2 October 2020

European tape businesses cue in on sustainability in waste processing infrastructure and ‘enabling’ function of tape technologies

Afera’s 8th Webinar covered “the state of sustainability in adhesive tapes,” probing the importance of partnership, transparency and the E.U. Green Deal to the adhesive tape value chain

Afera’s last exclusive online interactive session in our lockdown exit series “Navigating the COVID-19 crisis within the adhesive tape value chain” took place on 3 September, offering an outside-in regulatory view of the relationship between business recovery and sustainability in the European tape industry. This time, following an important regulatory update, input from 4 companies within the adhesive tape value chain, Mondi Release Liner, a global supplier of release liners, Organik Kimya San. Ve Tic. A.S., an adhesive chemical supplier, Bostik S.A., an adhesive supplier, and tesa S.E., a tape manufacturer, communicated their approaches and experiences in implementing sustainability initiatives within their organisations. They also talked about what the Industry can do to facilitate collaboration across the value chain, recycling, implementation of the E.U. Green deal and general improvement in sustainability.

E.U. regulatory developments

Plastic tax
Afera Regulatory Affairs Manager Pablo Englebienne reported that the long-term budget proposed by the European Council announced in July includes a new own resource as of 2021, in which Member States (MSs) need to contribute to the E.U. budget proportionally to the amount of non-recycled plastic packaging waste, to the tune of €0.80/kg. This is the way to calculate the contribution that MSs need to make, but in principle it is up to the MSs to come up with the funds. It is unclear at this point how this will be computed and what the impact will be.

Restriction of diisocyanates under REACH
Diisocyanates as a category will be restricted from professional and industrial use in concentrations higher than 0.1% in weight as from 24 August 2023, with their sale prohibited already as from February 2022. Diisocyanates are used, among others, in the production of foams, sealants and coatings.

Ethanol reproductive toxicity Cat. 2 harmonised classification intention
The Greek competent authority notified the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that they are preparing a dossier to classify ethanol as reproductive for toxicity. This can have a significant impact for this substance, which is used as a solvent in industry (e.g. for printing inks), as an intermediate in synthesis, as a solvent in a multitude of end products (e.g. disinfectants and perfumes), etc. The dossier is anticipated to be submitted by the end of the year, and then it has to be approved by ECHA, followed by a period of public consultation, after which a final decision will be taken by the risk assessment committee.

REACH for polymers: study report prepared by Consultancies Wood & PFA, Ltd.
The report of a study mandated by the European Commission to develop criteria for Registration and Evaluation of polymers under REACH was made public in August. The 345-page report proposes to select a subset of polymers used in industry overall as “polymers requiring registration” (PRR). This would include some short oligomers with a molecular weight of less than 1,000, as well as higher-molecular-weight polymers with specific features, like cationic, anionic, reactive, surfactants, etc. There is still no decision on how this will be applied as discussion on this is ongoing, but the report with the proposed strategy is now available and is being discussed by the various stakeholders.

Afera’s following Webinar on 16 September focussed exclusively on regulatory affairs.

Sustainability in the adhesive tape industry 2/2: the inside-out scope

The panel discussion was the follow-up of Afera’s previous Webinar held in July that focussed on the regulatory view of the relationship between business recovery and sustainability in the European tape industry. At the time, Mr. Englebienne presented a broad update on external factors that influence the development of sustainability in the Industry, including the U.N. definition of sustainability, Sustainable Development Goals, the E.U. Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, E.U. Climate Law and the Single-Use Plastics Directive.

Today moderator and marketing strategist Bert van Loon talked with the 4 notable panellists about the state of sustainability programmes in their companies and how COVID-19 influenced them, collaboration throughout the value chain, the influence and their expectations of the Green Deal, and their sustainable priorities and perceived opportunities for the Industry as a whole.

A necessary reality check: how COVID-19 affected sustainability in companies

You could say the COVID-19 crisis offered a reality check for tape-related companies when it comes to processing the accelerating market and environmental demands, and honing their focus and strategy according to developing standards of sustainability. Acting in this area, including building partnerships, is the only way to achieve business resilience.

Andrea Lackner, director of R&D and innovation at Mondi Release Liner, which supplies the tape industry with release liners, films, papers and polycoated materials, revealed that during the COVID-19 time of travel restrictions, Mondi implemented its EcoSolutions customer-centric approach into the Release Liner Business. “With EcoSolutions, Mondi partners with its customers to identify opportunities of further optimising the product portfolio and refining the development strategy,” she explained. “During the summer we launched NextLiner, the first-to-market solution that reduces the environmental footprint of polycoated kraft (PCK) paper release liners, helping our customers achieve their sustainability goals.”

Michael Lang, director of corporate sustainability and quality management at tesa, where sustainability is already a significant focus, explained that they recently stepped up their environmental strategy by defining targets. “If you want to be resilient, your company’s sustainability plan plays an important role, because COVID-19 and the resulting acceleration in environmental legislation has showed us that we have to prevent another looming crisis—the climate crisis,” he said. “So we have set out to reduce our CO₂ emissions by 2025 compared with those of 2018 by 30% in absolute numbers, meaning that we are decoupling our CO₂ emissions from business.”

“We have been working on sustainability since our company was established,” shared Kristina Petrasova, sustainability and commercial excellence specialist at Organik Kimya. “But we took a holistic approach in 2015 when we started looking at the effects of our own production and products up and down the supply chain. This culminated in our action to create a sustainability strategy in 2020, and the pandemic just sped the process up for us.” She told listeners that the restriction of travel and other routine business activities allowed more time for Organik Kimya’s management to sit together and form a strategy, beginning with a survey conducted among its stakeholders. The results were a sort of reality check for the company: As also seen in other industries, the COVID-19 crisis amplified the importance of health and safety of employees and business continuity.

For Bostik, the acceleration in environmental legislation during the time of COVID-19 has engendered many enquiries and new ideas from customers and their customers’ customers. Eric Parois, global market director of tapes, labels and medical at the French-based maker of adhesives, said that “the sustainability issue is now regarded as a major challenge for the whole Industry and that everyone finally understands that we have to play a role together to improve the situation.” Another reality check. The Circular Economy in particular will probably become a major change driver, forcing companies within the adhesive tape value chain into many more partnerships in the past in order to meet environmental demands of recycling processability: “I do not think anybody has the solutions to the problems we have to face.”

The key to acceleration: marketing communication vs. technology

What the panellists agreed is that great marketing around the subject of sustainability adds tremendous value, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the evolution of technology, a process which must be met with study, speed and collaboration. “For product development, we not only need recyclable and renewable raw materials but require a joint approach with key suppliers and other stakeholders in the value chain for doing things like improving energy consumption in production,” Ms. Lackner explained.

Ms. Petrasova agreed that Organik Kimya believes product development is at the very heart of sustainability, already during the early stages of design. Marketing communication very much centres on interdisciplinary communication with stakeholders from partner companies and the tape industry as a whole. “They might be customers who bring us information about market needs and trends, such as, ‘Where will the market be in 3 to 5 years from now?’” she shared.

“Marketing around sustainability makes more collaboration possible, and that’s a key point in driving sustainability forward,” added Ms. Lackner. “Stating your values, objectives and capabilities means you can work more openly up and down the supply chain in finding out what suppliers can offer and what customers want.”

Customers are increasingly putting pressure on the Industry in general, and Mr. Parois described how the tape industry has to react to this challenge—with the co-operation of key stakeholders in bringing to the market something with a positive impact on sustainability. “This requires both strategic communication and technology in developing, for example, recycling streams, then defending them and sometimes updating their performance,” he remarked. “Facing the challenge of creating, recycling, and manufacturing new products using waste—the trend is there and definitely impacts the industries in which tape is used.”

Accelerating collaboration within the adhesive tape industry means more transparency

The tape industry, which according to Mr. Parois is very fragmented worldwide, consists of many SMEs which until the advent of the pandemic, had been used to working individually on their dedicated technologies. “Now, with the acceleration of environmental legislation and the sustainability challenge before them, they are forced to start investigating other ways of doing business,” he said. “This puts pressure on the companies in our industry, and it is Bostik’s view that it is in their best interest to find sustainable solutions better and faster not alone but by collaborating with others.” Already long focussed on working with its customers, Bostik welcomes new forms of co-operation.

“In order to make fact-based decisions, customers need standardised and comparable data on the environmental impact of their respective product, such as the CO₂ footprint or a life cycle assessment,” related Ms. Lackner. “All the partners involved need to be more transparent by sharing their relevant information.”

Making the biggest impact: Recycling facilities and recovery units

Mr. Van Loon noted that coming from a circular-economy point of view, the Industry has been strongly focussed on the value chain, exploring alternatives like lower-impact raw materials, but what about infrastructure issues, such as recycling facilities, recovery units, etc.? Ms. Lackner answered that recycling should take priority, because if various collection streams are developed, the parts of final products that include tapes are more likely to be recyclable, adding value to customer product development.

Recyclability and processability is a challenging topic for Mondi, as the adhesive tapes market is so fragmented into various products and today release liners are thought to be non-recyclable. “You have so many different products, colours, types of siliconisation, etc., and obviously not everything can end up in the same recycling stream, so there are many logistics required for this: We have to create the capabilities to collect the materials, to sort them and then feed them back into the circular economy,” Ms. Lackner shared. “There are new technologies on the market that will enable recycling of a greater number of products.”

She further described Mondi’s efforts to look beyond utilising 100% virgin fibres and build a portfolio of alternatives such as renewable films and recycled papers. “On the other hand, it is important to evaluate recycling possibilities to keep products in the loop and develop more sustainable solutions. We want our customer’s feedback on how they want to move forward.” Ms. Lackner revealed that at the end of 2020, Mondi will be able to calculate product carbon footprints for various release liner products.

Creating a more level playing field: the effects of the E.U. Green Deal on companies and the Industry

Organik Kimya sees the Green Deal as part of a shift to a more circular economy driven by environmental regulation, a point of view which was confirmed by its stakeholder survey. “When we asked them what the driver for sustainability was for them, the most common answer was regulation,” commented Ms. Petrasova. “This is because the Green Deal provides the framework and impetus to move towards a circular economy in Europe.” Because of the European policy initiatives and the inspiration they provide, when developing new products (adhesives), Organik Kimya uses a stage-gate process production funnel, with sustainability incorporated already at the beginning of the funnel. In this way, R&D and product design personnel are compelled to take potential sustainable benefits and impact on the circular economy into account at the drawing board stage.

Mr. Parois indicated that Bostik similarly sees the regulatory framework the Green Deal provides as clarifying how companies should proceed with sustainability activities. “It is good that it is there, because we rely on the parameters set by the legislation to guide the development of our technologies and products.” As evidenced by the higher expense of many products launched in the last 5 years, consumer demands increasingly include the option of paying higher prices for sustainable products. “We should not assume upfront that cost increase is a fundamental issue for our customers,” he added. “It may turn out that the efficiency of the recycling stream will be able to create the necessary value in the chain anyway. So it is about a lot of variables, but the legislation creates opportunities with positive outcomes from an environmental point of view.”

Making both “circularity” and tape’s function as an ‘enabler’ the Industry’s sustainable areas of focus

“If we witnessed the impact of charging a carbon price for everything in our value chain, such as €100 or even €150 per tonne, this would show us what we need to focus on first,” Mr. Parois offered. “With our tape customers, we need to insist on new solutions for low-VOC products—desolventisation and so on—but also efficiencies in debonding and dismantling of end products—how we could work together within the supply chain to bring all these solutions to the market. We also need to work together on waste recycling in the tape industry, such as release liners and matrix.”

On the release liner side, Ms. Lackner similarly says Mondi and their partners are increasing efforts to expand the secondary lives of their products. “We could focus on streamlining the product portfolio we already have,” she suggested. “Shifting away from coloured tapes such as brown and Havana, which have been on the market for a long time, we could move exclusively to white base papers, which can be recycled in the existing streams.” According to Ms. Lackner, it would be a quick win if the Industry managed to set up a sorting system for different colours and grades of release liners and co-operate with the existing recycling companies in Europe.

“If the tape industry provides functional and safe products which really do what they are supposed to, we need to focus on the ‘end of life’ of products,” emphasised Ms. Petrasova. “Whether that means researching the possibilities of recyclability, biodegradability or compostability, we need to find the best fit and start using it.” Furthermore, from a chemical manufacturer’s point of view, Organik Kimya heavily studies raw materials, in particular the possibilities of utilising products derived from recycled plastics—even of other industries—over virgin alternatives. Mr. Van Loon pointed out that this concept goes beyond just creating sustainable products into facilitating the circularity of the Industry or multiple industries.

Finally, Mr. Lang agreed that the Industry should focus on being a key partner for CO₂ reduction and circularity, not forgetting that the sustainable “enabler” function of tape is equally important. Incorporating tape into the design and production process enables countless (end) products to be made to be more durable, repairable, and materially and energy efficient. “We are an enabler for our customers, and we have to look beyond our own product to see the final product itself,” he stressed. “Ultimately, debonding-on-demand solutions bring huge benefits to our customers.”


The recording of the Webinar is now available here using password 146Zp?NE. The Webinar slide deck including active links is also available upon request to the Secretariat.

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