Fruit and vegetable labels that don't gum up the works

May 15, 2015

At the Bio!Pac biobased packaging conference this week in Amsterdam, Arjan Klapwijk of Bio4Life (Bleiswijk, Netherlands), "a small company dedicated to sustainable packaging challenges involving adhesives," as he described it, held a presentation on an issue his company has successfully addressed: Adhesive fruit labels. While it is not a topic that is at the forefront of many people's awareness, these labels are a headache for industrial composters.

Most labels commonly found on fruit—both on individual pieces as well as, in the case of bananas or grapes, on fruit bunches—are made of PE and a conventional adhesive, neither of which are biodegradable or compostable. Nonetheless, these innocuous little labels often end up with the peelings in the compost collection carts and, ultimately, in industrial composting facilities. Here, say composters, they turn into a sticky clump that is very difficult to get rid of.

Even home composters, faced with composting piles speckled with undigested fruit and vegetable labels, have had to resort to manually removing these from the compost. As one irate composter asked: "Are we supposed to be eating the labels, too?"

Fruit labelsNow, a simple but effective solution is available for this problem using a completely compostable water-based self-adhesive technology originally developed for non-direct contact labels years ago by a company called Sustainable Adhesive Products (SAP). When Bio4Life became the major shareholder of SAP about three years ago, it further developed the technology, called BioTak. Already certified compliant with the European compostability standard EN13432, the technology was subsequently also approved for food contact, which meant that it could be disposed of in the green waste stream, or composted.

To produce food and fruit labels, BioTak is coated onto a facestock material of choice: Paper, NatureFlex (cellulose-based film made by Innovia), Novamont's Mater-Bi or a PLA film. The labels are then printed with environmentally friendly organic inks.

"Our latest development in this area is a new kind of paper," said Klapwijk. "We are now offering paper made from bagasse, a waste product from the sugar industry. These are the sugarcane fibers that are left over after the juice has been extracted. The paper is available in white, or with a natural look, with visible fibers, which is suitable for "natural" applications."

Last September, Bio4Life captured the Award for Sustainability at the Label Industry Global Awards 2014, held as part of Labelexpo Americas in Chicago, for the new fruit label. The company was lauded for its innovative combination "of a biodegradable face material with a biodegradable adhesive to provide an EN-certified solution for fruit labeling."

"Receiving the award was great," said Klapwijk. "Bio4Life will continue to work on developments to solve labeling challenges in applications where compostability and renewability are key. Right now we are working on the development of hot melts, which will be a new addition to our portfolio. The first prototypes are expected this summer. Other applications under development are bread and window bags, and laminating adhesives."

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