Surprisingly, no comprehensive system for recycling label waste currently exists. So we’re working to facilitate the creation of one, with the help of partners like Adam Kositzke and Fox River Fiber. A major recycler of paper pulp in the central U.S., Fox River trucks label waste from our customers and recycles it at their De Pere, Wisconsin, plant, turning it into pulp used to make printer paper, facial tissue, food packaging and more. With our project less than a year old, Fox River is collecting around 800 tons of label waste per month—a fragment of the 18,000 tons of waste paper they receive in a typical month, but it’s a number that Adam expects will grow as word gets out.
One of the biggest barriers to recycling liner waste has been the widespread belief that release liners coated with silicone for easier detachment can’t be recycled. Recycled pulp from siliconized paper can leave telltale translucent dots—known in the industry as “fish eyes”—in finished fine papers. But in fact, with the right equipment, silicone can indeed be removed from wood fiber. Fox Fiber is one of the few companies that has such equipment, and Adam sees recycling siliconized paper as a growth market as digital communication shrinks the volume of non-siliconized paper in use.
Because not all of our customers use labels on a scale that would make collection profitable, Adam connects smaller companies with smaller recyclers that stockpile label waste until they’ve amassed enough to sell to Fox River. Doing so helps mom-and-pop recyclers and helps ensure that Fox River always has a diverse range of sources; it also helps us in what Adam sees as an important effort to keep reusable material out of landfills.
“All that paper going to landfills is a wasted opportunity,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for us, because that’s material we could be reselling. And it’s an opportunity for society, because it’s better if it never goes into the ground. Landfilling is so inexpensive in the U.S. that companies don’t have an incentive to try very hard to avoid it. If we can help get more of them to recycle, we’re proud to do that.”