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A better PET recycling solution for Woolies

Woolworths has advanced its sustainability goals by ensuring that the label and adhesive from its PET packaging are cleanly removed during recycling – a solution supplied by Rotolabel.

“As the primary label converter for Woolworths, we have worked together on many sustainability projects to meet Design for Recycling Guidelines, including the introduction of FSC-certified paper labels in 2017,” comments Rotolabel’s sales director, Grant Watson.  

‘It’s important to understand customers’ packaging goals and when we started talking about this project two years ago, our aim was to assist Woolworths meet its target of making all of its food packaging recyclable or reusable.” 

According to Watson, wash-off label technology such as CleanFlake has subsequently become more cost-effective and as acceptable as other available options. “We have to remember that labelling represents a small percentage of the packaging’s weight – it doesn’t move the gauge in terms of environmental issues, the container or bottle does.

“With more recycling operations and wash plants due to come on-stream in the country next year, boosting local capacity to recycle PET bottles, punnets and trays into food-grade pellets, it has created an appetite in the market.”

To ensure that PET bottles are successfully recycled back into food-grade containers, the wash-off label materials have to be the right size and thickness to be recognised by sorting equipment.

Avery Dennison’s sales manager, Andrew Zwicky, comments: ‘We worked hand-in-glove with Rotolabel to demonstrate to Woolworths how our CleanFlake adhesive technology could improve the sustainability of its private label juice bottles, as well as PET jars, clamshells and trays, by ensuring that more of the packs complete the recycling process to help achieve bottle-to-bottle circularity for pure rPET, a resource that is high in global demand.’ 

According to Zwicky, the CleanFlake materials ensure that PET packs are successfully recycled back into food-grade containers because they are the right size and thickness to be recognised by sorting equipment. This prevents the PET from being downcycled, landfilled or incinerated. 

‘With Woolworths’ shift to CleanFlake-based labels, our teams are on hand to help Rotolabel provide all the support and expertise needed for Woolworths to make a smooth, confident transition,’ he states. 

“CleanFlake labels are every bit as reliable as a conventional label all the way to the product’s shelf appeal, with their “no label” look that is achieved with high-clarity adhesives, making them suitable for products seeking a premium aesthetic.

“Together with Rotolabel, we coordinated a trial of 10 000 juice bottles with South Africa’s primary PET bottle-to-bottle recycler Extrupet, which gave CleanFlake the green light based on its technology tests,’ he comments. 

Extrupet’s joint MD, Chandru Wadhwani, adds: “Laboratory results showed a more than satisfactory detachment of the polyolefin labels from the PET flakes in the washing process. Furthermore, the adhesive was cleanly removed along with the label, passing our recycling standard requirements.”

Latiefa Behardien, Woolworths Foods’ head of Foods Technology, Safety and Good Business Journey, adds: “Shifting to new technologies and working closely with our packaging suppliers is critical for us as we work towards our vision of zero packaging waste to landfill.

“While recycling alone cannot solve the world’s pollution problems, it has significant potential to impact on cleaning up our waste systems, creating jobs and reducing the need for the production of virgin plastics. Every step of the way helps to bring about a cleaner, safer country for all.”

Source: PPM Magazine, August 2021 issue

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