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APR committee tackles shrink sleeve label recycling issues

Last October, 185 members of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) met in Greenville, SC, to discuss ongoing projects including tackling the issue of shrink-sleeve labels on bottles. APR's five-month-old, multi-stakeholder shrink-sleeve working group includes 19 companies and has issued an interim report regarding the problems these labels pose to PET recycling.

Clare Goldsberry

May 7, 2014

2 Min Read
APR committee tackles shrink sleeve label recycling issues

Some of the findings of the report included an estimation that about 58% of PET bottles collected in the U.S. go through reclamation systems with a wet front-end (hot caustic wash) process and thus present "more problems" than do dry front-end systems. The first step in PET recycling is a whole bottle hot caustic wash to melt adhesive in pressure sensitive and glue-applied labels, and to get the labels to float.

While the shrink sleeve labels are too heavy and tend to sink with the PET, another sub-group is determining the potential for floatable labels to address some of the shrink sleeve label problems for PET reclaimers. A key concern is how a floatable label might affect the recycling of recovered caps. According to speakers at the APR meeting it was anticipated that Coca-Cola would "likely introduce a floatable olefin-based shrink sleeve label with micro-perforations" (for easy removal) this past November. After a three-month market test on a holiday season beverage product involving Walmart, Coke intended to use the label through its beverage packaging portfolio beginning in 2014. [Editor's note: As of this writing, nothing could be found to confirm this intention.]

Research by Eastman Chemical and the Full-Wrap Label Consortium revealed that perforated labels can be removed by reclaimers at levels as hit as 99.8%, using a zipper-like, double-seam perforation. In a sister project, Sun Chemicals is undertaking research to determine if shrink sleeve labels could be coated with a foaming agent that would cause label scrap to foal in a sink-floatation system, said the APR meeting report.

Typically shrink sleeve labels must be removed prior to the recycling process, and generally removal by the consumer is optimum to the recycling process. As John Standish, technical director of the APR, noted in his recent presentation at the AWA Sleeve Label Conference in Cincinnati, these delabeling machines involve a lot of capital investment including new equipment, maintenance costs, extra labor, processing down time and yield loss. Standish doesn't see delabeling of PET bottles as a "long-term solution." However, with shrink sleeve labels representing approximately 5% of the total weight of a bale of PET, the investment might just be worth it.  An APR sub-group is working with four delabeler manufacturers (Amut, Herbold, Sorema and STF) to assess the effectiveness of these new systems.

Six producers of sorting equipment are taking part in tests that assess the effects of these labels on PET Resin and color sorting. Committee attention is also being directed to ink-bleeding issues, as shrink sleeve labels cause bleeding problems that are several times greater than ink bleeding from wrap-around labels. 

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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