Sustainable Labels

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Sustainable Labels

There is a lot of talk about limiting the harm we’re doing to our environment.  Being sustainable is the ability to live without depleting our natural resources.  Modern packaging is often held up as a culprit in the damage we are doing to our environment.  This article will help you understand how sustainable labels really are.

Sustainability is both the materials the labels are made from and the process the labels are made under.

There are always two sides to many of the points raised in this article.  For example: the forests grown in order to make paper are good for capturing CO2 but, as they are usually grown in large single species plantations – this can be bad for bio-diversity.  I’m not writing this article to promote one side or the other in this debate.  Our business is focused on labels – but we all depend on the environment for our survival as a species.

Paper label manufacturing

The paper making process uses water, wood and energy and leads to water and air pollution.  Paper manufacturing accounts for up to 5% of pollution in North America.  In the last few decades paper mills have reduced their pollution significantly and I’m sure technology  and innovation will reduce the environmental impact further, however paper isn’t without it’s harmful byproducts.

paper mill
Pollution from paper mills

Water is the ultimate recycled product.  Should we worry about water use in paper making?  If it’s cleaned and returned to rivers and lakes, water consumption in paper making isn’t a problem.

Paper’s main raw material – wood – is renewable and good for CO2 capture. 

Mono-culture forest
Mono-culture forest for paper production

Energy use – Whilst paper product uses huge amounts of energy, most of it is sourced from bio-mass energy generation.

All the labels we supply are paper or plastic. 

All the paper we supply comes from sustainable sources (i.e trees that are farmed as opposed to tropical rainforest).  However, paper is usually made using chemicals that are harmful to the environment.  

Chlorine is used in the paper making process – to whiten the paper.  As you would probably guess, Chlorine is toxic and, as a by-product of paper production, is harmful to the environment.  Our standard paper label material uses chlorine, though the same chlorine compound is used to treat drinking water. 

Sustainable Paper Labels

Standard paper labels are made from virgin paper with chlorine bleaching. Paper is sustainable, but the paper production process has a significantly damaging effect on the environment

We are able to supply a recycled paper label that is chlorine free, with a wood free backing paper (the paper that the labels are stuck to on the roll).  Interestingly people rarely ask for recycled paper labels and the availability of the material is limited.  Contact us and ask us about recycled paper labels.

Plastic Labels

Most of the labels we supply are made from Polypropylene (PP) or Polyethylene (PE).

This type of plastic label is made from oil, but is easily recycled.  The most recent figures I found for the proportion of plastic that’s recycled was from 2008 and 21% of plastic was recycled. 

However, plastic labels are not biodegradable (unless you count hundreds of years as biodegradable), are harmful to nature and are non-renewable. 

From a marketing point of view, plastic labels are not popular.

Sustainable Plastic Labels

More popular label materials are PP and PE labels made from corn, coconut or potato.  These starch-based plastics are sometimes compostable.  They are not widely available and relatively expensive, but we are able to supply you with them.  The best we can obtain is 83% sugar cane derived material, 17% oil-based.  Contact us for a quote.

Clear and white plastics made from wood pulp – cellulose – if made from sustainable forestry products are an extremely eco-responsible way of making labels.  There are cellulose based labels available, though they are water soluble, so not suitable for long term storage in wet places (i.e. not good for products destined for bathroooms). 

Not only are these labels sustainable – they are also biodegradable.  See our biodegradable range here.

Useful links

Wikipedia’s article on the environmental impact of paper: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_paper

British Plastics Federation (perhaps a little biased – but it quotes the recycling rate of plastic)

https://www.bpf.co.uk/sustainability/plastics_and_sustainability.aspx

Bioplastics Article at ‘Explain that stuff’:

https://www.explainthatstuff.com/bioplastics.html

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