Sustainability and recyclability: What was once a trend in the packaging industry is now a necessity. Consumers are demanding it, brands are establishing ambitious goals and it’s up to the suppliers, equipment manufacturers and everyone else to work together in achieving it all.

And while much of the focus on sustainability and/or recyclability is on the overall flexible pouch or bag, the label must also be accounted for in many cases. The latter has been a big initiative of UPM Raflatac for years, and new developments and offerings from the label supplier is helping usher in a new era of green labeling. 

“Obvious reasons for sustainability is impact on the environment,” starts Tyler Matusevich, UPM Raflatac’s sustainability manager, Americas. “If we can use more sustainable labeling, it reduces our impact on energy and water and CO2 emissions, and a lot of other impacts that take place such as deforestation.”

UPM Raflatac sees sustainability as everything from the starting point to the finish line. 

“When we look at any type of project or product development, we start with brands and consumers and work through them,” Matusevich says. “What materials are demanded? What materials are innovative? What are the best solutions for the environment and for the different packaging substrates as well? We start with responsible sourcing and make sure all our suppliers meet our code of conduct. That’s the start.”

From there, Matusevich says they look at adhesives and how they need to perform with different types of substrates. UPM Raflatac is also able to offer LCA analysis thanks to its Label Life tool, where it is able to compare the environmental footprint of one type of label to another one.

“We’re able to show the energy savings, water savings and CO2 savings that you’d get from making that label switch,” he says. “Something as simple as going from a 2-mil thickness down to a 1.6-mil thickness – it’s very simple, but you’ll see roughly a 10 percent savings across the board. A simple switch like that can have a huge environmental impact for large brands.

“We are providing our Label Life documents to customers and to brands directly as well. A lot of times we’ll get a very vague inquiry, but if we know the end use we can certainly help them down that path and offer them sustainable solutions. Sometimes they’ll say ‘prove it,’ and that’s what we have the Label Life tool for, so we can show the lifecycle assessment impacts of those different products.”

Recycling Liner Waste

“Half of what we produce becomes waste, either at our customer’s site or at the brand owner site,” notes Matusevich. “It’s hard to deal with matrix waste because of the adhesive. Ninety percent of liners are still landfilled in North America, and globally for that matter. But recycling is still very limited. We want to change that game.”

On the heels of this type of thinking, UPM Raflatac’s RafCycle program was born, where it collects the paper and PET liner waste from its partners and recycles it into new materials. This helps provide numerous benefits for printers, packers, brand owners and the environment. Turning waste into a resource is a key concept in the circular economy and an important part of UPM Raflatac’s approach to labeling a smarter future.

As of December 2018, the RafCycle program is now offered in the United States and Canada. 

“It’s the right thing to do, keeping the material out of landfill,” Matusevich says. “But that’s part of the benefits for brand owners as well. We can give them cost avoidance. It gives that material another life, it contributes to the circular economy. And we try to make it as easy as possible too. The recycling of the liner, not just by us but our competitors and brands directly looking for solutions, that’s going to be huge as companies start to reach their zero waste-to-landfill goals.”

UPM Raflatac