"Recyclers were seeing more and more containers with full-wrap shrink sleeve labels contaminating their material," said John Standish, technical director of APR. "We formed a group to clearly identify steps that would allow brand owners to take advantage of these labels without creating a negative impact on the quality of the rPET stream."
Byron Geiger, president of Custom Polymers PET, and chairman of the APR Technical Programs, commented, "Unfortunately, these labels serve as a great marketing tool, but they essentially render the container non-recyclable. Sorting technology was unable to identify the resin type of the container if it had a full-wrap label, thereby not separating it out appropriately, resulting in a contaminated stream of material. It was a significant problem."
Key recommendations of the working group include:
- Employ sleeve labels that will float in water and separate from PET flakes in a sink/float material separation step.
Because shrink sleeve labels are typically made from heavier weight film, the labels tend to sink in the water with the PET flake. Additionally, PETG label residue can cause clumping, a problem noted by Standish at the annual Shrink Sleeve Label conference in April of this year. [www.plasticstoday.com/articles/Recycling-issues-continue-to-plague-shrink-sleeve-label-%2005072014]
- Employ printed labels where the label inks do not stain PET flakes in the wash/rinse step.
- Use APR's Critical Guidance Document for Shrink Labels for PET Bottles as a comprehensive laboratory test program to assess the impact of a label on recycling PET bottles.
- Where possible, use a sleeve label that leaves at least 20% of the PET bottle surface area exposed. This will allow the most accurate auto-sortation by the broadest range of installed color sorters.
"The extensive work of this group is just the latest example of how the technical guidance that the APR and the plastics recycling industry can provide to ensure that product innovation and recyclability need not be mutually exclusive," said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. "We strive each and every day to bring these types of solutions to the marketplace."
Although the problem is not completely solved, Standish pointed out that several label manufacturers have worked with the APR to create label stock that meets APR guidelines for removal of the labels in the wash system, which reduces the problem. "While we have a ways to go, the market is responding and working with APR to create guidelines that provide for the continued use of a full wrap label that meets the needs of the recycler," he said.
"Although this is one small step in addressing a much larger label problem with containers, the efforts to date give me optimism that the label manufacturers, brand owners and recyclers are up to the challenge," Standish added. "At the end of the day, all parties want to see more of their material recycled."