Sustainable Packaging Guide - Eco-friendly Label Adhesive
When we think about sustainable packaging solutions it’s important to consider every single aspect. A lot of different materials can go into making packaging - sustainability doesn’t exist in isolation, for packaging to be truly sustainable every single part must be eco-friendly!
One often overlooked packaging component is label adhesive.
Adhesive is critical - it ensures that your labels stay in place! But labels use so little of it that it can’t possibly cause problems for sustainability, right!?
Unfortunately using the wrong type of adhesive for eco-friendly labels and stickers can damage your sustainability efforts. Non-compostable adhesive can contaminate compost, and non-recyclable adhesive can damage machinery used in the recycling process.
But it’s also important to know which type of adhesive works best with your chosen packaging materials as well.
First we need to know what types of adhesives are out there!
Types of Adhesive
An adhesive at its most basic is a substance that sticks two materials together. So it makes sense that they’re often categorized by how they form that bond between materials (also referred to as substrates). There are a few different ways a bond can be formed:
- Pressure Sensitive Adhesive
Our PURE Labels use pressure sensitive adhesive. This type of adhesive forms a bond when it is pressed on to a material - when pressure is applied. It’s most commonly used for products such as: stickers, product labels, household tape, and bandaids!
- Drying Adhesive
This adhesive forms a bond between materials when moisture is removed (i.e. when the adhesive dries and hardens). You might recognize this type of adhesive in the form of school glue!
- Hot Melt Adhesive
A type of plastic that is heated to melting point and then allowed to cool - forming a strong bond between a huge variety of different materials. This is the type of adhesive that you would find in a glue gun.
- Reactive Adhesive
When reactive adhesive comes into contact with a specific substance, a chemical reaction occurs that forms a bond between materials.One of the most common reactive adhesives is water-activated adhesive. Water is applied to the adhesive (commonly a plant-based starch) which allows it to stick to a material. This adhesive can be found on envelopes, and some types of tape.
Adhesive can also be categorized by the raw materials used to make it. Some types of adhesive are made from natural materials, while others are synthetic. How do you choose?
Natural vs Synthetic Adhesive
Although our first instinct may be to choose adhesives made from natural materials, a natural adhesive is not necessarily compostable or recycle-compatible. Similarly a synthetic adhesive is not necessarily non-compostable!
Some natural adhesives are derived from animal proteins, making them unacceptable for vegan or vegetarian products and businesses.
It’s important to choose your label (and adhesive) based on your brand’s sustainability goals!
Is Adhesive Biodegradable?
This is a great question! Not all adhesive is biodegradable - even some adhesives that are biodegradable may not be good for the environment.
Customers often ask if the adhesive on our PURE Labels is biodegradable. The simple answer is yes, but the reality is a little more complicated. Our label adhesive is biodegradable and compostable.
Biodegradable can be a misleading term, so first it’s important to note the difference between the terms biodegradable and compostable.
- Compostable products will break down within the time needed by the composting environment and will not release harmful residues.
- Biodegradable products have no such definition, and the term is not regulated.
While some biodegradable adhesive can be eco-friendly, the term can also be used to imply that a product is good for the environment when it is not. Our label adhesive is biodegradable and compostable, but we think that it is important that we only refer to it as compostable.
How to Choose Sustainable Stickers and Labels
You’ve already decided that you need eco-friendly labels for your product. Great! But what’s next? There are a few more things to consider when choosing the type of labels you need.
Production & Sustainability
Is using tree-free material important to you? Do you need adhesive that contains no animal products? Is using labels made from renewable resources important to your brand’s sustainability promise?
We understand how important it is to balance the needs of your customers, functionality of your packaging, and your brand’s sustainability promise.
We offer a variety of label materials, each designed to address the needs of different products and industries. Our knowledgeable customer representatives will be happy to help you find the perfect label.
Both label material (also referred to as substrate, or facestock) and adhesive are specific to their intended application. The first thing to consider is whether your labels and adhesive will work with the rest of your packaging. They will need to effectively perform their designated function, in the environment in which they will be used.
Different packaging types and customer use cases may require different types of labels. We encourage requesting label samples to experience our materials yourself, and test for your specific product.
End of Life Solutions
Planning for end-of-life solutions is just as important as eco-friendly production, perhaps even moreso! The lack of end-of-life planning for petroleum-based plastics has got us into the mess we’re in now: It has damaged our environment and polluted our oceans!
How will your customers dispose of their packaging?
It’s important that we do not look at sustainability in isolation. Deciding on the best end-of-life solution for your labels can be relatively simple:
- If the rest of your packaging is recyclable, you will need recycle-compatible labels.
- If you intend to use compostable packaging, then your labels will also need to be compostable.
By mixing packaging materials, and not considering customer behaviour, you can inadvertently cause problems for recycling facilities and composters. Despite best intentions, your packaging may still end up in the landfill.
Be Wary of Greenwashing
When choosing sustainable labels, it’s important to be aware of greenwashing. Sometimes unscrupulous companies will attempt to make a label sound more sustainable than it is. A label made with natural material sounds great, but does it also contain plastic? What is the adhesive made from? Is it recycle-compatible, or compostable?
Be aware of claims that because a packaging product is made from a certain material, it is therefore compostable. Assumptions are not facts, and they are not helpful. Has it been tested for compostability? Is it certified compostable?
It may very well be compostable! But there’s also a chance that the product may contain non-compostable ingredients or components. Water-Activated tape, for example, uses adhesives made from natural latex or plant-based starches. Great! But wait! The tape material is also often reinforced with fiberglass, which is neither biodegradable nor compostable. Not great.
The best way to be sure is to ask your label provider to provide more information. Ask to see proof of sustainability claims, adherence to compostability standards, and any compostability certifications!
At Elevate Packaging, we’re proud that our PURE Labels are made entirely from certified compostable materials!
What Adhesives do we use on our PURE Labels?
We understand that sustainability information can sometimes be overwhelming. Which is why we aim to keep things simple!
Our compostable labels use pressure-sensitive adhesive that is both compostable and recycle-compatible.
Our adhesive does not contain animal products - making our labels suitable for vegan and vegetarian businesses.
No matter the end-of-life solution for your packaging - PURE Labels adhesive will not contaminate compost or damage machinery. All you need to do is choose the facestock material that is best for your application and sustainability goals.