Labels and Plastic Packaging
In many (though not all) cases, a paper label on a recyclable plastic bottle will not make the bottle unrecyclable. At many recycling facilities, the label will be burned off in the recycling process. However, this label material can lead to contamination of the recycled plastic material, degrading the quality of the recycled material, limiting its use and reducing overall yield.
There are also recycling facilities that are unable to process plastic with labels. In this case, the label would need to be removed and discarded prior to recycling.
Plastic labels applied to a plastic bottle can be recyclable if they are the same type of plastic as the bottle – such as a PET label on a PET bottle. There is still, however, the possibility that ink or adhesive could contaminate the recycled material.
Some labels will not be compatible with recycling. For example, a paper label with a plastic laminate will likely need to be removed prior to recycling.
To allow for optimum recyclability, look for label materials that are fully compatible with the recycling process, including facestocks, inks and adhesives designed to work with recycling. For example, there are adhesives designed to either flake off or completely wash off of recyclable plastic.
When worried about the effect that labels can have on recycling, companies can also consider the size of the label (both thickness and surface area). Larger labels mean more potential contamination of the recycled material.
In cases where it isn’t feasible either due to the functionality of the label or the price of specialty materials, companies can help increase the recycling rate of their packaging by including messaging on how to recycle. This messaging can include instructions to remove the label prior to recycling.
Utilizing adhesives that make it easier for the consumer to remove the label can also help this process. Other options include the use of washaway or dissolvable labels.