The annual industry update on release liner for pressure-sensitive labels was given by AWA Alexander Watson Associates this year in Brussels, appropriately co-located with Labelexpo Europe. Over two extended afternoon sessions – which enabled participants to tour the show as well – presenters from leading companies across the supply chain provided, in the first session, a review of market trends and applications; and in the second session an evaluation of sustainability and recycling achievements and challenges.
The label market
AWA’s President and CEO Corey Reardon opened the proceedings with an overview of the world’s label release liner market. Pressure-sensitive labels still claim a 40% share of the total label market, and label release liner – constituting a 49% share of global release liner usage -- continues to grow at around 4% per annum. Liner usage for tapes, medical, and industrial applications are, however, growing very much faster. Reardon underlined the fact that pressure-sensitive labels undoubtedly remain a better home for the growing base of intelligent label technologies than other labelling systems, and, conversely, also highlighted some challenges: the growing interest in linerless labelling and in direct-to-container digital print; and recycling and sustainability.
Next, Kathrin Federkiel, Market Manager for Wacker Chemie, went on to delve into the specifics of trends and applications in release coating. She examined the trends in printing technology, where toner and inkjet digital formats now play an active role. With the transport and logistics/VIP arena representing a key label market sector today, new demands for thermo-sensitivity have driven the development of new silicone systems, Federkiel said; and other label market developments have increased the need for faster crosslinkers to meet a wider range of paper surface properties and changes in catalyst usage.
Back to the future
Sean Duffy, Global Business Manager, Silcolease Release Coatings Elkem Silicones, took the opportunity to go ‘back to the future’, and look at both historical and future perspectives on the release liner and label industry. He compared materials and markets for labels between 2004 and 2016, highlighting rising costs, technology issues, the search for innovation, consolidation, regulatory demands, and the diversification of label converters into formats other than pressure-sensitive. The global megatrends that surround us today have created a different focus in the label arena – ‘our sticky little world’ -- he said; and his final advice to the audience was to ‘read science fiction!’
Next, Alexander Knott, TS&D Specialist for Dow Corning, discussed silicone trends in release liner for pressure-sensitive labels. Today’s prime market drivers – sustainability, innovation driven by cost control, and new applications which require release coatings -- are directing the industry in a number of directions, which he detailed. In brief, these are the need for ‘flat’ release liner profiles for faster converting and labeling speeds; reduced platinum dependency; materials downgauging and the use of thinner/less-refined papers as release base; film liners, growing as a result of clear-on-clear labels and the use of heat-sensitive substrates; the adoption of digital label print; and, in parallel, major increases in the use of liners for food/bakery applications in Europe.
In-house hybrid lamination technology
Toine Prudon, International Sales Manager, and Sjoerd Jansen, Technical Engineer for Maan Engineering BV, release and adhesive coating equipment manufacturers, turned to the topic of linerless labels, and the benefits of in-house hybrid lamination technology, which enables the production of both linerless labels and pressure-sensitive laminate, on just one machine. Growing currently at 3.3% globally, linerless technology now has a definable future in food and beverage packaging; consumer durables and logistics; and pharmaceutical supplies; and it also offers sustainability advantages. In-house lamination, the presenters showed, offers flexibility coupled with reduced costs; the ability to coat special laminates for particular applications; and high-quality linerless material.
Isidore Leiser, CEO of Stratus Packaging in Luxembourg, provided an insightful overview of the benefits of release liner for a converter and label user. Pressure-sensitive labels can be applied at 22,000 labels per hour – much faster than in-mold or sleeve labels -- and some converters, he said, are even applying liner on non-adhesive products to increase possible application speeds. While the available choices enable converters to be flexible in label production and quality, ‘most of our customers only look at cost advantages’, Leiser commented, adding that end users are also not really interested in the relatively minor problem of coping with spent liner in an environmentally-friendly way, since there are no cost advantages. Liner-based label production today represents a much smaller percentage of Stratus Packaging’s business than it did 35 years ago, but it still offers real added value as ‘part of the solution for some applications’.
The big issue
Corey Reardon’s closing remark at the end of the seminar’s first session was an apt introduction to the following day’s proceedings. ‘One day, when their other waste problems are solved, release liner will become an issue for brand owners.’ Next day, he opened the session dedicated to label release liner sustainability and recycling with the statement that this topic ‘is, I believe, going to be one of the finite issues over the next ten years – and when you’re talking about recycling in the label segment, you’re not just talking about one liner substrate!’ AWA’s in-depth knowledge of the industry enabled Reardon to pinpoint all the issues and set the agenda.
RecuLiner is one live, patented global, sustainable solution for the valid second-life use of spent release liner. General Manager of the inventor company Eric van Pottelbergh explained that the RecuLiner concept is based on dry grinding of paper-based liner, mostly without removal of silicone, and using existing equipment options. The resultant material is currently used as thermal and sound insulation in buildings, and in horticulture as a soil improver to maintain moisture balance and nutrient storage, but there are, of course, many other possible end-use markets where such requirements are a feature. van Pottelbergh outlined the company’s policies for moving forward, inviting co-operation and partnership locally and regionally via licensing and patent sales. For the future, he proposed a co-operative business model spanning the entire label value chain.
Sustainable, safe, simple silicone solutions were the five ‘S’ words discussed by Sébastien Marrot, Technical Sales Manager for Elkem Silicones’ Silcolease® Release Coatings. His thorough exploration of the wide context in which silicones are employed provided ample evidence of innovation in both products and processes – including sustainable solventless thermal cure and solventless UV cure solutions. Silicones, he summarised, are net contributors to sustainability initiatives by enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at all stages of production and use; improved energy efficiency; increased efficiency of raw material utilization; and extended product lifecycles.
A portrait of global label waste activity
‘We pioneered the label industry, and hope to continue to do so’ was the proud opening statement from Avery Dennison’s Global Procuremment Director for Materials, Warren Lloyd. The company has a strong profile in the environmental arena, which it is actively pursuing in the form of a number of sustainability goals that span both products and business functions, market outreach, and a lively program of ongoing activities involving the wider supply chain. Avery Dennison recently commissioned a research study from AWA Alexander Watson Associates dedicated to current release liner and matrix waste recycling/re-use practices around the world, to provide a detailed picture of the available choices of disposal/recycling solutions in the different countries and regions, from landfill through incineration for (or without) energy recovery, to second-life recycling.
Label industry environmental drivers
The social, economic, and regulatory drivers influencing the development of release liners were examined by Mikko Rissanen, Business Development Director for UPM Specialty Papers – another major player in the labeling arena committed to sustainability. Today’s circular economy requires avoiding the generation of waste; material and product re-use ; replacing fossil-based fuels and raw materials with renewable alternatives; and adding value through ‘smart’ solutions. This agenda favors papers, and Rissanen cited UPM’s recycled glassine release liner base as a fine example of environmental responsibility within the pressure-sensitive label value chain.
He quoted statistics from McKinsey & Co on the global flows of plastic packaging material of which, annually, only 2% go for closed-loop recycling, while some 32% end up in the ‘plastic ocean’ that features widely today in general news bulletins.
Industry polyolefin circular economy platform
The Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform, PCEP, founded by three plastics industry associations – EuPC, Plastics Europe, and Plastics Recylers Europe, then had the opportunity to respond. Herman van Roost, Chairman of the Communications Group, detailed the group’s joint industry value chain initiative. With a to-do list featuring increasing recycling of polyolefin-based packaging and the use of polyolefin recyclates as raw material to ensure the long-term sustainability of such products, the PCEP is combining ‘a unique set of competencies’: polymer science, recycling, and plastic conversion. Van Roost underlined the key strategic goals of the initiative, including enhanced collection and sorting of packaging waste, which represents a major source of polyolefin recyclate, and introduced the currently-active workgroups, which span such topics as innovation for increased recycling of flexible packaging; end-use markets for polyolefin recyclates; and technology innovations to improve mechanical recycling and conversion.
Creating momentum in the broad field of label release liner recycling was the topic appropriately addressed by Mark Macaré, Public Affairs and Recycling Project Group Manager for the international self-adhesive label association FINAT. The association’s high-visibility agenda is focussed on the need for frictionless logistics solutions and opportunities for cost savings to drive interest and, critically, to achieve environmental benefits’. Along with the ‘brand owner bottleneck’, he underlined, these targets must be achieved through the label industry itself ‘leading by example’.
Setting the context with data on the legislative and external pressures that characterise the current situation, Macaré showed how FINAT is creating awareness through its information package of literature, online services, LCA results and relevant industry statistics. This baseline reference source is coupled with a program of industry events; working with other label associations around the world; PR activities and the annual FINAT Recycling Awards; and actively engaging brand owners with converters. ‘Spread the message, spread the initiative, and start recycling’, he adjured.
This was the final presentation of the seminar, and Corey Reardon invited delegates to cocktails and thanked the seminar’s platinum sponsors Dow, Elkem, UPM, and Wacker.