Guide to Recycling Labels

Labels on recycled plastic bottles

Guide to Recycling Labels

Recyclable Labels

According to The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) the recycling rate for UK homes has risen to 45% of all household waste in 2017.  Whilst we are all recycling more, are we recycling our labels properly?

Let’s talk about recyclable labels for a moment. What can you, as someone who buys labels for your product packaging, do to ensure your customer’s recycled labels aren’t contaminating recycled waste.

Official Advice on Recycling Labels

The official advice is remove your labels – but no one will do that in reality.   The solution: to stop contamination is to match the label material to the packing material.  That means that the labels need to be made from the same material as the packaging.

One other consideration is adhesive.  We thought adhesive might be a problem so we asked the experts.  According to Suffolk based metal and waste recycling specialists, Sackers Ltd, label adhesive is a small problem and is processed easily.  High volumes of labels (i.e. a skip full) could not be put through the recycling process and would need to be burned for energy.

There is no need to remove labels from items, the recycling process can handle them.

Advice from Sackers Ltd was: if in doubt put it out for recycling – anything that can’t be recycled is burned to produce energy.  This piece of advice needs to be taken with care, as each UK local authority has different waste to energy capabilities.

If you want help matching labels to packaging call us for advice.

Labels on Glass Bottles and Jars

So despite this rule of matching labels to packaging – you might have noticed – not many labels are made from glass.  So what do we do about labelling bottles?

Our advice – apply a paper label.  If your customer’s recycling process involves washing first – then the labels will be washed off.  If it is crushed then put in a furnace, the labels and glue will burn off.

Which Labels can be Recycled?

Paper Labels

Paper Labels
Paper labels

Paper labels can only be recycled with paper or board packaging.

If your paper labels are placed on plastic bottles ask for a ‘wash off’ adhesive to make the recycling process much easier.

Even if your paper labels are blended with other materials, it could still be placed in the recycling bin as it can be burned and used for energy.

The only thing that cannot be recycled is a label stuck to film, unfortunately, this will end up in landfill.

Plastic labels

Labels are usually made from Polypropylene (PP) or Polyethylene (PE).  Luckily, most packaging material is made from PP and PE.  Both can be recycled together.

Make Label Recycling Easy for Your Customers

If you are buying labels from us, this is what you can do to improve recycling.

  • Match the correct label material to your product packaging.  For example: paper labels onto paper or cardboard packaging and PE or PP labels on PE and PP packaging.
Recycling labels - paper labels on cardboard
Paper labels on cardboard
  • If you have correctly matched your labels and packaging, tell your product consumers to leave the labels on, clean any bottles or containers and put them into the recycling bin.
  • Clearly print the Recycling logo on your packaging.
  • Do not apply compostable labels to plastic or glass packaging that can be recycled.
  • Ask customers not to put compostable labels into the recycle bin.

Recycling Label Backing Paper

Label backing material
Label backing material

Label backing paper is made to be strong enough to be pulled through printing presses but it’s also designed to be translucent, so the sensors in the printer can see the gaps between labels.

Because it needs to be strong, backing paper is not a good material to make from recycled paper.

Backing paper is also coated in non-stick silicon which makes it less desirable for recycling.  There is a recycling company, here in the UK, who takes backing paper and label waste, but sadly, it just gets turned into energy.

Laminated labels

Paper labels are sometimes coated in plastic to give them durability.

Laminated Labels
Laminated Labels

These types of labels cannot be recycled.  They can be burned and used in energy recovery programmes.

Useful links

See our range of environmentally friendly labels here:


The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)’s Blog – highlighting recycling rates in 2017/18


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