Adhesives empowering sustainable packaging

FEICA Blog Author: Jana Cohrs 19 Dec 2023

During the holiday season, the joy of giving often translates into an abundance of packaging and gift wrap. Whether it's the primary, secondary, or tertiary packaging, adhesives are the invisible force ensuring that our seasonal gifts are protected until it’s time to open them. While the festive spirit encourages the use of vibrant and elaborate packaging, it’s essential to be mindful of the environmental impact. Adhesives play a vital yet often overlooked role in sustainable packaging.

Understanding the importance of adhesives in packaging

Adhesives are crucial in the production, closing and labelling of packaging materials. They are used in the production of, for example, corrugated cardboard and flexible multilayer packaging. They are indispensable in forming and sealing packaging for a wide array of goods, including food, consumer goods, cosmetics, electronics and industrial products. Their versatility means that adhesives find application across a broad spectrum of packaging materials, including paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, glass and wood.

Adhesives in packaging recycling

Over the years, sustainability has become more important, and today we are constantly trying to reduce the impact of the lifecycle of products. For packaging this means the reduction of the material and weight of the packaging, making it reusable where possible and finally ensuring its recycling. Adhesives are not the primary target for recycling because of their low volume in the packaging. Instead, they are designed to be compatible with recycling of the main packaging material. This means that the adhesives should not adversely impact the quality or yield of the recycling of the target material. As we continue to progress in achieving paper and packaging sustainability goals, addressing certain aspects is crucial to advancing the clarity, compatibility and overall benefit of packaging recycling.

When appropriately designed and aligned with recycling technologies, adhesives can be fully compatible with recycling various packaging materials. In the case of materials like metals and glass, which are recycled at high temperatures, adhesives are universally acceptable, regardless of their specific properties. Design-for-recycling guidelines for different packaging types provide valuable insights into adhesive compatibility. Additionally, test methods and third-party certifications offer ways to test adhesives' compatibility with waste sorting and recycling operations.

Design guidelines: a holistic approach

Design guidelines form the backbone of sustainable practices, ensuring that materials meet specific criteria for successful recycling. The following are some key considerations that can propel these guidelines towards greater clarity and effectiveness:


  1. Understanding Adhesive Characteristics - Rather than favouring specific adhesive technologies, guidelines should focus on describing adhesive characteristics and their behaviour during recycling. Factors such as removability by screening, solubility or releasability in water should be highlighted.
  2. Avoiding Imprecise Terminology - Clear communication is essential. Design guidelines must steer clear of imprecise or non-predictive terminology when specifying requirements for adhesive applications.
  3. Maintaining Flexibility Through Testing - While design guidelines set the framework, test methods serve as the measuring tool for assessing compliance. Recognizing that a descriptive one-size-fits-all approach may not be practical, guidelines should always allow for testing as an additional way to demonstrate compliance. This flexibility prevents unnecessary market barriers for well-designed adhesives and innovative packaging.

As we collectively navigate the complex landscape of sustainable practices, a commitment to continuous improvement in design and testing methodologies is key. Balancing functionality, recyclability and environmental impact, adhesives are integral to shaping a more sustainable future for packaging. Understanding their diverse applications and considerations enables us to make informed choices in the ever-evolving world of packaging solutions.

For more information about adhesives and recycling, FEICA offers comprehensive information and publications at its website.

Happy holidays!