The circular economy is an integral part of everyday production in Bavaria, Germany. A packing machine attaches thousands of labels to the front and back of shampoo bottles at the Henkel Wassertrüdingen plant. As the labels come off the roll, the label release liner is fed onto a spool of its own next to the packaging line. When the supply of labels has been depleted and the operator replaces the roll, the used liner is deposited in a label stock waste container – a small step at the plant, but a giant leap in terms of recycling waste.
In most cases, label stock waste ends up in a mixed waste container and is then removed for further processing. Some of the waste may end up as raw material for low value-added products, such as containerboard, and some for incineration. This is not the case at Wassertrüdingen. More than 90% of the label stock waste is recovered at the plant. In 2016, this amounted to 455 tonnes, or around 20 lorry loads. Recycling makes sense, because it would literally be a waste of money not to reuse the label stock waste. The label liner material is made from 100% high-quality pulp, and it can be reused in high value-added papers, print and magazine papers.
The label stock waste from Henkel’s cosmetics labelling process is taken to the UPM Plattling mill, where silicone is separated from the waste. Following this deinking process, the new raw material is ready for use in graphic paper production.
Henkel’s business areas are adhesives, cosmetics products and washing and cleaning products. Henkel’s brands, such as Schwarzkopf, Persil and Pril, are well-known worldwide and are found in the homes of millions of consumers. In adhesives, the company is a global market leader.
UPM and Henkel’s cooperation is a mutually beneficial arrangement. UPM Raflatac buys adhesives from Henkel for its own label production, and Henkel uses UPM Raflatac’s label materials. Looking to expand their cooperation and reduce label stock waste, the two companies together launched the RafCycle programme at the Wassertrüdingen plant. Henkel is the first company in the cosmetics and hygiene industry to participate in UPM Raflatac’s RafCycle recycling programme.
“RafCycle has improved our cost structure and reduced waste at the plant, which supports our corporate goals,” says Philippe Blank, Innovation & Sustainability Manager at Henkel. Henkel has ambitious sustainability targets aiming among others to achieve zero landfill waste and to reduce the carbon footprint of its production by 75% by 2030. The company additionally plans to reduce waste by 30% per tonne of product by 2020.
“We are constantly developing new concepts to promote sustainability, and we’re looking for recyclable alternatives for industrial packaging, for example. Our main goal is to reduce the amount of waste, and this is exactly where RafCycle comes in,” Blank says. So far, only label stock waste from Henkel’s cosmetics products has been recycled, but the partners are currently involved in negotiations concerning production sites in Slovenia, in Hungary and in Düsseldorf, Germany. Having started with cosmetics, the companies are now looking to extend the pilot project into other areas, including washing and cleaning products as well as adhesives.