SMI Labels and Packaging Materials

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Label industry and the need to go green.

Climate changes, global warming and environmental degradation are issues that now have become matters of concern to a large part of the urban population of India. A rapidly growing population is contributing to serious problems like paucity of land, soil erosion, depleting forests, destruction of natural habitat, an ever increasing demand of energy, water and infrastructure. All of these lead to air & water pollution, climate changes and finally scarcity of essential inputs necessary for urban living. Research has shown that carbon emissions, which grew by less then 1% per year during 1990 have tripled to a growth rate of over 3.5% since 2000. Nowhere in the world has the level of growth shown a decline in the last decade. Legislations and controls are being implemented on vehicles, industry, transport, etc. to bring down the level of pollution emissions and damage to the environment. Industrial groups and associations around the world have recognized the need for corporate responsibility. They are propagating to their associates and members to implement procedures and systems for reducing the adverse impact of emissions or industrial waste on the environment. Industry is now required to implement treatment of effluents and adopt manufacturing processes that do not adversely effect the environment. Recyclability is being encouraged to reduce waste. Corporate social responsibility is the need of the hour. Pressure sensitive label industry in India has been quite small as compared to that in other countries in the western world. Now with the Indian label industry on a growth path and getting bigger, we need to dwell on the fact that this industry generates a very high level of waste. It is high time that the self adhesive label Industry attends to this issue and looks at solutions for reducing the impact of this waste.
The label industry generates waste at many stages in its path from the time of production of the self adhesive laminate to conversion into labels and then at the stage of final usage in the end users factory. Almost 50% of the self adhesive label stock ends up as waste! The various stages at which this waste originates are as follows;
  1. Trimmings and off-cuts generated during the slitting process in the label stock manufacturing process.
  2. Waste matrix removal at the converting stage in a label printing unit. Waste matrix generation increases if a label user opts for a complex shape for his label.
  3. All the release liner used as backing material in label stock is waste, once the label has been dispensed and applied to the product it is meant for. This occurs at the end user stage.
With a per capita usage of label stock in India, by modest estimates, having reached much over half a square meter, the total consumption of label stock in India is estimated to be around 600 to 700 million square meters per annum. This translates to a total tonnage of label stocks of around 100,000 tons per year. If we take 50% as wastage and with no organized disposal or treatment system in place, we have 50000 tons of waste material that is impacting the environment in India. I am sure this column will be an eye opener and my colleagues in the industry will realize the gravity of this problem which is growing at a fast pace. A fair sized label printing unit in India consuming around half a million square meters of label stocks each month is a part of the chain that would be generating close to 500 tons of waste each year. I am sure many printers who fall in this bracket will agree that it is time they dwelled on this problem seriously. They need to indulge extensively and contribute their bit by indulging in waste management and recycling wherever possible to reduce the adverse effects of this waste on our environment. 
Waste matrix removed from the release liner during the label printing process has not met with much success in the re-pulping process by the paper mills in a effort to reconvert the matrix into paper. This is due to the fact that water is extensively used during re-pulping and pressure sensitive adhesives do not dissolve in water. Wherever a process has been evolved to repulp this waste, the paper produced did not stand upto performance standards. Once recyclable PSA’s are developed and made available at affordable prices, printers will be able to send the waste matrix reels to paper mills. Till such time these rolls will either find their way to land fill adding to soil erosion or be incinerated without recovery of the energy so generated and polluting the atmosphere with the smoke and gasses so generated.
Release liner is a compulsory waste generated in all self adhesive products. One of the only paper mills to have developed a technology to repulp the siliconized release paper is Ahlstrom Werke in Germany. Here the participating companies pay the freight and ship the liner free of cost to the mill. Such a system does not exist in India. Efforts are needed to address this gigantic issue. Release liner recyclability can be attended to in a limited way if the end users of label also cooperate with the other constituent of the entire supply chain consisting of the laminate producer, the label printer and the label user. Designing linerless labels, recycling and re-using release liners, re-pulping to produce papers can reduce the impact of this waste on the environment. This can only be achieved by a joint initiative by the industry at large. Government support by subsidizing the efforts will also drive people to consider indulging in these initiatives.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 http://www.weldoncelloplast.com/

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