bio-based raw materials offers increased end-use package sustainability without compromising on performance. In particular, converters can manufacture a package that’s comprised of up to 50 percent bio-based materials, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. This provides brand owners with measurable progression as they increase sustainable packaging levels and show outside organizations they are taking action on their goals, while still gaining the same package performance. 

Improved Recyclability for Overall Package:  

Fortunately, adhesives offer recycling compatibilities that help sustainable packaging come to fruition and improve ease of recycling. In particular, an APR-approved label adhesive is in the final stages of completion to benefit ecommerce applications. This recyclable label adhesive is approved to run through plastic recycling streams after receiving APR-certification following APR-approved lab testing. This enables more plastic recycling, specifically for transparent packaging options. 

Additionally, adhesive technologies such as cold seal and flexible laminating adhesives can help increase recycling ease, especially as they can enable package to be eligible for store drop-off recyclability programs. Water-based, cold seal adhesives are typically used for confectionary packaging applications, offering easy wash-off capabilities during the repulp process for film and paper substrates, including PE films. This means there is no residue left behind, which is a recyclability requirement. 

Manufacturers can also laminate PE films with Recyclass-certified, laminating adhesives. These adhesives offer high-quality performance and have been proven to show little to no impact on the recycling process or resulting recyclate resin. Compatible with the polyethylene recycling stream, these adhesives offer more flexibility to include inks, coatings and adhesives without worrying the overall package will not pass recyclability.  

How Bostik Can Help You Overcome Sustainable Packaging Challenges  

As a global adhesives and coatings leader as well as an Arkema company, Bostik works directly with customers to determine how their processes and end-use products can increase sustainability levels. We understand there are many aspects to consider, and it can be complicated to manufacture a package using sustainable processes without impacting output needs or performance. Due to our large portfolio of adhesive solutions, our team has the expertise in testing a wide range of formulations to ensure you are gaining the best end-use performance while offering sustainable features in your packaging. They can easily offer you the knowledge and recommendations that will benefit your processes. Additionally, our solutions enable you to become one step closer to reaching overall package sustainability success by considering compostable end-of-life disposal, light weighting to improve your product’s environmental impact, using biobased raw materials or utilizing wash-off adhesive technology for recycling. 

Are you looking to improve your label and packaging sustainability levels? Contact a Bostik representative to discuss how we can help incorporate sustainable adhesive solutions into your production lines that enable you to help brand owners build consumer loyalty.  

Read more on how adhesives are helping improve sustainable packaging: 

How Linerless Labels Give You More with Less 

Want to Learn About Cold Seal Adhesives?  

What Label Market Megatrends Mean for Adhesives 

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