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Can your labels be more sustainable? 

With the increased attention to packaging being designed for recyclability and circularity, I notice that labels often become neglected in this process. Indeed, it usually is only a small part of the total packaging, but it can both help or cause issues in recycling of your packaging.

Nonetheless, there are quite a few innovations in this area too. Labels and labelling are also moving in the sustainability direction and I would like to give you a quick overview on what is happening and how can you improve your processes too.

Use the same label polymer as the main container whenever possible

This is crucially important – if the label polymer is the same as the main container, everything will be recycled together without any loss of quality in the recyclate. For example, you should use PE label on HDPE bottle or tube.

The exception in this case is wash-off labels where bottles and labels are separated before the recycling process.

Obviously, for glass or aluminum containers this is not applicable as they are recycled in a different way than plastic packaging.

A note should be made here for flexible packaging – if you are using unprinted doypacks (or similar bags) and label them yourselves, check if the doypack is not designed to be recyclable. If it is a simple, classic non-recyclable pouch, then an additional label will not cause any problems as it the best case scenario for such plastic is burning anyway. But if the unprinted pouch is designed to be recyclable and you put a label in a different polymer or material, then the  whole idea would be worthless. This is especially important for this type of packaging, as the label has relatively high mass compared to the whole pouch.

Labels with recycled content

In the recent year a lot of label materials with recycled content have been introduced in the market. Standard papers, wine papers, PE, PP or PET – all have options with recycled content. There are 2 differences that you should be aware of – post consumer waste and post industrial waste.

Post consumer waste (usually denominated PCR) is the actual plastic collected and recycled from the waste streams. Post industrial waste are usually scraps or cut-offs from the material manufacturing process.

From our company’s perspective, we have started introducing recycled PE with 30% PCR content in 2020 Q3. After initially slow testing phase from our customer’s side, it picked up rapid growth later on and it is one the most used films. A couple months ago we were one of the first in the market to introduce recycled PE with 100% recycled content (50% post consumer and 50% post industrial) and we see the same thing happening. Demand is increasing constantly and we are not looking back at virgin PE in most cases.

Enhanced Productivity Mode

Indigo printing presses offer a unique printing possibility of printing in 3 colours instead of standard 4 (CMYK). In most cases you won’t even notice the difference. Since we print pretty much everything with HP Indigo machines, this point is only limited to digital prints.

The best part about it is the sustainability angle. Less ink is used and prints are done faster. These factors result in 25% lower energy consumption. This is a significant amount!

Laser die-cutting

Another innovation in the market is laser die-cutting of labels. For smaller print runs we do not need to manufacture (and waste resources) a metal die-cutting tool. This is not only sustainable, but it is also very efficient. This means reduced setup time, which results in less energy used and material wasted.


Labels are as loud as general plastic waste, but they are still moving in the sustainable and circular direction. Your company and product marketing can use these tools and gain advantage over slower competition. Check with your label suppliers on what they can offer to you in this area. If the answer does not satisfy you, you can always get in touch me.

Consult us. We’re here to help 

We understand that you might be new to questions of packaging and sustainability. And it can all get quite confusing quickly. That’s why we are happy to dedicate our time to helping you navigate through it all. Contact us for a free consultation and we’ll help you come up with the best result for your business.

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