AWA Reviews Sessions on Release Liners

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS | AWA Alexander Watson Associates released its annual industry update on release liners for pressure-sensitive labels at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels. Over two extended afternoon sessions presenters from leading companies across the supply chain provided, in the first session, a review of market trends and applications and in the second session an evaluation of sustainability and recycling achievements and challenges. 

AWA president and CEO Corey Reardon opened the proceedings with an overview of the world’s label release liner market. P-s labels still claim a 40% share of the total label market, and label release liner—constituting a 49% share of global release liner usage—continues to grow at around 4% per annum, Reardon said. Liner usage for tapes, medical, and industrial applications are, however, growing very much faster. Reardon underlined the fact that p-s labels undoubtedly remain a better home for the growing base of intelligent label technologies than other labeling systems, and, conversely, he also highlighted some challenges, including the growing interest in linerless labeling and in direct-to-container digital print and recycling and sustainability. Other highlights were as follows:

  • Kathrin Federkiel, market manager for Wacker Chemie, covered the specifics of trends and applications in release coating. She examined the trends in printing technology, where toner and inkjet digital formats now play an active role and said new demands for thermo-sensitivity have driven the development of new silicone systems. Also, other label market developments have increased the need for faster crosslinkers to meet a wider range of paper surface properties and changes in catalyst usage.
  • Sean Duffy, global business manager, Silcolease Release Coatings Elkem Silicones, looked at both historical and future perspectives on the release liner and label industry, comparing materials and markets for labels between 2004 and 2016. The global megatrends that surround us today have created a different focus in the label arena, he said, with his final advice to the audience being “Read science fiction!”
  • Alexander Knott, TS&D Specialist for Dow Corning, discussed silicone trends in release liner for pressure-sensitive labels. Today’s prime market drivers—sustainability, innovation driven by cost control, and new applications which require release coatings—are directing the industry in a number of directions, he said. In brief, these are the need for ‘flat’ release liner profiles for faster converting and labeling speeds; reduced platinum dependency; materials downgauging and the use of thinner/less-refined papers as release base; film liners, growing as a result of clear-on-clear labels and the use of heat-sensitive substrates; the adoption of digital label print; and, in parallel, major increases in the use of liners for food/bakery applications in Europe.
  • Toine Prudon, international sales manager, and Sjoerd Jansen, technical engineer for Maan Engineering BV, release and adhesive coating equipment manufacturers, addressed linerless labels, and the benefits of in-house hybrid lamination technology, which enables the production of both linerless labels and p-s laminate, on just one machine. Growing currently at 3.3% globally, linerless technology now has a definable future in food and beverage packaging; consumer durables and logistics; and pharmaceutical supplies; and it also offers sustainability advantages.
  • Isidore Leiser, CEO of Stratus Packaging, provided an overview of the benefits of release liner for a converter and label user. P-s labels can be applied at 22,000 labels/hr—much faster than in-mold or sleeve labels—and some converters, he said, are even applying liner on non-adhesive products to increase possible application speeds.

Corey Reardon closed the first session by saying, “One day, when their other waste problems are solved, release liner will become an issue for brand owners.” Next day, he opened the session dedicated to label release liner sustainability and recycling with the statement that this topic “is, I believe, going to be one of the finite issues over the next ten years—and when you’re talking about recycling in the label segment, you’re not just talking about one liner substrate!”

AWA says RecuLiner is one live, patented global, sustainable solution for the valid second-life use of spent release liner. General manager of the inventor company Eric van Pottelbergh said that the RecuLiner concept is based on dry grinding of paper-based liner, mostly without removal of silicone, and using existing equipment options. The resultant material is currently used as thermal and sound insulation in buildings, and in horticulture as a soil improver to maintain moisture balance and nutrient storage, but there are many other possible end-use markets where such requirements are a feature. van Pottelbergh invited co-operation and partnership locally and regionally via licensing and patent sales. For the future, he proposed a co-operative business model spanning the entire label value chain.

Sustainable, safe, simple silicone solutions were the five ‘S’ words discussed by Sébastien Marrot, technical sales manager for Elkem Silicones’ Silcolease Release Coatings. He provided evidence of innovation in both products and processes—including sustainable solventless thermal cure and solventless UV cure solutions. Silicones, he summarized, are net contributors to sustainability initiatives by enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at all stages of production and use; improved energy efficiency; increased efficiency of raw material utilization; and extended product lifecycles.

Warren Lloyd, global procurement director for materials at Avery Dennison, said his company has a strong profile in the environmental arena, which it is actively pursuing in the form of a number of sustainability goals that span both products and business functions, market outreach, and a program of ongoing activities involving the wider supply chain. Avery Dennison recently commissioned a research study from AWA dedicated to current release liner and matrix waste recycling/re-use practices around the world, to provide a detailed picture of the available choices of disposal/recycling solutions in the different countries and regions, from landfill through incineration for (or without) energy recovery, to second-life recycling.

The social, economic, and regulatory drivers influencing the development of release liners were examined by Mikko Rissanen, business development director for UPM Specialty Papers—another major player in the labeling arena committed to sustainability. Today’s circular economy requires avoiding the generation of waste; material and product re-use; replacing fossil-based fuels and raw materials with renewable alternatives; and adding value through ‘smart’ solutions. This agenda favors papers, Rissanen said, and he cited UPM’s recycled glassine release liner base as an example of environmental responsibility within the p-s label value chain.

The Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform, PCEP, founded by three plastics industry associations—EuPC, Plastics Europe, and Plastics Recyclers Europe, then responded. Herman van Roost, chairman of the Communications Group, detailed the group’s joint industry value chain initiative. With a to-do list featuring increasing recycling of polyolefin-based packaging and the use of polyolefin recyclates as raw material to ensure the long-term sustainability of such products, the PCEP is combining what it says is “a unique set of competencies”: polymer science, recycling, and plastic conversion. Van Roost underlined the key strategic goals of the initiative, including enhanced collection and sorting of packaging waste, which represents a major source of polyolefin recyclate, and introduced the currently-active workgroups, which span such topics as innovation for increased recycling of flexible packaging; end-use markets for polyolefin recyclates; and technology innovations to improve mechanical recycling and conversion.

Creating momentum in the broad field of label release liner recycling was the topic addressed by Mark Macaré, public affairs and recycling project group manager for the international self-adhesive label association FINAT. The association’s agenda is focused on the need for frictionless logistics solutions and opportunities for cost savings to drive interest and, critically, to achieve environmental benefits. Along with the “brand owner bottleneck,” he underlined, these targets must be achieved through the label industry itself “leading by example.” Setting the context with data on the legislative and external pressures that characterize the current situation, Macaré showed how FINAT is creating awareness through its information package of literature, online services, LCA results, and relevant industry statistics. This baseline reference source is coupled with a program of industry events; working with other label associations around the world; PR activities and the annual FINAT Recycling Awards; and actively engaging brand owners with converters. “Spread the message, spread the initiative, and start recycling.”

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