Breaking down compostable labels
As we globally work towards the nirvana of a circular economy, both businesses and consumers are seeking sustainable labelling and packaging options. In Australia, the government has moved to endorse a target of 100 per cent of all packaging being either recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. The New Zealand government has committed to eliminating single-use plastic and hard-to-recycle materials from the country, also by 2025.
These changes are compatible with a consumer base who are increasingly well informed on global sustainability issues. They are wisely becoming more green with their spending habits and as such are seeking out like-minded eco-conscious brands.
Compostability is synonymous with these changes and trends, and it provides our manufacturing customer base with a robust solution to meet the regulatory requirements and consumer preferences in this space. In this blog we unwind the complexity on this topic. We explain the differences in compostable standards, how to have your product certified, we take you through our compostable label options, and share a few watch outs when using compostable labels on your products.
Compostable packaging standards
Companies can easily identify the compostable properties of their products by referencing certifications on their packaging. However, it isn’t of course as simple as adding the wording to the label. Regulations surrounding what is and is not able to be certified as compostable are required to ensure there is a transparent and consistent industry standard for both businesses and consumers.
There are two key international compostable standards currently in use – OK compost INDUSTRIAL (EN 13432) and OK compost HOME (EN 13432). In order for a product to display the OK compost INDUSTRIAL logo, all components including inks and additives, must be able to biodegrade in an industrial composting plant. The OK compost HOME standard indicates products that will completely biodegrade in a garden compost heap. A home composting process generally has a lower and less consistent temperature compared to industrial composting, so we can expect these items to biodegrade at home at a slower rate.
Information surrounding the compostability of products and their packaging can be confusing. To simplify the information, the seedling logo was introduced as an international standard for certified compostable plastic products. The seedling logo trademark is owned by European Bioplastics and it is administered in Australia and New Zealand by the Australasian Bioplastics Association. For a product to be certified compostable and carry the seedling logo, the materials used must adhere to the strict guidelines and testing of certification standards AS4736‐2006 and EN 13432. It is important to note that the entire packaging must be certified together, rather than just the individual components. More information on the seedling logo, its use and how businesses can have their products certified as compostable is available on the Australasian Bioplastics Association website.
There are also strict guidelines when stating claims on whether a product is certified compostable or contains compostable attributes. If your label and packaging are certified compostable, be clear about what that means in terms of the certification number, break down time and how the product can be composted. If the label or packaging are compostable, but not certified, be clear on what parts of the product are able to be composted – for example the packaging, the label or both - and how the consumer can achieve successful compostability.
WasteMINZ, New Zealand’s largest representative body of the country’s waste, resource recovery and contaminated land sectors, has an excellent document called Best Practice Guidelines for the Advertising of Compostable Products and Packaging which provides further guidance on claims that can be made on compostable packaging.
Scion, a government-owned Crown Research Institute in New Zealand, conducts tests to validate the compostability of plastic materials as one of many educational resources they provide to both businesses and consumers.
Compostable labelling solutions
As part of the extensive and ever growing environmental material portfolio at Hally Labels, we have several compostable labelling solutions including paper, film, and direct thermal paper options.
For those after a luxurious, textured feel, our Compostable Clarence material is the ideal choice with its crisp white look and uncoated felt finish. Featuring 30% post-consumer waste and a compostable adhesive, this paper stock is a great eco all-rounder with its Green Seal and Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certifications. Alternatively, our Compostable Semi Gloss is an option for those wanting a smoother paper stock, minus the texture. This material is importantly matched with a compostable adhesive. Our compostable papers are an ideal choice for dry goods in compostable packaging such as tea or pantry items.
We currently offer two plant-based renewable film materials that are each matched with a compostable adhesive. The first is our clear PLA (polylactic acid) which is manufactured from renewable plant materials such as corn. The second is another clear film called Natureflex, produced from wood pulp that has been sourced from sustainably managed plantations. It is recommended that these materials are only matched with like-for-like packaging to ensure a sustainable end of life for the complete product. PLA material, which is moisture and oil resistant, is best suited to PLA packaging, and Natureflex labels are best applied to Natureflex containers.
Compostable direct thermal paper
The newest addition to our environmental portfolio is our Compostable Direct Thermal Paper. This material features thermal chemistry that has been specially designed for compostability. It is matched with a compostable adhesive, and the material is certified to EN13432 compostability standards. The material has also been awarded the seedling logo under DIN CERTCO GmbH. Additionally, the material is FSC Mix Chain of Custody certified, ensuring we support responsible forest management practice. This environmental option is recommended for use on compostable short-term applications, such as courier labels for compostable courier bags, price weigh labels on compostable packaging, product/ingredient labels on compostable pouches, and any variable data labelling for compostable packaging.
Three helpful tips for compostable labels
- We strongly recommend only applying compostable labels to compostable packaging. This makes it simple for the end consumer to compost the product in its entirety, rather than expecting them to remove and compost the label separate to the container. Applying compostable labels to non-compostable packaging can taint the recycling process and the labels will unfortunately end up in landfill, as will any glass, PET or HDPE with the label still intact. By taking the time to consider the desired end-of-life of your product, you increase the likelihood of your packaging ending up in the right place - your customer’s compost bin. Click here for our handy overview of the recycling process for more information.
It is important to not only consider the desired end-of-life scenario for your product, but also make it as easy as possible for your consumer to achieve this eco goal. Providing clear instructions about the end use of both the packaging and the label will help to ensure they are disposed of properly and not end up in landfill. redCYCLE in Australia and the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme in New Zealand both recycle soft plastics, with consumers able to return packaging included in the relevant schemes at their local supermarkets. Other brands, such as For The Better Good in New Zealand, have a bottle return program to ensure their own products will not end up in landfill, or the ocean. Brands such as Gillette and Schwarzkopf have teamed up with social enterprise TerraCycle to offer their own recycling initiatives.
team of label experts can help you choose the best material for your label application so you don’t run into any material performance issues down the track.
- Don’t forget that what you put on the label counts as well. Consideration must be given to the types and use of inks and embellishments to ensure the properties of your compostable label are not affected in a way that would alter an end-of-life solution. It is important also to understand the amount of ink and foil being applied to the label. A small amount may not affect the recyclability, but too much can tip the balance. At Hally Labels, our HP Indigo press inks have been certified for compostable packaging. We are also excited to now offer foil that is certified for composting, as part of our extensive embellishments portfolio. Talk to our team today for more information.
Want to know more? Our complete list of environmental labelling resources provides you with a comprehensive overview of environmentally sustainable labelling resources, plus some of the key sustainability commitments we are proud to be working towards at Hally Labels.
We hope this blog empowers you to consider incorporating compostable materials into your label design where there is the opportunity to match them with compostable packaging. For more information on compostable labels, our range of environmental materials or more general questions relating to your labelling requirements please contact us today.