The colorfully appealing shelf presence of shrink-sleeve labeled bottles combined with practical benefits for brand owners keep this market on a roll—one study forecasts a healthy 6.5% CAGR for sleeve labels through 2017-2023.
However, there’s an unhealthy environmental downside that casts a dark eco-green shadow over an otherwise rosy outlook. The Association of Plastics Recyclers (Washington, D.C.) states that shrink-sleeve labeled PET bottles are not friendly to PET recyclers because they can interfere with the accuracy of automated sortation equipment. “Because many shrink sleeve labels today are PETG-based or PVC-based film with density higher than water, they cannot be separated from PET flakes during the sink-float separation step of the recycling process, and thus contaminate the recycled PET stream and deteriorate the quality of recycled PET (rPET) products.” Also, poor ink adhesion on shrink sleeve labels contaminates wash/rinse water and can stain the color of rPET.
Eastman (Kingsport, TN) believes it has not just a solution, but three solutions to this dilemma, the Smart Recycle Portfolio:
- Eastman Embrace Encore copolyester produces a versatile, clear shrink label that can be recycled with PET;
- Eastman Embrace Float copolyester produces an opaque, low-density shrink label that floats in water and can be separated from PET in the recycling process;
- Sun Chemical (Parsippany, NJ) SunLam De-seaming Adhesive replaces a traditional solvent seam, enabling label removal in the wet recycling process when used with labels made with Eastman Embrace resins.
Notably, all three product solutions are recognized by the APR; both Embrace Encore and Embrace Float have received APR’s Critical Guidance recognition and Sun Chemical’s SunLam De-seaming Adhesive carries APR’s Responsible Innovation Acknowledgment.
“We’re excited to debut this innovative new portfolio at SPC Impact,” said Kendra Harrold, marketing director, Specialty Plastics – Packaging, Eastman. “With more recyclable options, brands can feel confident in their ability to create engaging, attractive and sustainable packaging that meets the needs of any project.”
Attendees at The Packaging Conference (TPC) in early February had a preview of the trio that officially launched April 1-4 during the SPC Impact Conference in Seattle. At TPC, Glenn Goldman, marketing director, specialty plastics, said, “these three solutions end up getting to the same place—diverting shrink-labeled containers from landfills and into recycling streams. The resins unlock innovations across the value chain,” a chain of 10 links starting with the raw material supplier and ending with the reclaimer.
The introduction comes amidst an ongoing series of high-profile sustainability initiatives as a growing number of leading brands, retailers and packaging vendors work to make packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030 or sooner.
While that’s all well and good, there’s a challenging practical aspect for all stakeholders that Goldman pointed out: “Brands prefer to substitute sustainable materials at a lower cost than their current materials or that are at least cost neutral.”
Whether at a cost parity or premium to current materials, pricing will be determined by Eastman's customers and subsequently their customers, the label suppliers, Eastman global market development manager Haley Werth tells PlasticsToday.
The first product using Sun Chemical SunLam De-seaming Adhesive was Church & Dwight’s vitafusion MultiVites gummies commercialized in Fall 2018, which was also the first vitamin to use recycle-friendly shrink-film labeled packaging in the U.S. Along with the adhesive, the shrink labels are made with Eastman Embrace LV resin to turn a previously nonrecyclable package to a recycle-friendly one that earned How2Recycle designation. The full vitafusion gummies line is converting to the recycle-friendly shrink labeled packaging in 2019.
Focused functionality, broad potential
That’s just the start. Potential end-user markets for the Smart Recycle Portfolio are extensive, and include food and beverages, pharmaceutical, home and personal care and automotive.
“These products apply to any product that utilizes a PET container with a shrink label,” summarizes Werth.
Eastman’s expectation is that the new films will be extruded into film that’s the same thickness, in the 40-50 micron range, as films currently in the market.
Will other non-Eastman films work with the recycling-optimized adhesive? “Eastman worked closely with Sun Chemical in partnership to develop the adhesive and bring it to market,” Werth responds. “All market testing has been done with Eastman materials, so therefore we do recommend that [our] products are used.”
Efforts are already progressing with brand introductions to follow, Werth says. “Eastman customers are in the process of commercializing film made from these new resins and we’re anticipating brand adoption this year for Embrace Encore and Embrace Float.”
Admittedly, Eastman expects some cannibalization of its Embrace LV and HY resins over the coming months. “That will depend on the individual brands and their goals and needs for their products with labels,” offers Werth.
These materials are an outgrowth of Eastman’s concerted research and development responding to the widespread pivot toward more sustainable materials.
“Over the past eight years we’ve focused a tremendous amount of resources on understanding and developing solutions to improve the sustainability of shrink-labelled packages,” Werth explains. “We listened to the challenges brand owners and recyclers faced, and quickly responded with this portfolio of options.”
With that kind of planning, it’s not surprising that the early returns on these recycle-enabling materials are highly favorable. “We’re experiencing great interest in these materials,” Werth tells PlasticsToday. “Brand owners are relying on the innovation of their supply chain partners like Eastman to help them meet their packaging sustainability commitments.”