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October 19, 2021 - Flexible Packaging

Understanding the Differences Between Compostable and Recyclable Adhesives

Packaging manufacturers are continually looking for more ways to be sustainable with their development processes and materials. A combination of both increasing governmental regulations and consumer environmental concerns is also adding pressure to find more sustainable solutions. However, many manufacturers and companies are still working to fully understand how recyclable and compostable materials may differ in the ways products break down over time. While adhesives can be offered in both sustainable ways, there are a number of reasons more OEMs are turning to compostable solutions.

Compostable vs. Recyclable

While it’s important for sustainable packaging design to cause the lowest amount of environmental impacts possible, it’s also crucial to consider its end-of-life cycle. According to the European Union’s Ecodesign Directive, 80% of products’ environmental impacts are determined at design phase. This is also when requirements are developed for OEMs to reduce energy consumption. When considering whether to use compostable or recyclable adhesives, it’s important to understand how their requirements can differ from one another before manufacturers go forward with design choices for products.

What makes something recyclable?

Recycling is the process of recovering wasted material and turning it into new materials and products.For packaging to be fully recyclable, the adhesive needs to be recyclable, too. Packaging with recycled materials uses either post-industrial or post-consumer content such as plastics, cans or paper. These materials become compounded into bails, then melted or grounded into small pellets later used to form new bottles, cans and papers. For example, many paper products can be recovered an average of 4-6 times before their fiber strength is lost. Each time recycling occurs, the fibers become shorter and weaker. That is when virgin pulp is implemented into paper production to maintain the strength and quality of the fiber.

Recycling has the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, extend the supply of wood fiber, lessen the amount of energy needed for producing paper products, and save landfill space. However, a major challenge has been educating consumers on what packaging should be recycled. Experts say 80 percent of what we throw away could be recycled, but only 28 percent is recycled.

Utilizing recyclable adhesives:

Recyclable adhesives are typically used for automotive applications as well as for glass, aluminum and steel bonding needs. These adhesives can be fully melted down without creating any adhesive waste or residue when the end use product has reached its end of life.

What makes something compostable?

In order for packaging to be considered compostable, the product must be able to break down into non-toxic, natural elements. Under controlled composting conditions, the material will be able to disintegrate within 180 days from high humidity, high temperature or the growth of microorganisms and bacteria. During this process, source material, moisture and oxygen levels, temperature and acidity are closely monitored. Once the material has been completely broken down, the earth will be provided with nutrients of rich soil with no toxic residue. All compostable products need to be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) as being fully compostable, including compostable adhesives.

Utilizing compostable adhesives:

Compostable materials can be made with many different formulations to help increase durability. For example, compostable produce and bakery bags are popular ways to keep food properly packaged and fresh for customers, as paper bags have been favored for their large weight capacity, versatile aesthetics and brand image benefits for businesses. Packaging manufacturers are also now turning to plant-derived cellophane windows, soy-based ink or beeswax-coated paper to help achieve similar aesthetics for plastic windows or plastic-coated paper.

How Compostable Adhesives Can Offer Sustainability Options:

While recyclable adhesives offer numerous advantages, compostable adhesives enable you to create fully compostable products, a major trend in the packaging market. It’s easy to see how compostable adhesives are great for the environment and at times more useful than just recycling, but what’s in it for manufacturers? There are numerous ways compostable adhesives in particular can benefit manufacturing companies including:

  • Reduced landfill waste: Food packaging produces a challenge for recycling collectors. Packaging that is contaminated with food cannot be recycled and often ends up in a landfill. However, when used with other compostable materials, a compostable adhesive ensures a package can decompose fully outside of a landfill, minimizing harmful greenhouse gases that are released from food packaging waste.
  • Company certifications: To become BPI certified, every element in the packaging must be made from all-natural materials. This includes the boardstock, ink and adhesives used in the package’s manufacturing. Since compostable adhesives contribute to the development of 100% compostable packaging, manufacturers may be more inclined to use other natural materials as well. This switch encourages more usage of compostable items while continuing the reduction of waste over time.
  • Faster decomposition: While many companies offer biodegradable packaging, the decomposition process is different from composting. Everything is technically biodegradable, whether it decomposes in one year or one thousand years. However, compostable products must fully decompose in a given timeframe. Compostable products are also certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), whereas biodegradable products are not.

How Compostable Adhesives Can Help Manufacturers:

Considering compostable adhesives for packaging requires new innovative ideas for the development process, but the result provides numerous benefits for manufacturers:

  • Capitalize on increased market demand: As consumers become more environmentally conscious, several major ecommerce and retail companies have made commitments to switch to 100% sustainable packaging within the next decade. Adding a compostable adhesive to your production can help you meet these commitments without sacrificing packaging quality and help you take advantage of new marketing opportunities.
  • Reduce your costs: A compostable adhesive breaks down to natural gases and biomass, and therefore reduces waste processing costs. Natural materials are also typically lighter than manufactured materials, which can help reduce shipping expenses.
  • Increase your design innovations: Compostable adhesives can be used in a variety of applications, including closed venues, single-use packaging, single-use items, food packaging and municipal curbside collection. This wide range of applications gives you plenty of opportunities to include a compostable adhesive into the package design.

Benefits of Compostable Packaging Options for End-Users:

OEMs typically are thinking about how compostable adhesives could play into sustainable packaging options more than the end-user. However, there are many reasons end-users can see the benefits of overall compostable packaging alternatives:

  • Food delivery services: Restaurant delivery demands have more than doubled since March 2020, creating an urgent need for more packaging. However, not all consumers are aware of how to separate recyclable items from food waste for proper disposal. This leads to more waste in landfills that could be recycled or composted. Compostable packaging can help reduce the end-of-life challenges with food delivery and carryout packaging by breaking it down. It does not have to be separated from food scraps to decompose, creating an easier process for consumers.
  • Sustainable demands from customers: Customers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental concerns. A recent study from the Flexible Packaging Association found that 79% of surveyed consumers prefer products that are in sustainable packaging. One way to address customer concerns is for food product companies and grocery stores to explore sustainable food packaging options. Earning the required BPI certification for compostable packaging can help companies gain trust with customers and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

How Bostik’s Compostable Adhesive Can Help

Bostik’s compostable hot melt adhesive, Thermogrip® 43298, is the first ever BPI-certified hot melt adhesive, ensuring it is 100% compostable. It works with service temperatures ranging from 0° to 180° F (-17.7° to 82° C). Thermogrip® 43298 also provides excellent adhesion to compostable plastics and fibers, ensuring the product will provide strong bonding for your desired process methods. This hot melt is ideal for melt-on-demand systems along with other systems, which allows you to use equipment you already have.

As companies see a rising demand for more sustainable packaging options, manufacturers can play a role in the change with compostable adhesives. It can provide successful bonding and create new opportunities to build trust among manufacturers and end-users.

For more information on how Bostik’s sustainable adhesives can help your company, contact us today.

More relevant content on compostable packaging:

Easily Achieve Compostable To-Go Packaging

How Compostable Materials Improve Produce and Bakery Bags

Five Types of Sustainable Adhesives You Should Know About

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