Rob Groen in ‘t Wout


Unpacking the problem: How the wrong label choice can affect recyclability


Avery Dennison’s marketing director for paper and film, Rob Groen in ‘t Wout, unpacks the challenges and opportunities facing the home and personal care industry as it strives to achieve increasingly ambitious sustainability targets.

In the UK alone, approximately half a million tons of waste is rejected for recycling due to contamination. While some are pointing the finger at the consumer, we know that it's far more complex than that. The reality is that the responsibility is on businesses, including educating consumers, to ensure we address the elements of risk that can compromise recyclability.

According to Inside Packaging, the personal care and beauty industries collectively produce more than 140 billion units of packaging every year globally. Being responsible for such a high packaging volume places considerable pressure on the industry to improve its sustainability credentials. The combination of strong consumer engagement, plus the need to communicate clearly around safe product storage, usage, and disposal, means companies are uniquely positioned to influence consumer behavior in the home and beyond. Yet it’s further up the value chain that this influence is really needed.


Rob Groen in ‘t Wout


Harmony in the value chain

The challenges of packaging choices, disposal, and recycling is not one the consumer can solve. What we need to focus on is harmonization along the value chain. As the world’s largest supplier of self-adhesive materials, Avery Dennison proactively seeks a seat at the table when new design for recyclability guidelines are drawn up and implemented, yet without value-chain cooperation between material producers, suppliers, brands, and recyclers, any progress will be slow.

Without consensus and collaboration, sustainability targets are compromised across the board. One area where this is apparent is the lack of cohesion between the packaging and labeling choices. A lot of time, effort, and resources are spent on choosing the best material and construction for a product’s packaging. Meanwhile, in some cases, the small yet significant label is an afterthought and not taken into proper consideration until the end of the process. 


An EcoDesign approach

When the self-adhesive label is taken into consideration from the beginning – through a process of EcoDesign – the sustainability credentials can be substantially higher and the label can enable recycling rather than hinder it. EcoDesign, for those unfamiliar, is an approach to product design that factors in the environmental impacts over an entire lifecycle of the whole product, from packaging, to labeling, to contents, with the aim of reducing its overall impact. Considerations are made as to how the product’s content impacts the packaging, how the label impacts the packaging, and ensures that one doesn’t compromise the intended outcome for any of the others.

The need for this approach is clearly evident in the home and personal care industry, where the requirements are often that a label withstands a wide variety of conditions. A shampoo bottle, for example, spends much of its life in the shower and the label needs to stay in place despite the daily soaking. Meanwhile, the recyclability of the bottle depends on the label’s ability to wash off under the right conditions. Of course, solutions exist that enable them both, but understanding the demands on the label is imperative to making this choice.

Systemic challenges

That said, the success or failure of our choices is ultimately decided at the recycling stage. The fact that within just one country what’s recyclable in one region isn’t in another exposes a clear systemic challenge. Thankfully we’re seeing more of a drive to achieve European alignment to increase plastic recycling, but this alignment takes time - time that we don’t necessarily have. We need bold moves and courage across the value chain to invest into making it happen.

Make no mistake, the challenge of achieving this alignment - both within Europe and across the value chain - is still one of the biggest to face our industry. Likewise it’s one of the biggest challenges that could make or break the successful outcome of many sustainability targets. Policymakers can provide a level of support to aid the industry but in order to do that it’s important that they actively engage with the broader packaging ecosystem, including other companies and local governments, to understand the practical limitations from both sides.


Rob Groen in ‘t Wout

Communication and collaboration

The need to harmonize around these issues has to be done with real world input which is why the need to facilitate communication and collaboration between companies and local governments, by inviting stakeholders from both parties to participate in the process, is imperative to the success of any legislation. If it’s not rooted in the realities that we collectively face, then it’s simply words on a page.

This level of communication and collaboration between all stakeholders is crucial. While we work closely with waste management companies such as CircPack and we increasingly integrate EcoDesign principles into our innovations, we need to channel our efforts into tangible outcomes by working together and engaging in regional pilots to understand the gaps, validate the best product design and recyclability in practice, and deliver an industry-led solution that we all support.


Learn more about sustainable labels

Discover our "Small. Yet Significant." guide to navigating sustainable labeling for HPC brands to learn how you can incorporate material choices, EcoDesign best practices and innovation into your packaging decisions.



Ready to talk? Our Ecosystem Managers are experts in the home and personal care space and are here to help you solve your sustainability challenges.