Recyclable labels

May 3, 2021, by Lisa Saville

As a Carbon Neutral Certified printer we often get asked about recyclable labels and ‘environmentally friendly’ substrates to print on. When it comes to labelling solutions, it is a little more complex so let’s break it down in more detail…

To start with, labels consist of three parts: the printable substrate or ‘face material’; the backing film or ‘release liner’ that gets discarded; plus a layer of adhesive between the two. This often means that some parts of the label are recyclable but parts of it may not be.

Next, many people get confused between the terms ‘recycled’; ‘recyclable’; ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’. A product labeled as ‘RECYCLABLE’ can go into the recycling bin, versus general landfill. ‘RECYCLED’ on the other hand, means a product already includes content from previously used material. For an item to be considered ‘COMPOSTABLE’, it must be able to break down into organic materials that can offer nutrients to the soil and plants around it. Finally, the term ‘BIODEGRADABLE’ simply means that an item will break down into smaller parts after disposal.

Another factor to consider is, what will your label be applied onto and does this have compatible characteristics? For example a vinyl label applied onto a paper bag will render both items non-recyclable unless they are separated first.

So with all this information, what should you look for? Ideally you want a label that is recyclable or biodegradable, an adhesive that is water-based (ie. solvent-free), and a release liner that is not coated with silicone which cannot be recycled. We would recommend choosing paper labels where possible as paper can be recycled and or biodegrade more readily. If your labels need to be waterproof, Rock Paper self adhesive stock  is a great alternative to vinyl as it is waterproof plus it can both be recycled and will biodegrade. It also has a water-based adhesive, as do our paper labels and Polylaser vinyl labels. Unfortunately to date we have been unable to source any labels in this country with release liners that are not coated in silicone or laminated with PE film.

The recycling options and variety of products available in South Africa is significantly smaller than that available in Europe and America but as the demand grows, we hope that the local offering will increase too making it possible for us to make truly sustainable choices. Until then we must all do the best we can, wherever we can, to mitigate un-recyclable waste as far as possible.

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