Linerless labels support green goals

Johannesburg, 05 Jul 2022
Gillian Mearns, Business development manager: auto ID, Kemtek Imaging Systems.
Gillian Mearns, Business development manager: auto ID, Kemtek Imaging Systems.

The circular economy is the latest model in the drive for all businesses across all sectors to become more environmentally conscious, focusing on putting back less than they take out by re-using, recycling and repurposing. The printing industry as a whole has been on this journey for decades, constantly innovating ways to be more environmentally friendly and reduce its waste.

FSC certification has long been the accepted norm for environmentally friendly paper, and now labelling media are coming on board, seeking green accreditation. Forest Stewardship Council certification means the product is made from paper or wood that has been responsibly sourced.

Gillian Mearns, business development manager for the auto ID commercial division at Kemtek Imaging Systems, says: “As part of a drive towards developing sustainable and environmentally friendly products, the labelling industry is seeing the introduction of biodegradable linerless labels that are FSC certified.”

“Adhesive labels comprise the label itself, a layer of adhesive and the backing, which is discarded once the label has been applied. There’s been increasing concern about the amount of liner waste being generated and its disposal. The introduction of linerless labels represents changes by the packaging and labelling industry in its attempts to contribute to a better environment.”

This is not just a global trend; closer to home, the South African government has adopted a National Waste Management Strategy, which makes the circular economy central to waste management, introducing the requirement for industry managed waste plans.

One of the critical pillars for a more sustainable future is to reduce both material use and waste. Linerless printing helps brand owners and retailers meet growing consumer demand for sustainable solutions while addressing the legislative requirements around landfills and sustainable packaging.

Mearns says: “The siliconised backing on traditional adhesive label rolls can’t be recycled, so it ends up in landfills, making the overall cost of disposing of a liner quite high. It also doesn’t biodegrade.

“Because linerless labels don’t need a backing liner, it also reduces the amount of material needed to produce the media.”

To give you an idea of the significance of this innovation and the impact it will have on the environment, the linerless labels market was valued at US$ 2.41 billion in 2020 is likely to reach US$ 2.5 billion by 2029, according to a comprehensive research report by FMI.

Over and above the environmental impact, there are other benefits to deploying linerless labels, with significant cost savings to be achieved. Mearns outlines what they are:

“Because the labels don’t have a backing, more label media is included in a roll, which means that more labels can be printed from each roll of media – as much as 40%-60% more. It also means that warehouse storage is more efficient as the printer will get more labels for the space occupied. There’s additionally a saving in man hours as you can print longer runs between having to swap rolls.”

The lack of a label lining also means that more varied sizes of label can be printed on the media, instead of the label size being limited by the size of the backing. It also means that different sized labels can be printed on the same roll of media, reducing the need to change rolls when changing label size.

Some companies outsource the collection of the discarded backing, so they have to pay someone to dispose of it. Using linerless labels saves the business the cost of disposing of the lining. Label liners can also prove a hazard on the business’s floor as they’re slippery to stand on, which could cause an accident.

She goes on to explain that the labels can be printed using existing print technology. “While the printing process is the same, some adjustment to the printing technology used – such as the retrospective fitment of a kit for linerless labels – might be required, but any additional cost will be offset by the ability to print more labels per roll and the other cost savings outlined above,” says Mearns.

“It’s hard to say if all adhesive labels will eventually become linerless. We’re currently looking at about a 5% growth in this sector over the next two to five years. There’s definitely a shift towards biodegradable and eco-friendly solutions, particularly in Europe, while South Africa is still getting there.”