Labels are everywhere in everything we consume. Wrapped around food, beverages, cosmetics and medicines, to name a few, they build brands, convey important information and tell stories. Despite this, the relevance of labels in packaging is rarely thought of in the large scale, and labels currently create a sizeable but invisible waste stream.
It’s time for us all to take up the task of labeling a smarter future.
The importance of sustainability is growing in all markets. The focus is clearly on finding sustainable solutions and materials that enhance natural capital and promote the circular economy. In practice that means optimizing usage of natural resources, safeguarding product recyclability and eliminating waste.
Ecodesign should be the start point for all product development, and concepts such as Label Life can offer a holistic understanding of the life cycle of labels in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water consumption and waste. This enables you, the designer, to really understand the life cycle impacts of different label products, and provides credible information about the environmental performance of labels.
When it comes to paper labels, the basic minimum should be choosing papers that are certified as coming from sustainably managed forests. You need to know the origin of the wood and FSC and PEFC are two forest certification standards that verify responsible paper sourcing.
The next step to consider would be to select paper products that can demonstrate a net positive environmental impact. UPM Raflatac’s new FOREST POSITIVE concept does just that and can credibly demonstrate that its RAFNXT+ labels are carbon positive, positive for nature, resource optimized and 100% FSC or PEFC certified. In fact the new labels are up to 20% more carbon positive than standard labels. Your kids would be proud knowing that you are buying raw materials that actually help mitigate climate change and promote wildlife habitat.
When it comes to filmic labels, there are multiple routes one can take to reduce environmental impact. Using radical innovation, filmic labels can be developed that are thinner and lighter, recyclable, biobased and even biodegradeable or compostable. All of these address growing public concern about the use of plastic in packaging and plastic pollution, which programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet are increasingly drawing greater attention to.
Biobased films are also coming into focus. We have recently worked with MUS Verpakkingen to test a biobased PE film solution for can labeling. RafBio PE is a sustainable alternative to standard PE film and is made from sugarcane ethanol containing more than 80% renewable plant-based raw material. This film material reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and is recyclable within the same recycling streams as fossil-based PE.
Another example is the shrink sleeve films found on many beverages. These are one of the fastest growing label segments, growing at 5.5% CAGR. Global brand owners are actively seeking ways to increase the recyclability of shrink sleeved PET containers to reduce their environmental footprint. Did you know that RafShrink PO labels provided average detection rates of 92% versus 40% for PETG sleeve labels in NIR (near infra-red) sorting equipment, significantly improving PET packaging recyclability rates.
And to close the loop, we must consider the fact that labels come on backing liner, which ends up as waste. Our RafCycle® waste management concept is a good example of making the circular economy a reality – a recycling solution that gives label waste a new life in paper, biocomposites or as energy for heating.
There are many more possibilities for improving the sustainability of labels on packaging and it’s important to remember that the labels you choose as the designer, really do matter. Make sustainability your purpose for 2018 and let’s label a smarter future.
About UPM Raflatac
UPM Raflatac is labeling a smarter future by developing innovative and sustainable labeling solutions complemented with world-class service. We develop labeling solutions that help designers and brand owners working in categories such as wine & spirits, food, beverage, home and personal care, to increase their brand impact, sales, operational efficiency and improve sustainability performance.
As one of the world’s leading producers of self-adhesive label materials, we supply high-quality paper and film label stock for consumer product and industrial labeling through a global network of factories, distribution terminals and sales offices. We employ around 3,000 people and made sales of EUR 1.4 billion (USD 1.5 billion) in 2016. UPM Raflatac is part of UPM – The Biofore Company.