Afera launches Annual Conference with first live online session

The one-hour Webinar covered circularity in cross-industry alliance 4evergreen
and release liner sustainability and recycling issues

Afera kicked off its 64th Annual Conference, which will take place face-to-face in Valencia over 2 days at the end of this month, with the holding of the first of 2 scheduled Pre-Conference online sessions. Bert van Loon, marketing innovation expert and independent strategist, chaired the Session, which consisted of 2 presentations linked to this year’s Conference theme, “Full circle: How the tape industry stays relevant in a circular economy.” Participants zoomed in from Afera Member Companies across Europe, the U.S. and Japan, who continue to explore industry collaboration and market data to support new programmes and ventures which are fact-driven.

2021 Annual Conference theme

How did the Association’s Conference Programming Team formulate this year’s emphasis on circularity? Afera’s 2020 Conference focussed on sustainability which can be seen as a subset of circularity or vice versa. While not yet as visible as sustainability on agendas in a broader perspective, the circular economy is an important and complex issue for all the stakeholders of the tape industry and deserves our full attention as a challenge in itself.

The most important takeaways from today’s Session:

  • The fragmented nature of the tape market makes it difficult to establish a clear, one-way strategy for circularity. Initial concrete baby steps—perhaps starting with focussing on one or 2 specific tape types or market segments—are needed. Then apply what you learn to future endeavours.
  • A key driver to establishing a “workstream” process is moving from dreams to results: focussing on clear goals and deliverables.
  • The tape industry could create a minimal, viable product version of a key set of metrics for circularity through benchmarking some recycling data and statistics.
  • Policy-makers are increasingly driven by consumers. Harnessing the power of brand owners (who are part of the problem and solution at the same time) in any value-chain and cross-industry initiative is extremely valuable and advisable.
  • Recyclers need to be considered as part of the tape value chain. They include raw materials suppliers as well as waste management companies, collectors, sorters and EPR schemes.

Perfecting circularity together: the 4evergreen journey
By Susanne Haase, programme director of the 4evergreen Alliance

An initiative convened by Cepi, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, 4evergreen is a cross-industry alliance with the goal of boosting the contribution of fibre-based packaging in the circular economy. 4evergreen enables collaboration by bringing together the entire value chain, which includes 80 stakeholders, fostering synergies among companies. Interestingly, many paper and board manufacturers and recyclers were founding members, next to FMCG brand owners who make up the engine and compass of 4evergreen. “We are an army of experts coming together to exchange good practice, ponder technical solutions and drive innovation,” explained Programme Director Susanne Haase.

The primary goal of the cross-industry alliance is to raise the overall recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030. 4evergreen is hosted at the Cepi Secretariat and since May 2020 has been managed by Ms. Haase, an experienced editor and award-winning journalist who has been reporting on the international pulp and paper industry, its supply chains and product converting for over 15 years. She discussed the achievements, milestones and challenges of 4evergreen to inspire the tape industry in building its own approach.

What does it take to set up such an alliance?

The benefits include building a common understanding of challenges and pain points, enabling thought-out solutions, redirecting discussions back to a technical, fact-based forum and uniting powers to push for innovation.

Ms. Haase concluded that what it takes is openness and determination, trust in expertise and ability to learn, a solid structure of operations with straightforward, unbiased leadership, a willingness to go the extra mile—and high levels of transparency and excellent communication.

Pressure-sensitive tape market and release liner usage, sustainability and recycling (case studies)
By Catalina Steenbakkers Galindo, market research consultant for AWA Alexander Watson Associates

AWA Alexander Watson Associates helps companies in the specialty paper, film, packaging coating and converting industry to make the right decisions by providing industry-specific market intelligence. Catalina Steenbakkers, a market research consultant at AWA, presented a case study approach and a first step in exploring together which data should be key on a dashboard for industry-wide circularity projects.

The global pressure-sensitive tape market

Ms. Steenbakkers, who researches specialty packaging, coating and converting industries, including the pressure-sensitive tape market, first shared some data from AWA’s 2021 Edition Global Specialty Pressure-Sensitive Tape Market Study (Afera Members receive 20% off with code AFERA40). Packaging (68%) and specialty tapes (15%) dominate the global pressure-sensitive tape market. Within several industries, Asia is the driving force for market growth. The global specialty tape market represents about 7.1 billion square metres (bsm), with Europe taking a 19% share.

Where sustainability is concerned, Europe and North America tend to be the drivers, but in recent years the Chinese market has stepped up its activity. One challenge to sustainability and circularity principles is that specialty tapes used in the automotive, electronics, aerospace and white goods segments—thus non-consumer-facing applications—are more valued for their performance than green qualities. On the other hand, in the packaging tape market, which is very consumer-facing, there is more of a push from end users and brand owners to develop more sustainable products, such as compostable adhesives and fibre- and paper-based tapes. More progress has been noted here.

A further hindrance to forming sustainability and circularity goals for the specialty tape market is that it is so fragmented; it is hard to determine which segment to start with. Also, the bulk of backing material for specialty tapes is film-based related to performance and cost.

The global release liner market

The global release liner market is 56.7 bsm, and the majority of this (48%) goes into pressure-sensitive labelstock, and tapes follow this at 14% of the end use market, with one of the highest growth rates of 4.6% CAGR foreseen between 2020 and 2023. Ms. Steenbakkers said this makes tapes a target for developing recycling of release liners, the only challenges remaining the fragmented nature of the market and lack of awareness.

Looking at all applications, the majority of the market is glassine-based (36%), followed by polyolefin-coated paper (PCK) and polyester liners (16%). Both types of liners have predicted growth rates between 3.6 and 4.7% between 2020 and 2030. For tape substrates in particular, glassine makes up 35% and PCK 28%. From the labelscape, we know that recyclable solutions for glassine liner exist. Because it is not a mono-material, PCK liner can be more challenging in terms of finding recycling solutions, but it is not impossible.

One of the challenges across the marketspaces is establishing definitions and benchmarks for sustainability, circularity and recycling. At some point industries “have to move forward and just try something.” Accordingly, Ms. Steenbakkers cited a case study AWA worked on for CELAB, a cross-supply-chain coalition which leverages the expertise of industry participants to promote a circular economy for self-adhesive label materials.

AWA’s aim was to show what is done with spent release liners at end-of-life. There are recycling programmes available for glassine and polyester liner, other liners proving more challenging but not impossible to recycle. 26% of market respondents said that they were involved in release liner recycling in 2020. The assumption is that this number has increased since CELAB has been more active. 31% of release liner by-products globally are currently recycled, the majority of this coming from Europe, which is more advanced in available possibilities for recycling release liner. Paper and fibre-based products have a higher recycling rate in Europe than film-.

AWA is also working on a project on behalf of 13 key industry players to look at what is done with graphic films release liner recycling as a basis for creating a new project related to the very fragmented graphic films market. Preliminary results from a survey show very little current recycling activity in this area but a lot of interest (from 95% of respondents). Challenges associated with recycling release liner include lack of awareness, collection and sorting, costs, logistics, technology and volume constraints.

What are the trends and developments in the global specialty tape market?

Environmental issues make up one of several factors. Among others, specialty tape end users are facing issues like sustainability, recyclability, corporate responsibility and demand for low-carbon products in their manufacturing. Also, the use of solvents is predicted to decline because of environmental reasons as water-based and hot melt are predicted to grow. In Europe specifically, the European Green Deal will lead to a host of new regulations which will likely impact the tape industry.

Do we look at tape as a whole, or do we break it down into its various components? What do we tackle first?

Looking at challenge factors from a structural view of tapes:

Release liner
In terms of sustainability and recycling, tape release liner users are fragmented; collection is challenging. 28% is PCK liner, for which there are not as many readily available recycling options. Focus on release liner recycling in the tape industry is not as strong as in other segments (e.g. labels and graphics).

There are new developments in the area of bio-based, compostable, recyclable and wash-off adhesives (which make the recycling of packaging easier), to name a few. The future looks promising in this area. Where possible (if alternatives meet the same requirements), many are shifting away from solvent-based adhesives.

Backing material
Where performance allows, there is increasing interest in paper- and/or fibre-based over filmic-based tapes. In the specialty tape market specifically, performance remains the most important requirement, over sustainability.


The following sponsors of this year’s Conference were thanked for their support:


Ms. Haase’s presentation can be downloaded here. Ms. Steenbakkers’ presentation can be downloaded here.

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