Chandru points out that as a bottle-to-bottle recycler, Extrupet, along with the guidance of PETCO, has fought hard to change the mentality and raise awareness of how shrink sleeve packaging in South Africa is detrimental to the greater recycling industry. ‘Shrink can’t be “de-sleeved easily for recycling” as the article stated. The associated costs are often prohibitive, and as a result, many shrink sleeved PET bottles are never collected for recycling and end up in landfills or oceans,’ he asserts. ‘Furthermore, there is no end-of-life use for these PVC and PET shrink sleeve labels. This renders them all to the waste stream which isn’t sustainable, given our current climate.
‘It would be beneficial to have the references used to make the claims in the article as they are counter-intuitive to a truly circular system. If Extrupet’s understanding is correct, the claims are made by a machine manufacturer, not a recycler,’ Chandru adds. ‘It is also possibly in the context of experiences in other parts of the world and not necessarily here on the African continent. As such, it would be better that the claims made in the article referred to are qualified appropriately.’
Additionally, Extrupet hopes brand owners, converters and machinery manufacturers will be more attentive about the packaging design of products they are putting to market. The effects of ‘design for recycling’ on sustainability and the circular economy play a big role and one that the whole value chain needs to be a part of. ‘However, we can only do so if we are aware and educated about the issues the recycling industry faces. We look forward to this dialogue evolving in the public domain and welcome back comment from the machinery producer, who may wish to elaborate on how shrink sleeve labels are “recycling friendly”, contrary to our experiences,’ he concludes.
Optimising design specifications
PETCO’s Designing for the Environment Guideline encourages packaging designers, brand owners and converters to design and specify PET containers with the environment in mind, that are compatible with South Africa’s available collection and recycling infrastructure, and that are aligned with the end-use markets prevalent in the region.
They also encourage the inclusion of recycled content (rPET) in PET packaging alongside transparency about the usage of rPET and the recyclability of the packaging.
In terms of the use of labels and adhesives, the guidelines specify tamper-evident seals and sleeves that completely detach from PET bottles during the reprocessing or washing phase of recycling. They recommend avoiding the use of foil tamper-evident seals that leave remnants of foil and adhesive behind, as well as PET or PVC sleeves and labels with PET bottles.
Additionally, the guidelines point out that metallised/foil labels on film are costly to remove, increase contamination and have the potential to devalue the collected material. They also increase the rejection rate in the sorting line and reduce the yield.
Paper labels aren’t ideal either, especially on plastic film because they cause significant problems in conventional recycling. Recyclers prefer polyethylene and polypropylene labels.
Where adhesives are absolutely necessary, the guidelines suggest those that are soluble or alkali-soluble at 60-80˚C. And for self-adhesive labels, they recommend glue that is designed to stay on the label.