A Buyer Checklist for Sustainable Adhesive Labels

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Q:  Are 100% Recycled Paper Labels Really Eco-Friendly?

I received a call from a person asking whether 100% recycled paper or Kraft paper labels were Avery EcoFriendly Inkjet Laser mailing Labels 48462.jpgthe better eco-option for their adhesive labels.  The answer was “No”.

For many it may not seem obvious why 100% recycled labels and Kraft paper labels are most often not your best sustainable adhesive label option.  So we’ll discuss that specifically, and also provide an easy-to-use adhesive label buyers checklist to help evaluate truly sustainable choices.

Do 100% Recycled and Kraft Paper Labels REALLY Match Your Sustainability Intention?

It’s helpful to begin our analysis from a big picture view by taking a look at the main components of a typical pressure-sensitive adhesive label.

Often buyers unintentionally miss their sustainability target by focusing their label purchasing decision only upon the sustainable aspects of the labels’ paper/facestock.  For example, they only seek labels with claims of FSC-certified paper, 100% Recycled, and Kraft paper.  But most times these seemingly good choices are actually not so sustainable.  Finding a greener printer of greener labels can be challenging.  Let’s make it easier for you!

A typical adhesive label is comprised of:

1) Facestock – this is the most visible aspect of the label.  The ink-printed facestock is usually what most small businesses think about when considering labels, along with the ink.  This is often paper-based, but other materials may be used too.

2) Adhesive – the sticky part that enables the label to be applied to a surface.

3) Liner Backing – usually a silicone-coated paper.  This is the ‘backing’ of the label which you peel off and discard. (note: there are linerless labels which do not use any liner)

4) Ink / Printing – the image/message printed on the facestock. Other impressions and foils are possible, but ink is most common.

5) Coatings – protective coatings and performance enhancers which may be applied to the facestock

This label framework covers the vast majority of pressure-sensitive adhesive labels used by small and mid-sized businesses.  Of course not all labels will always have exactly these five components, and certainly different label technologies, material and machines may provide varying alternatives. However, for pressure-sensitive adhesive labels this will provide a nice framework you can use much of the time.

Evaluating Sustainability Factors

In determining the right adhesive label choice for your needs, consider (1) your view of sustainability, (2) where the label will be applied, and (3) the performance characteristics of the label.

Let’s look at each of these three dimensions:

Your View of Sustainability:  It has been broadly accepted there are three core components to triple-bottom-line sustainability (3BL) (often referenced as People, Planet, Profit).  The planet side of things is more than simply the natural and recycled aspects of an item.  A full life cycle view must be considered.  That is, how does the entire label (all label materials, i.e., label, adhesive, liner, ink, and coatings) impact the 3BL? And more specifically the environmental impact fully considering the labels’ origin/source, use, re-use (hopefully), and likely disposal. Now that’s just 1/3 of the sustainability equation!  Consider also “P” for People and community.  Can you incorporate social responsibility into your label choice?  Pacha Soap and PURE Labels from Hemp Wildgrass

PURE Labels™ are the only adhesive label recognized by the Fair Trade Federation. PURE Labels are produced with fair trade natural wildgrass and hemp papers.

Where will the Label be Applied?

To illustrate an example, with the best of intentions business owners pay good money for compostable packaging, however they unwittingly then diminish the eco-value and best intentions by placing a non-compostable adhesive label on the packaging.  A non-compostable adhesive sticker may render the entire packaging non-compostable.  This also goes for 100% recycled packaging.  Always consider the packaging or item which the label will be applied to, and how the packaging with label may be disposed and recycled.  Will the label and it’s adhesives also recycle? Will they compost?

Will the Label Perform?

The label must perform too.  If the label is placed on a bottle of wine or a craft beer bottle, it will need to stand up to condensation, wet-handling, and other challenges, such as abrasion, during use and shipping.  In some cases you may need a label with coatings, however there are now new and innovative solutions for natural matte-finish labels which may work well for demanding wet-strength situations.  Explore your sustainable options and see how they perform.  You may be pleasantly surprised that you can have the best of all worlds.

BUYERS CHECKLIST for Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive Labels

  • Are the labels’ sustainability characteristics in alignment with the sustainability characteristics of your packaging?
  • Can the entire label, including adhesive and all components, be recycled? Composted?
  • Is the facestock made from natural plant fiber? 100% recycled? What percent is PCW? Is it responsibly harvested, e.g., FSC certified, using abundant or invasive plant fiber? Note: Papers made from invasive and abundant plant fiber may include hemp, wildgrass, bagasse, sugarcane, mulberry, water hyacinth, and more.
  • Are the green claims authentic? (e.g., water-resistant synthetic paper labels using materials such as rock or stone paper (e.g., TerraSkin®) are typically manufactured from a significant amount of HDPE (HDPE, High Density Poly Ethylene is commonly used in manufacturing plastic bags).  You may need to look beyond marketing messages to truly understand the actual sustainability story.
  • Are the labels produced following Triple Bottom Line sustainability?  What is their socially-responsible or fair trade attribute?
  • Will the labels perform for their intended purpose?
  • Are the labels coated or high-gloss? Is this material natural, compostable, or recycle-friendly?  If so, what is this material, and how does it impact sustainability?
  • What type of ink will be used? Agri-based inks will likely be your best option, even better than soy ink which is still made with petroleum.  Unfortunately, the current label printing capabilities are limited for agri-based inks, especially for small and mid-sized label print runs.  You may be surprised the best and often only option for small label print runs may be digital printing.  From the perspective of life cycle impact, short print runs fair better with energy efficient and minimal-waste digital printing.

During your evaluation of adhesive labels, we encourage you to include PURE Labels in your review.  We’d be pleased to hear your thoughts and conclusions.

Pure Labels have been widely recognized as an innovative sustainability leader by label professionals and label industry experts:

Label and Narrow Web Magazine
Labels and Labeling Magazine
Package Design Magazine
Environmental Leader
Packaging Europe
What They Think blog

FINALLY – An Extra Bonus For You

If you’ve been patient and kind enough to read thus far, you certainly deserve a special treat!  Review your options with the handy sustainability checklist provided.  If you feel Pure Labels fit your needs, visit us at www.PureLabels.com

This month use the discount code of pumpkin to get $20 off your order.  Happy Halloween!

(minimum order of $75; offer ends October 31, 2013)

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