A ‘zero-to-landfill’ pilot scheme in West and South Yorkshire has managed to reduce the amount of label waste that ends up in landfill sites this year by 1,000 tonnes. Environmental campaigners are working with the entire label printing supply chain in the region to ensure commitment to moving the unwanted label materials as a product to be turned into a combustible fuel to generate energy. The scheme is in its third month and has been branded a success by environmentalists and label printers in the area.
Label Recycling Issues
It may come as a surprise to many that there is such a large problem with waste disposal in the label industry. Why can’t paper-based label waste simply be recycled alongside other types of paper, cardboard and plastics in the typical manner?
The specific issue that exists is with the backing to the adhesive sheet labels. These backing liners are made from a variety of different chemical substrates such as honey glassine, silicone or kraft. Unfortunately when it comes to recycling, these chemicals need to be separated from each other before they can be broken down.
This is a process that requires a treatment to take place which is often not a cost-effective approach for a business. Instead the disposal of waste into a landfill site offers a legal and affordable way of getting rid of unwanted label liners. The result of this is that an enormous 180,000 tonnes of label waste end up in UK landfill sites each year. This is a number which environmental campaigners have challenged themselves to eradicate from the label industry.
Waste To Energy
As the success of the zero-to-landfill pilot scheme has demonstrated, the option of turning label waste into energy is a viable one. The idea is that label waste is collected along with other suitable materials to be recycled and can be blended to produce either a Solid Recovery Fuel (SRF) or Rubbish Derived Fuel (RDF) which is then used to generate heat or electricity.
Unfortunately, the process of turning waste into energy is not a simple one and waste must go through various pre-treatment stages such as shredding, granulating and blending to ensure that the recycled particles enter the incinerator in the perfect condition to work effectively. Another problem that exists is that there are relatively few SRF or RDF facilities in the UK.
Whilst the cost of the waste to energy process might be considered by some businesses to be affordable, the expense of transportation to move the label waste to such a facility tips the balance in favour of using landfill sites instead. There are plans to open up additional RDF plants across the country which is an important step to take from an environmental point of view.
Campaigners are also urging label factories to start onsite shredding which removes one of the key pre-treatment steps required before visiting a waste to energy facility.
The label industry is seriously looking into realistic options to dispose of this mass of unwanted label material but each individual company will need to find the right path for their own organisation which doesn’t damage their company finances or the environment.
Rob Lorkins works for the leading UK label manufacturer, Labelnet. Based in Ongar, Essex, Labelnet design and manufacture high quality branded labels, stickers and packaging.