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UPM Raflatac’s new recycled paper label concept closes a big loop


Sustana Fiber’s ‘Conversations with Green Champions’ explores environmental responsibility with sustainability-minded organizations like UPM Raflatac, which has launched the first paper label concept consisting of a face stock containing recycled fiber from waste label liners.

Jeff Buchanan, Director Paper Laminates Americas, and Tyler Matusevich, Sustainability Manager, Americas, talk about reducing landfill for brand owners, connecting the dots in the circular economy, and being inspired by recycled coffee cups.

UPM Raflatac is leading in sustainable labeling

  • Innovative manufacturer of self-adhesive paper and film labeling materials and services.
  • Global network of factories, distribution terminals and offices, with 3,000 employees.
  • Part of UPM – the forest and paper industry leader in the Dow Jones European and World Sustainability Indices and one of the 36 UN Global Compact LEAD companies.
  • Moving beyond fossils with solutions and services such as Forest Film PE and PP, RAFNXT+ paper range, and recycled content portfolio.

What is the elevator story for this recycled paper label concept?   

JB: UPM Raflatac’s recycled label paper face stock – used as labelstock for a wide range of consumer products – contains up to 30% recycled fiber made from waste label liner collected by our RafCycle™ service and other mixed paper waste collection streams. Sustana Fiber, which produces the recycled fiber, is a key partner.

Are you the first to close the loop in the paper label industry?

TM: We are the first paper label manufacturer in North America to offer brand owners and converters a truly circular solution – collection, recycling and remanufacturing into a new product.

JB: This new product diverts label liner from the landfill, where some 90% of that material goes today, and puts it into the recycling stream. The recycled label face stock is what consumers see on products – so it is a very positive angle for brand owners.

How does your recycled product perform, compared to non-recycled labels?

JB: These new materials print and run the same way as our standard label stock made from non-recycled fiber. Converters can use their installed equipment and presses. Existing label designs and artwork, too. All this makes it easy to switch to our new product, and be part of the circular economy.   

Can you recap all the advantages for brand owners?

TM: The household brand names, which have the bulk of waste label liner, want to meet landfill reduction targets and regulatory requirements, increase their use of products with recycled content, and reduce their overall footprint. Using labels made from recycled label liner addresses all these points, helping them contribute to the circular economy as responsible businesses.  And we make it easy – brand owners put waste label liner into a bulk bin, then RafCycle collects it. 

Are there cost advantages for brand owners?

TM: There is typically a cost benefit to utilizing our RafCycle program. The landfill costs averaged $55 per ton in the United States (using 2017 figures), so when we come in to pickup large quantities free of charge, the brand sees those landfill cost savings, but do need to account for the storage.

How did UPM’s global reach help you develop this new product?

JB: We work to embed sustainability in everything we do, and one side of that is learning from UPM Raflatac’s experience with recycling in Europe, where UPM Raflatac has been collecting label liners for close to ten years. There, they are recycled into label liners and other paper products.

What was your main challenge in product development?

TM: Connecting all the dots in the circular economy supply chain, and managing everything along the way:

  • RafCycle will collect waste label liner from brand owners and deliver it to Sustana Fiber;
  • Sustana Fiber processes the label liners and other mixed paper waste, producing recycled fiber;
  • Our paper manufacturer uses this recycled fiber to make paper face stock;
  • UPM Raflatac manufactures the label laminate stock (a sandwich of recycled paper face stock, adhesive, silicone and label liner);
  • Converter creates the printed labels from the label laminate; and
  • Brand owner applies recycled paper labels to products. UPM Raflatac collects the label liner waste to be recycled via Sustana Fiber.

What are collection volumes for waste label liner?

TM: In Europe, nearly 10,000 tons of label liner are collected and recycled every year. In North America, where RafCycle launched in December 2018, we are on track for collecting half a million pounds of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) liners this year, and building up our effort with paper label liners.

JB: Sticking with the circular economy idea, we want to drive collection volumes of waste paper liners via our RafCycle service. We need brands on board to accumulate critical mass! The more RafCycle collects, the more recycled fiber Sustana can produce to support this circular label-to-label concept.

What led you to partner with Sustana Fiber?

JB: Tyler got to know Sustana Fiber through the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), which has members across the supply chain. Our two companies are just a few steps away from one another in the business world, and we worked together to create this circular product.

Sustana is one of the few companies in North America that can process siliconized label liner into recycled fiber, and has done so for years, so they were a natural choice.  And when we learned about Cup-to-Cup: Closing the Loop partnership project with Starbucks and Sustana Fiber, we said “Hey, let’s do Label to Label with Sustana Fiber!”

Has Sustana Fiber’s recycled product met performance expectations?

JB: Yes, we get the high-quality recycled fiber – clean and consistent – that we need to deliver premium label face stock. Sustana Fiber’s facility is also well located to supply our paper manufacturing partner.

Do you see UPM Raflatac as a green champion? 

TM: Yes, because sustainability is embedded in the strategy and operations at UPM.  We have a lifecycle approach where we look at everything in our manufacturing supply chain through to end-of-life. This leads to waste-reducing solutions like RafCycle, and innovative closed-loop products.

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