New bottle labelling trial renders PET bottles with self-adhesive labels fully recyclable

A successful sustainable labelling trial is significant for plastic producers and national sustainability efforts, as the Extended Producer Responsibility regulations under the Waste Act kick into effect.

A ground-breaking trial that renders plastic bottles with self-adhesive labels fully recyclable promises positive spin-offs for the environment and plastic producers who have until November to comply with Section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act.

Until now, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles with adhesive labels have hampered South African recycling processes, because the glue from the labelling has discoloured the recyclate. This has meant that discoloured recycled PET (rPET) from those bottles could not be repurposed into high-quality, clear plastic beverage bottles, but only be used to produce a limited range of products.

Petco EPR
Extrupet extensively tested 10 000 Oasis Water bottles that featured the new labelling as part of the trial

Wash-off label adhesive

Post-consumer PET bottle recycler Extrupet trialled the new wash-off label adhesive in April in conjunction with PETCO – the national industry organisation supporting PET plastic bottle recycling and collections. Self-adhesive label manufacturer UPM Raflatac and label printers Java Print partook in the trial with bottler Oasis Water.

“Lab results following the trial have shown a more than satisfactory result,” said Extrupet joint managing director Chandru Wadhwani, adding that the new wash-off label adhesive used in the trial easily washed off the PET flakes created as the plastic bottles underwent recycling.

“The chemical composition of the new wash-off label adhesive makes it easier to remove during recycling, and the glue retention on the label has met our recycling standards requirements,” he said. Wadhwani added that plastic producers would benefit from the new technology as it would help them comply with new government legislation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

“While self-adhesive labels are not the preferred choice for ideal design of a PET bottle pack – a polyolefin wrap-around label with minimal or no glue is preferred – the new wash-off adhesive label is a preferred option when a brand owner absolutely has to use a self-adhesive label,” he said. “We’re not promoting the use of self-adhesive labels, but if you have to use one, make sure it’s eco-friendly.”

Wadhwani said that as long as a label was made from polyolefin, it could be recycled.

“Once the label is separated from the bottle, it is melted together with the glue, and used to manufacture products such as outdoor furniture, pallets and school desks,” he explained.

Sustainable product design

PETCO CEO Cheri Scholtz said the trial was significant for plastic packaging producers who needed to comply with sustainable product design and production practices.

“EPR is now legislated in terms of Section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act (Act 59 of 2008). Producers in the packaging sector – the brand owner of products using the packaging, the retailer in the case of house brands, or the importer of goods contained in packaging – are responsible not only for health and safety issues associated with their products, but also for the management of packaging waste, including collection, sorting and recycling,” she said.

While the regulations are effective from May 5 this year, existing producers have six months to register as a producer and join a registered PRO such as PETCO, or establish and implement compliant EPR schemes individually.

Rethinking plastic packaging design to facilitate recycling was a vital step towards sustainable production and consumption, and companies that didn’t comply would find it increasingly difficult to compete in global markets, said Scholtz.

 “The recycling of packaging does not begin with its collection, but rather with its design. In ensuring the circular transition for plastics and plastic packaging, design for recycling is among the key aspects. Compatibility of materials, easy separation and the use of additives, among other features, play a role in determining the recyclability of a given product.”

UPM Raflatac packaging solutions manager Trevor Isaacs called the trial a milestone, saying: “We successfully changed the chemical composition of the adhesive, making it easier to wash off and remove the label during recycling, with no residual adhesive.”

Mark Groves, managing director of Java Print, which printed the new wash-off labelling, said he was excited at the trial’s prospects.

 “It’s been fantastic to be part of this trial. We’re really excited about taking the product to scale and hope that suppliers, manufacturers and producers get on board quickly so that sustainable labels are soon the norm,” Groves said.

Extrupet extensively tested 10 000 Oasis Water bottles that featured the new labelling as part of the trial.

“We welcome the new Section 18 requirements and happy to say we are compliant,” said Oasis Water director Naas du Preez. “Although we use [recycling friendly] wrap-around labels as far as possible, the new wash-off labelling will feature on our products with self-adhesive labels as soon as possible.”

Oasis Water is currently investigating using recycled bottles and labels in shop fittings like post-formed counters for its stores. 

“We’re privileged and excited to be part of innovative and industry-leading projects like these, as this confirms our commitment to being a responsible brand that cares for the environment,” du Preez said.

Read PETCO’s Designing for the Environment guidelines.



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