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Are Stickers and Labels Recyclable?

With more focus than ever on sustainable products and packaging, many customers are wondering if stickers and labels are recyclable. Unfortunately the answer is a bit more complicated than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as it depends on a variety of factors and the specifics of a particular label. Keep reading to find out more about what stickers are recyclable, based on the information provided to us by our raw material suppliers.


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Can all stickers and labels be recycled?

Unfortunately not all stickers and labels can be recycled. A big reason for this is that different recycling facilities have different capabilities, and some labels and materials may require more specialist equipment and sorting techniques than others. You should always check with your local facility for their specific capabilities.


In addition, some materials have properties that only facilitate one-time use, or the combination of materials makes it impractical to recycle the label - for example, tamper evident materials which break up when removed. In addition, parts of the label such as ink and the adhesive may not be able to be reclaimed due to the small quantities used.


With all label materials, the label itself can’t make up too much of the overall proportion of the packaging it is stuck to as it could interfere with the recycling process. This also means that a sticker on its own could struggle to be recycled.


Are paper stickers and label materials recyclable?

If a paper label is stuck onto a cardboard or corrugated package (or a material made of paper/cardboard), the paper is typically deemed to be recyclable. Parts such as ink and adhesive would be contaminants (along with similar materials from the package itself) and be removed from the process.


Are plastic and synthetic stickers and label materials recyclable?

If a plastic label is applied to a package or bottle made with the same type of plastic, the plastic is normally seen as recyclable (providing the type of plastic is recyclable, such as polypropylene). For example, a polypropylene label applied to a polypropylene bottle is likely to be recyclable. As with other types of labels, the ink and adhesive would be removed from the overall recycling stream as a contaminant.


Are PET stickers and label materials recyclable?

PET stickers can be recycled when applied to a PET product to reclaim the PET material, however the inclusion with the overall mix of the material could result in reduced quality of the recycled product (particularly with contaminants such as ink and adhesive). As such, the density of the label needs to be less than 1g per cubic centimetre.


Using a wash-off adhesive is particularly important for ensuring that PET products are recyclable, as this means that the label and adhesive can be removed easily and not disrupt the recycling process.


Are laminated labels recyclable?

If the laminate for the label matches the overall material, such as a polypropylene base material and polypropylene laminate, then the label should be able to be recycled (if applied to a matching package or container, as detailed above). If different materials are used, such as a paper base material and plastic laminate, this is unlikely to be able to be recycled. Parts such as the adhesive and ink would still be separated as a contaminant.


Is label release liner recyclable?

The majority of label release liners are silicone based (to ensure the labels can be removed easily), but this significantly reduces the ability to recycle the material. Some companies provide services to recycle the liner, but it is not normally able to be recycled at typical recycling centres.


Is the adhesive on stickers and labels recyclable?

The adhesive on a label makes up a very small amount of the overall label, and we’re not aware of any recycling process which is able to extract the adhesive for re-use. In addition, adhesives can change over time once they are adhered to a surface.


Peel, low-tack and removable adhesives are available with a range of materials if you need to remove stickers and labels to re-use elsewhere.


Is the ink used to print labels recyclable?

As with printed cardboard and paper, printed labels can enter the recycling stream, however we are not aware of ink being able to be recycled at the moment. Materials such as ink would typically be contaminants in the recycling process of the main label material, such as paper or plastic.


As you can see, the huge variety of customisation options available can make it challenging to recycle a sticker or label. Our top suggestion is to match the materials of the label with that of your product or packaging, to give the label the best chance of being recycled.


Every label, piece of packaging and item is different, so use this guide as a general overview only. We recommend conducting your own research into the recyclability of your specific labels and items.


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