Coke testing shrink sleeve designed for easier recycling

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: December 10, 2013 4:02 pm ET
Updated: December 10, 2013 4:04 pm ET

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, Labels, Packaging, Film & Sheet, Recycling
Companies & Associations Coca-Cola Co.

Full-wrap shrink sleeve labels are a marketer’s dream and a recycler’s nightmare.

But one of the largest companies in the world believes it is on to a solution for a problem that’s been creeping up on the PET recycling industry in recent years.

Shrink sleeves — those full-bottle labels that provide plenty of room for graphics and product information — are growing in popularity.

But they also are proving to be a difficult material for plastic recyclers to handle because they throw off sorting equipment, high-tech and low-tech alike.

Coca-Cola Co., however, is out with a new full-sleeve label that’s being tested on a holiday product that company believes provides a pathway to easier recycling.

Full-sleeve labels can cause problems for optical sorters, for float tanks and for air separation technology, for example, all for different reasons.

But Coke has developed a new label made from a polyolefin mix instead of a modified PET that mixes with the clear bottle flake in float tanks. Instead, the new label material rises in a float tank and separates from PET that settles to the bottom.

“We’re quite proud and feel like it’s a good step forward for the industry. We’re not saying it’s a silver bullet resolution by any means. But we really want to do our part and feel like this is a good step,” said Jeff Meyers, manager of sustainable packaging for Coca-Cola.

“There’s a bunch of real world testing that’s been done to advance and actually commercialize a new label from Coca-Cola,” he said. “The story here is we believe we are the first to market with an APR compatible label per their guidelines.”

The APR Meyers that speaks about is the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, a trade group that has been working to address shrink sleeve label impacts on recycling. The group has even established a set of shrink sleeve guidelines to help manufacturers make their products more recyclable.

The issue has been growing as these labels gain traction in the market, said APR technical director John Standish. Bottles with full-sleeve labels account for about 5 percent of the recycled plastic bale these days and is expected to continue to grow in the years ahead.

This year, Standish said, was “a pivotal year because these labels got big enough in the market stream that it started to financially hurt the reclaimers. And what seems to be the direction people are going is to put in this machinery that mechanically rips the label off because nothing else has been available.”

Full-sleeve labels can fool optical sorting equipment into believing they are seeing colored resin. They also can mix with and contaminate clear PET grind at the bottom of separation tanks. And they can become mixed in with PET from lightweight water bottles because of their similar characteristics when recyclers use an elutriation process that uses air for sortation.

Coca-Cola tested thousands of bottles in real-world conditions by attaching the new mixed polyolefin labels and pushing product through the supply chain “to make sure this new material would stand the test of time in real-world conditions,” Meyers said. “But we didn’t just stop with our operations, we also took the bottles and sent them to a few different PET recycling plants and let them work on it.”

With encouraging results, Coca-Cola decided to use the new shrink sleeve on its single-serve orb-shaped bottle available during the holiday season at Wal-Mart. Every one of those bottles has the new label.

“Let’s actually put it out on the marketplace for a couple of months,” Meyers said. “Let’s see how it does. Let’s see if the recyclers have any feedback. You can call it a real-world trial. And so our intent is, assuming things continue to go well, that we would convert as many of our product lines as possible into that new material.”

Standish said that while his group is pleased Coca-Cola is first out of the door with the new material, there are other companies looking for solutions.

“Certainly, other brands are working on the same pathway as Coca-Cola, just a little farther behind. And many label producers are offering labels that have characteristics that Coke is employing,” he said.

“I believe that’s a very valuable step forward,” he said about Coca-Cola. “The reality is they are only one of many brands that are putting full-sleeve labels in the market. So we’d like to see other brands take similar steps.”

But, the technical director added, this will take time.

“I think it’s going to be a slow change. I think the ship is starting to make a turn. But I think it’s still going to be a very, very long turn.”

Meyers believes the technology can transfer to other companies. “I don’t see any reason why this couldn’t apply to other packaging that uses this technology.”

“I think the message here is we want to innovate and we also want to find solutions that are recyclable,” he said.


Comments

Coke testing shrink sleeve designed for easier recycling

By Jim Johnson
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: December 10, 2013 4:02 pm ET
Updated: December 10, 2013 4:04 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

How CEO Santi is changing ITW

April 23, 2014 2:48 pm ET

Scott Santi is showing he can do more than just cut costs at Illinois Tool Works Inc.    More

Image

Unilever puts Dove brand on a MuCell diet

April 23, 2014 1:57 pm ET

New technology employed by Unilever NV in the manufacture of bottles for its Dove Body Wash range of products could end up saving the brand owner up...    More

Image

Coffee roaster looks to improve footprint of single cup systems

April 22, 2014 1:30 pm ET

One of the largest coffee and tea manufacturers in North America has introduced a single-serve beverage capsule intended to curb the waste created by ...    More

Image

Pregis Corp. to get new owner

April 22, 2014 11:44 am ET

The private equity owner of Pregis Corp. is selling off its North American operations for an undisclosed sum.    More

Two Eastman buildings among 10 biggest energy savers in national contest

April 22, 2014 11:35 am ET

Two offices at the headquarters of Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., ranked in the Top 10 for energy efficiency in the latest Energy Star Nati...    More

Market Reports

Market Data Book - Rankings & Lists

A one-stop download of Plastic News' exclusive annual lists and processor rankings containing essential data including sales, employees, end markets, materials and more.
EXCLUSIVE EXCEL FEATURE: full mailing address details for available plant locations.

Learn more

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report provides analysis and discussions of economic and political conditions, market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies. In addition, there are reviews of 25 leading thermoformers in the packaging segment, assessing their growth initiatives and performance metrics over 10 years.

Learn more

Mold Making and Tooling Review and Outlook 2014 North America

This report provides in-depth analysis of the mold and toolmaking market for North America, including discussions of trends, opportunities, threats, the latest developments in production and labor and equipment trends impacting moldmakers.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

May 6, 2014 - May 8, 2014Plastics in Medical Devices 2014

May 12, 2014 - May 12, 2014Plastics News Brazil Pharma Summit

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 3, 2015 - February 7, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events