UPM recycles label waste from its mills

Posted on 02 February 2021.

Instead of just throwing out the waste from its self-adhesive labels, the Finnish UPM Group looked for ways to recycle them. Production scraps and unsold products are now turned into sustainable decking boards.

Founded in 1996, the Finnish UPM Group is now one of the world's largest paper manufacturers with numerous mills on every continent. In 2018, sales of self-adhesive labels, used in many sectors such as food and logistics, accounted for 13% of its turnover. A profitable activity, therefore, but one that naturally generates waste. Self-adhesive labels are complex products, composed of several elements: the front face, made of paper or plastic film, which is designed to take print; a layer of adhesive; a silicone release layer; and a backing, also made of paper or plastic, which is the protective support. These elements can be recovered at the manufacturing or post-consumer stage by saving the waste from the backings for recycling and producing new ones.


Sustainable in every sense of the word

So instead of throwing away unsold production scraps, UPM looked for ways to recycle the waste paper, plastic, silicone, glue and ink generated when manufacturing its self-adhesive labels. In 2007, the Group created a dedicated unit, whose researchers were tasked with finding a formula to integrate this waste into the composite decking manufacturing process and to develop a process that would produce a product as good as or better than traditional wood and plastic composite decking. And they succeeded! Decking boards made from recycled materials, produced and marketed by the group's subsidiary UPM Biocomposites, are particularly resistant to scratches and stains, and have improved color durability thanks to the use of fibers without lignin.


35 sqm of terracing = 500 kg of waste

According to the Environnement-magazine.fr website, these these boards contain between 45% and 90% recycled materials. Of this percentage, approximately 50% is paper label production scrap, 25% is post-consumer plastic and 15% is decking boards that have been rejected (i.e. those that didn’t pass quality control).

On the company's site it says that 35 sqm of UPM ProFi decking can reuse up to 500 kg of plastic and paper waste and store 800 kg of CO2. With a life span of up to 25 years, the decking boards are themselves reusable and recyclable. Since 2007, UPM claims to have recycled more than 40,000 metric tons of label waste.