Sustainable Labels: Recyclable & Biodegradable Alternatives

The Future Sustainability of Labels: Recycled, Recyclable, and Biodegradable.
We discuss the facts around different types of sustainable labels.

By George Nelson of Polyfuze Graphics

As concerns rise about climate change and pollution, companies across the globe have been taking steps to become more eco-friendly. One of the simplest and most effective ways for any company to reduce their carbon footprint and cut down on the amount of waste they produce is to reassess their approach to packaging and labeling.

Packaging materials and labels can produce huge amounts of waste. But, by opting for eco-friendly alternatives like recyclable labels and biodegradable labels, businesses can drastically reduce the amount of waste they produce, boosting their sustainability levels and making their brands more appealing in the eyes of everyday consumers.

Product Labels and Your Brand’s Environmental Impact

There are many ways that a business can impact the environment. It might make use of various raw materials to manufacture products, rely on fossil fuels for transportation of goods and supplies, or produce large amounts of waste that might not be recyclable, ending up in landfills and polluting the environment.

Something as small and simple as the labels you put on your products can also have a surprisingly large impact on the environment. In fact, one of the most common ways for brands to try to reduce their carbon footprint is to switch from outdated sticky labels to more eco-friendly labels that are easier and safer to dispose of.

The Benefits of Sustainable Labeling

Sustainable labeling involves the usage of eco-friendly labels that are much safer and easier to dispose of than outdated adhesive labels of the past. These sustainable labels can be made of various materials and work in different ways, but all have the same objective of making a business’ packaging and products more sustainable and eco-friendly. Here are some big benefits of this:

  • Better for the Environment – Obviously, one of the main advantages of opting for sustainable labeling is the fact that it’s much better for the environment. Old-fashioned labels can add to the waste problem and are difficult or impossible to recycle, but eco-friendly labels are much kinder to nature.
  • Reduces Your Carbon Footprint – Businesses of all sizes need to consider their carbon footprint, or how much their actions and operations impact the environment. Adjusting your approach to labeling is a simple and effective way to bring your carbon footprint down, helping your business hit its sustainability targets.
  • Appealing to Customers – Surveys show that today’s customers care more than ever about eco-friendly initiatives and favor brands that are clearly making steps to go green and minimize their environmental impacts. Therefore, by using sustainable labeling and packaging, your brand may be able to appeal to a wider audience and make more sales.
Sustainable Labels: A green black tab with string

What Are Recyclable Labels?

One of the best options to choose when looking for eco-friendly labels is recyclable labels. As the name implies, recyclable labels are labels that are made of materials which can be recycled. They can be made of various materials, such as paper and certain types of plastic, like polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE).

Not all stickers and labels are recyclable. In fact, many of them have to be stripped off or burned away during the recycling process so that the rest of the packaging material can actually be recycled. This uses energy and generates waste materials, as well as carbon dioxide, which is why non-recyclable labels are such a poor choice for any business that wants to be eco-friendly.

Often, if a label is recyclable, it will have some sort of mark or indication to let the user know. This may include the famous recycle arrow symbol, which is a universally-understood sign that something is recyclable. The label might also have a small message printed on it to let the user know how best to recycle it.

What Are Recycled Labels?

Recycled labels are another option you might like to consider if you’re looking for eco-friendly alternatives to the labels your business has been using. It’s important to note that recycled labels aren’t necessarily the same as recyclable labels; a recycled label is one that has been made from recycled or reprocessed materials, like paper, fibers, and plastics.

A wide range of materials can be used to make recycled labels, including some natural and eco-friendly resources like cotton or barley. One of the benefits of using these kinds of labels is that they’ve already been recycled, giving them a certain eco-friendly or green value by default, and they can usually be recycled again and again in the future.

What Is the Difference Between Recycled vs Recyclable?

It’s important to make the distinction between recycled and recyclable. If we refer to recyclable labels, this means that those labels can be recycled, but they might be originally made from brand new materials. Recycled labels, meanwhile, have already undergone the recycling process at least once.

What Are Biodegradable Labels?

Another eco-friendly labeling solution to consider is biodegradable labels. The scientific term ‘biodegradable’ refers to materials that are able to degrade in a natural way, being broken down by the likes of bacteria and fungi. In other words, you could technically throw a biodegradable item away on the ground and nature would be able to break it down and reuse its components.

Everything is technically biodegradable to a point, as even plastics and metals will break down eventually. However, most materials take huge amounts of time to degrade on their own, so when we talk about biodegradable labels, this term usually refers to labels that can degrade quite quickly, and they’re usually used in conjunction with biodegradable packaging.

What Materials Are Used for Biodegradable Labels?

Various biodegradable materials can be used to make biodegradable labels. The most common variants include types of paper and film. Film biodegradable labels are typically made from cellulose extracted from pulp, while the paper variants may be made of sugar cane or wood pulp.

What Is an Adhesive Label?

Adhesive labels are some of the most commonly-used labels in the world today. Other terms like sticky label or self-adhesive label can also be used, but they all refer to the same thing: labels with a sticky or adhesive substance on one side that allows the label to stick and stay in position on an item or surface.

We can find sticky labels being used absolutely everywhere, from labels on food products to labels on kids’ toys. They can be divided into various sub-types or categories, like permanent labels which have really strong adhesive and are exceptionally hard to remove, as well as repositionable adhesive labels which are less strong and can be moved around.

Adhesive labels have various benefits which have made them popular over the years. They’re simple to work with and very cost-effective, for example, making them a popular and accessible choice for any business. On the downside, these labels are often not very kind to the environment, and there’s always a risk of them peeling away over time.

Is Adhesive Labeling Eco-friendly?

The answer to this question is that it depends on the materials being used. Many biodegradable and recyclable labels use some sort of adhesive. These labels are definitely much more eco-friendly than others, but the adhesive itself usually cannot be recycled and may not biodegrade either.

There are some biodegradable adhesives out there, but they’re not in widespread use due to the high costs of making them. This means that even the most eco-friendly sticky or adhesive labels stick have a downside, as their adhesive substances will never full biodegrade and cannot be recycled.

What Is Polymer Fusion Labeling?

Polymer fusion labeling is an exciting, eco-friendly alternative to adhesive labeling, and it’s one of the most modern and forward-thinking labeling solutions available today. With this labeling method, a printable polymer ink is used to actually fuse the label straight onto the product, resulting in a truly permanent label that won’t peel or fade away.

Fully compatible with polyolefin thermoplastic products, polymer fusion labeling doesn’t involve the use of any adhesives or sticky substances. Instead, it uses high quality advanced pigments and additives that are blended together through polymer fusion, essentially forming a special kind of ink that can fuse with plastic. Once in place, polymer fusion labels are immensely strong and able to resist difficult environments and exposure to various chemicals and conditions.

Why Polymer Fusion Labeling Method Is More Sustainable than Adhesive Labeling

Polymer fusion labeling is a more eco-friendly choice than adhesive labeling, as it doesn’t require the use of adhesives. This means that you won’t have to worry about those sticky substances being left behind to poison environments and contribute to waste problems.

Plus, since polymer fusion labels are truly permanent, there’s no risk of them peeling away and generating additional waste, and these labels are 100% recyclable alongside the products they’re fused with.

How to Choose the Right Labels for the Right Packaging

As we can see, there are various different types of labels to choose from, and it’s important to opt for eco-friendly labels whenever possible. Not only are they better for the world around us, but they can also help your business cut costs and become more popular with consumers.

And when it comes to choosing the right type of label for each situation, it’s important to focus on materials. For paper and board packaging, biodegradable or recyclable labels can work well, but for plastic products, polymer fusion is the very best choice.

About the Author

George Nelson is a sustainability consultant who is currently cooperating with Polyfuze. He is passionate about life-changing innovation, and industrial and manufacturing technologies. George loves discovering and sharing new technologies that shape the sustainability agenda. He has many fascinating articles published in various magazines and blogs.

Polyfuze Graphics® Corporation is a leading provider of innovative labeling and decoration solutions for a wide range of industries. With over 30 years of experience in the field of plastic decoration, Polyfuze Graphics® has developed a proprietary fusion process that allows for permanent labeling and branding of plastic products.