Sustainable Pathways for Adhesive Tapes

Sustainable Pathways for Adhesive Tapes: Interview with Evert Smit

Dr. Evert Smit, President of the European Adhesive Tape Association, Afera, recently spoke at PSTC Tape Week held in Orlando, Florida on strategies to get the European tape industry ready for a circular future of tapes and the work being done within Afera’s Flagship Sustainability Project. 

In this interview, he shares his insights on the current legislative environment, its impact on the tapes industry, and the actions needed for compliance. He talks about the importance of adhesive tapes as key enablers of sustainability and shares his reasons for why he believes that collaboration across the value chain – or as he terms it, “Value-Circle” – is key in the path towards sustainability and circularity in Europe and beyond. 

How do you view the European Green Deal and its impact on businesses in Europe and the rest of the world?

ES: Even though the Green Deal is often seen as truly challenging for the industry, creating many new potential stumble blocks, I firmly believe that making all our industries sustainable is a “must”. The path forward will be challenging but I also expect it to serve as an inspiration for better innovation at the same time! 

Put simply, all of us should be working very, very hard to make sure our children and grandchildren have a planet left, where they can live happily. We have basically wasted at least 51 years now… Denying that we are on the wrong path is like putting one’s head in the sand. And waiting for one’s neighbour, in the hope that they will take the first step, is also not the way forward. We can only do this if all of us put our shoulders under it – together, and act now!
I recently attended this year's PSTC Tape Week in Orlando, Florida, where I made a plea for collaboration on a global scale. I extended a hand, and... it was taken. It got the ball rolling, and I am very happy with that.

Specific to the tape industry, what single piece of legislation (or a few pieces) do you think is most impactful? And what is the biggest roadblock for European tape companies in compliance?

ES: Actually, almost all will have an impact in some form or another. The ones that come to the top of my mind are the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, Eco-design for sustainable products, Green Claims Directive, Right to Repair, and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive These pieces of legislation, together with others, are discussed in the Afera Flagship Sustainability Project (AFSP) meetings. They are explained by AFSP coordinator, Pablo Englebienne, broken down into the parts that matter most to us, and actions are distilled. It is an ongoing project, evolving continuously. The best thing is that all the members can directly benefit from participating and taking part in the action.
The sheer number of regulations coming our way and the pace at which they currently come is overwhelming! I advocate that we start with the topics that are relatively easy to implement and still have a major impact. For instance, dealing with the waste generated by us and our customers. The liner recycling initiative is a good example, where we cooperate with our sister organisations like CELAB and FINAT. It was great to see that CELAB North America called on the PSTC members to participate in a big liner recycling trial. Let us tackle that, celebrate its success, and then look at the tougher things to tackle.
In my opinion, the biggest roadblock is the fear of co-creating our future. Fear of losing IP rights, fear of giving away (company) secrets, and with that, the perceived advantage. Coming out of an ultimately profit-driven world, companies are not used to – and thus often fail to see the benefits of – cooperating intimately. Not just along the “value chain” (just think of this term – it’s just a simplified linear presentation of reality!) but all around it, and in a loop. Even though humanity has done this for eons, we lost that capability when a new economic religion took hold. Time to shed that failed experiment and do what humans do best: work together to shape a better world. 

What is the European tape industry value chain doing?  In addition to those of Lohmann, can you discuss some examples of sustainability and circularity measures that Afera Member Companies are taking?

ES: First we realise we are in this together. Just look at the makeup of the team of the Flagship Project: almost 30 companies actively participate, and that is all along the value chain - which I hope soon will be called a “Value Circle”. 
Creating awareness and understanding, and translating what all these regulations can mean for us is the first thing to do. 
As discussed above, we promote the liner recycling project, where I hope, we will all gradually move away from the dark-coloured liners. Then the mixed plastic waste.
In parallel, we are preparing the roll-out of a Product Carbon Footprint tool early next year. Once ready, I hope all of our tape members will start to use it. In June this year, we held the first introduction and workshop for developing the tool. Having this standardised serves several purposes at once: data is verified, transparent, and can be compared, which is beneficial for our customers, and creates a level playing field. This will undoubtedly also be a starter for innovation. It helps our members with their own assessments and is a base tool for reporting – which will soon be mandatory – ensuring we are ready when we need to be. 
What companies will or want to develop to provide circular design solutions and e.g., increase bio-based content is up to them. Several companies are focusing on incorporating recycled content into their products and also working to promote liner recycling pathways. At Lohmann, we have officially embarked on liner recycling, and we have successfully completed testing to convert our tape waste into oil via pyrolysis. 
At Afera, we want to provide the awareness and tools to enable a level playing field. I firmly believe that the days of “the unfair share / unfair advantage” are over, or: should be over for the benefit of our future generations – as mentioned in the title of one of my articles: “The days of the Ferengi are over”.

Do you think it is a necessity in today’s business environment for every European tape-related company to have a stated sustainability and/or circularity mission? Exactly where do they begin if they haven’t done so already?

ES: Yes, every company has to. And not just in Europe, it should be global. This was also a reason for me to go to Orlando. And I met with a lot of support!
To answer your question of where to begin, I would recommend starting off with the low-hanging fruits and with that where the upcoming regulation is relatively nearest. With that I mean the date it goes into effect minus the realistic (! Do not underestimate this!) implementation time. This has been our strategy at Afera. We help our members by providing the timelines and what needs to be accomplished. It is then up to the companies to implement. 

What do you think Lohmann and the European tape industry will look like in 5 years, 10 years…?

ES: Short answer – Healthy! This is because we ARE solution providers for a more sustainable world. I also think that many current business leaders would hardly recognise their businesses looking back – just because of the amount of collaboration taking place all around the (then) value circle!
I think we may not see a greater number of solutions, and in fact, they may be fewer in number. But certainly, they will be much better, thanks to better innovations that do not create as many negative side effects, unlike the past, where the solutions were not thought all the way through. We have to think much broader, wider, and deeper. And for that, we need to look way beyond our value chain (or even the value circle). Because it will be at least 3 dimensional!

You talked about the positive response to the idea of collaboration at the PSTC conference. What were the other key takeaway messages from the event?

ES: The theme of the conference was ‘Sustainability – Creating Awareness’. That title says it all, in more ways than one. The main response I got at the event was that globally, Europe is leading the way on sustainability. In response to the Green Deal, EU companies – as I gave the examples in my presentation – are actively turning these challenges into positive action. Reuse, reduction and recycling, and substitution – for example, using greener raw materials, and using tapes to replace less sustainable alternatives – are all being pursued actively. Next to this, proving that we are on the right track by helping our members make more harmonised PCF calculations and reporting, and understanding the goals so they can be made into actions is the big overarching goal of Afera's project. 
At the conference, I offered my US colleagues to jump onto this Afera ship, not try to reinvent the wheel and get forward together, stronger and faster. This was very positively accepted. As a first step, from now on, the PSTC will have a delegate of their EH&S group participate in our meetings, and vice versa. 
Of course, this isn't just US and EU, our sister organisations in Asia were offered the same proposal. At our Global Tape Forum (interim) meeting in April in Brussels, all 5 organisations were present and agreed to join hands.
Overall, a very positive outcome, and mutually we will help our industry transition toward a sustainable future globally!
Dr. Evert Smit is active in the adhesive business since 1992, with major focus on Pressure Sensitive Adhesives and their applications. He has experience in working at different points on the value chain, from raw material to final tape application, and at different areas in the technology: from basic research to customer technical service. Having worked for National Starch & Chemical (Unilever, ICI), Henkel and Arizona Chemical, he joined Lohmann in September 2015 to lead the R&D departments globally. 
Since end 2020 he is Director Scouting – co-creating the future of the Lohmann Company, actively scouting for and working with start-up companies and spin-offs that will contribute to the future of Lohmann. He is also the current President of European Adhesive Tape association, Afera.
About Afera Flagship Sustainability Project (AFSP)
Launched in 2021, Afera Flagship Sustainability Project (AFSP) aims to translate the European Green Deal (EGD) to the adhesive tapes industry. AFSP aims to make harmonized calculation methods available for evaluating the environmental impact of adhesive tapes, establish the best available techniques for the management of waste from adhesive tapes, and provide information to members on the impact of the European Green Deal on the tape industry through links between Afera, the European Commission and other relevant stakeholders. 
About Afera
Afera (, the European Adhesive Tape Association, unites stakeholders along the value chain of the European tape industry, to ensure and increase the relevance of the tape industry in the world of tomorrow.
As a non-profit organisation, Afera provides a platform for tape trade expertise in order to enhance the product, the business and the future of the adhesive tape market in Europe. Afera is widely known and valued as the go-to community of the European tape industry for both industry and non-industry stakeholders. Stakeholders connect within the Afera community to address current and future key topics, which individual stakeholders cannot tackle themselves. 
Currently Afera consists of over 100 members from 20 European countries. Based in The Hague since 1999, the association is open for membership to those involved in the European adhesive tape industry such as tape manufacturers, suppliers (raw materials, machine and packaging), converters, distributors, European national tape organisations, institutions and universities.


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