Eco-friendly Tape, Stickers & Labels: What's Right For Your Packaging?
Packing tape, stickers and labels are often misunderstood. We frequently get questions like:
"Do you offer biodegradable stickers?"
These are great questions because it means companies are looking to truly and fully green their packaging!
But the questions also reflect the misunderstood nature of the world of packaging adhesives. Because when thinking about your ideal sticker, label or packaging tape material, you can't look at sustainability in isolation.
Instead, you'll want to match the material and end of life characteristics of the label or tape face stock and adhesive with whatever package it will be applied to.
Here's a few examples of great intentions that don't result in the most sustainable outcome:
- Corrugated shipper box with a biodegradable, renewable plastic: While a corrugated shipping box technically can be composted, it is much preferred (and most likely) to be recycled. In fact, over 70% of shipping boxes are recycled in the US! Biodegradable plastic would be a contaminant that gets filtered out when the box is repulped. This is not a terrible outcome because tape makes up such a small amount of the overall box material. However, a paper-based tape with recycle-friendly adhesive would be preferred.
- Compostable poly mailer with a recyclable, direct thermal shipping label: The ideal end of life for the poly mailer is to be composted in an industrial facility. Most direct thermal shipping labels have polymers in their coatings that enable the thermal printing process to take place. Additionally, thermal shipping labels typically do not have compost-friendly adhesives. The poly mailer with the label may be accepted by a compost facility, but it certainly contaminates the resulting compost.
- Recyclable poly mailer with a 100% recycled paper sticker: The ideal end of life for this poly mailer is to be recycled along with all other plastic film (i.e. at a grocery drop off), where it typically becomes composite materials (such as TREX lumber). The recycled paper sticker is a contaminate in this plastic recycling stream. A small amount if okay, but too much breaks down the equipment that re-pelletizes the recycled plastic.
None of the above situations are necessarily dire because stickers, labels and tape make up a small amount of the overall packaging material. But over time, if too many companies mismatch materials in this way, it could become problematic for reclaimers and/or composting facilities.
Match sustainable tapes, stickers and labels to your main packaging material
When looking for the most sustainable choice, take the time to match the end of life properties of the label or tape material (and its adhesive) with the ideal end of life properties of your main shipping package. The result may, at times, surprise you!
When using a paper-based packaging solution (such as a paper mailer or corrugated shipping box): The most likely, and preferred, end of life situation for paper packaging is recycling. Look for a sticker, label or tape made with paper and a water activated or recycle compatible pressure sensitive adhesive.
Many water activated tapes are reinforced with fiberglass. For heavy packages and for standard shipping boxes (RSC boxes), this reinforcement is important because it ensures the package is not damaged in transit. This fiberglass is removed when boxes are repulped and screened.
For lighter boxes or presentation style boxes (such as a literature mailer or tab locking box), non-reinforced water activated tape typically works well.
Where possible, look for facestock made with recycled content.
When using a poly mailer or another recyclable poly-based package: Look for a BOPP sticker (biaxially-oriented polypropylene), so the entire package can be easily recycled either curbside or at a grocery drop off program.
Unfortunately, shipping labels are typically made with paper and are almost never BOPP or poly-based, so BOPP is mainly an option for decorative stickers or product labels. While poly bag reclaimers are currently able to handle this small amount of contamination, you can support the recycling stream by asking your customers to cut out the shipping label before recycling their bag.
A certified compostable bioplastic package: Look for labels made with paper or certified compostable bio-based material, that have a certified compostable adhesive, and compost-friendly inks. The entire label itself as well as the ink that is being used on it should be certified as compostable.
Avoid the following facestock materials altogether
Vellum: Even vellum that is 100% recycled is typically made with plasticized cotton, so it has a thin poly-based coating on it, and the material is neither recyclable nor compostable.
Biostone: Markets itself as a tree-free label that is made with stones. Biostone is made of calcium carbonate that is bonded using HDPE (high-density polyethylene), a type of plastic. This mix of materials means it is non-recyclable.
While these facestock materials do have some interesting eco-minded characteristics, they will never match the material or ideal end of life situation of your main packaging.
EcoEnclose Sticker, Label and Tape Options
- Water activated tape, available reinforced and non-reinforced: These are our preferred choice for shipping boxes because you can use less tape than pressure sensitive counterparts and the adhesive is starch-based and causes no issues in the recycling and repulping process.
- Kraft flatback tape: We know that water activated tape can be challenging to use if you don't have a dispenser. So if you've decided that WAT is not right for you, we recommend our kraft flatback tape, a pressure-sensitive paper-based tape, for paper-based packaging.
- Cello tape: Cello tape is a plastic tape made with renewable materials. If you anticipate that your packaging will end up in the landfill, this could be an option because you are likely more focused on greening the source of your packaging materials than you are on the end of life outcomes.
Stickers and Labels
- 100% recycled paper stickers, on our Zero Waste (recycled / recyclable) release liner
- Direct thermal labels. These are made with virgin material, but feature our Zero Waste liner.
- 100% recycled paper stickers, on traditional release liner (with a liner take back program to help avoid sending liners to the landfill)
- If you are looking for BOPP stickers or product labels, please contact us for more information.