In-mold technologies used for the labeling and decoration of plastic products are a sustainable and recyclable alternative to many other types of labels or decoration.
The label or decoration is made of the same material type as the product or container, which simplifies sorting during the recycling process and allows the entire object to be ground into recyclate.
No adhesives are used to secure the label to the product or container. Recycling facilities have indicated adhesives can “gum up” the screens in the recycling equipment when the paper label is removed from the plastic container.
IML and IMD are efficient processes, reducing the labor needed with the use of automation and robotics to place the label in the molding process and remove the product or container after the molding process is complete. This allows optimal utilization of employee labor in other areas of the facility.
Design Guidelines from the Association of Plastics Recyclers
(APR) list in-mold labeling and decoration as a "preferred" technology.
According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR): "APR’s Design Guide helps package designers measure each aspect of a package design against industry accepted criteria to ensure that it is truly recycling compatible."
Advancing on their first priority, Coalition members have now finalized the complete series of “Golden Design Rules”, for the design of plastic packaging, created to accelerate progress towards using less and better plastic. This set of voluntary, independent and time-bound commitments will create significant value for the industry and wider system, and build the necessary momentum for achieving the further design changes required to achieve the targets laid out in the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.
The latest design rules focus on eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging by reducing headspace and plastic overwraps, as well as increasing recycling value in various types of plastic, including PET thermoformed packaging, flexible consumer packaging and rigid HDPE and PP.
In-mold labels are one of three label/ink methodologies designated as a “preferred” technology by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). According to APR’s website:
In-mold labels of a compatible polymer
In-mold labels are not removed in the recycling process since they are bonded with the wall of the package. They will flow though the recycling process with the PP and be blended with the recycled PP. The lack of adhesive is beneficial to recycling since it cannot affect color or other mechanical properties. The label polymer and ink should be compatible with PP so as not to negatively affect its properties.
APR reminds those selecting design characteristics that, “Label selection should be considered carefully to find the solution most compatible with the recycling process that also provides the necessary performance characteristics. At a minimum, labels must be designed so NIR sorting machinery can identify the bottle polymer with the label attached, and labels should use adhesives that release from the bottle. Removing adhesives is a significant component to the cost of recycling so the packages using the lowest quantity of appropriate adhesive are the most compatible.”
For more information, visit https://plasticsrecycling.org/pp-design-guidance/pp-labels-inks-adhesives?highlight=WyJpbi1tb2xkIl0=.
AIM, the European Brands Association, and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste announced a partnership to drive the next stage of development for intelligent waste sorting under the Digital Watermarks Initiative HolyGrail 2.0. They will work with the City of Copenhagen to conduct the semi-industrial test phase of the pilot. With this milestone, developers move one step closer to precision identification and sorting of plastic packaging waste through digital watermarks, with the potential to revolutionize the sorting and recycling process of plastic packaging.
Read the full press release here: https://endplasticwaste.org/en/news/next-phase-of-testing-digital-watermarks-for-intelligent-sorting-of-packaging-waste
4. Secondary packaging will become a new pressure point.
The EU also wants to tackle over-packaging. Proposed draft regulations state that starting in 2030, “each packaging unit will have to be reduced to its minimum size in terms of weight, volume and packaging layers, for example by limiting empty space.” Under these proposals, EU member states must reduce packaging waste per capita by 15% by 2040 vs. 2018.
Secondary packaging traditionally includes outer corrugated cartons, stretch and shrink film, cornerboards, and straps. But it might also include outer primary packaging like on-shelf paperboard cartons used for cosmetics such as face cream, health and beauty aids (HBA) such as toothpaste, and over-the-counter (OTC) items such as aspirin. There is a fear that the new regulations might lead to the removal of these cartons, creating merchandising and supply chain havoc.
Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, the Global Commitment has united more than 500 organisations behind a common vision of a circular economy for plastics. Driven by the goal of tackling plastic pollution at its source, companies representing 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally have committed to ambitious 2025 targets to help realize that common vision. This fourth annual progress report looks at how these signatories are faring against these targets.