During Afera’s recent 64th Annual Conference, Mikko Rissanen, director of technology at UPM Specialty Papers, discussed promoting a circular economy in the tape business by improving sustainability in liner recycling and his company’s call for value chain collaboration. This involves developing more sustainable liner options in place of the dark grades on the market (such as lighter shades for tape end use) and material engineering towards sustainability by reducing unnecessary complexity (such as dark colours and composite materials). UPM updates us on their sustainable offering below.

UPM LinerLoop™ : a drop-in circular recycling solution for adhesive tapes

Did you know that while 50% of release liners in Europe are recycled, UPM’s experts estimate that only 15% of those are recycled in a closed-loop fashion back to release liners? Most release liners are downcycled into end uses such as cardboard.

“By relying on downcycling as the only option for recycling, as an industry we are holding back the fibre from being reborn into new fibre-based products in multiple recycling loops,” argues Mikko Rissanen, director of technology at UPM Specialty Papers. “Release liners are made with the highest quality pulp, so not only can they be recycled back into high-performance release liners, but the fibre could potentially be recycled a number of times before it needs to be recycled into lower-value applications.”

Recycling release liners in a circular model is supported by the E.U. Commission’s target of transitioning Europe towards a more circular economy. The new waste hierarchy promotes waste prevention and reuse as preferred options, followed by recycling. “I believe that future EPR payments and taxes will reflect the E.U.’s ambition of promoting a circular economy,” predicts Mr. Rissanen.

Can release liners be recycled in a closed loop fashion?

Recycling release liners into new pulp for papermaking is a technically demanding process that requires removing the silicone coating. UPM’s experts in release base paper technology have created UPM LinerLoop™, the first commercial-scale solution to recycle used release base papers back to release liner production.

“UPM LinerLoop offers a drop-in solution for meeting Afera’s target of improving the recyclability of products where tapes are included,” says Mikko. “We at UPM Specialty Papers first introduced this closed-loop recycling solution to the label industry in 2018, but the same technology can be used to recycle the release liner used for self-adhesive tapes.”

With UPM LinerLoop, used release liners are collected and the silicone is removed. The desiliconised release liners are then turned into pulp and used to produce new release base papers.

Dark shade is a barrier for closed-loop recycling

For adhesive tapes, the greatest technical barrier to closed-loop recycling is that the Industry has traditionally used release liners with darker brown shades. As the typical shade of glassine used in label applications is white or another light shade, recycling darker-coloured glassine grades in the same stream would contaminate the recycled pulp. Darker shades are relatively small in volume so recycling them separately is not economically viable.

From a functional perspective, the performance of lighter shades is like that of darker shades. Therefore, UPM encourages Afera Member Companies to choose lighter shades that could be recycled in a closed-loop fashion. “UPM Specialty Papers is devoted to helping the Industry make the transition to a circular economy,” Rissanen affirms. “For this reason, UPM Specialty Papers is piloting a new lighter shade for adhesive tape end uses that is compatible with the UPM LinerLoop recycling solution but delivers the same technical performance as the darker shade.”

About Mikko Rissanen

With a master’s degree from the Helsinki University of Technology, Mikko Rissanen has had a 23-year career with UPM, having spent the last 9 years in various leadership roles, primarily dealing with strategy and business development, product offering management and its development. He has also previously been deeply involved in improvements of release base paper grades, production line and project management, and growth initiatives. Mr. Rissanen is also the inventor listed in a number of UPM’s paper patents.

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