Tomorrow's World

Bringing sustainability to self-adhesives

by FESPA Staff | 23/10/2023
Bringing sustainability to self-adhesives

We speak to Steve Lister, Chair of the new Self-Adhesive Industry Sustainability Action Group, about how the plastics sector is coming together for a vital cause.

With 20 years’ experience in the sign and display industry, Steve Lister knows the issues around sustainability and self-adhesives just about as well as anybody.

“Even before people wanted to talk about sustainability, I was focusing on materials and demands by global brands and retailers,” he says. 

“The big change happening at the moment is global brands and retailers moving away from certain materials and starting to challenge people’s thinking around what materials they use and the sustainability credentials of those products. They are starting to ask questions: How are they made? What are the base materials? How do you recycle them at the end of life?”

Steps towards sustainability

Such questions have played an important role in the formation of the new Self-Adhesive Industry Sustainability Action Group (SAISAG), which Steve chairs.

With the backing of some of the biggest names in the sector – such as 3M, William Smith and Spandex – SAISAG launched with a statement that said: “Our mission is to lead the self-adhesive films industry towards a sustainable future by minimising our environmental impact. We focus on dealing with waste through the waste hierarchy – prioritising waste prevention and minimisation, followed by creating new waste recycling solutions and waste-to-energy alternatives to divert waste materials away from landfill. We encourage the development of new recycling initiatives that reduce landfill waste and increase recycling rates, forging a new path for a circular economy.”

Taking millions and millions of pieces of self-adhesive with siliconised liners from around the world needs a collaborative approach

In terms of how this will look in practice, Steve says SAISAG will initially use “established, robust recycling mechanisms and infrastructures” to achieve some quick wins. 

“By using these we can establish recycling schemes quickly with strategic waste recycling partners. Longer-term we will be looking at more innovative and experimental forms of recycling but this is in our phase two plans,” he says.

“Our preferred recycling route is always recover the waste materials and put them back into circulation. However, we might not always be able to achieve this and we have been exploring the benefits of using waste-to-energy as an interim solution. Our thinking is that it’s better for waste to go towards powering homes that going to landfill, but we will work with various experts in different areas of recycling to ensure we get the best result possible.”

Collaboration is key

To achieve its ultimate goals, SAISAG plans to use an approach that is unique for the sector.

“Individually, each company has been working on their own sustainability strategies and developing innovative and sustainable products. However, when it comes to the challenge of tackling end-of-life recycling and circular economy issues, they cannot solve this on their own; taking millions and millions of pieces of self-adhesive with siliconised liners from around the world needs a collaborative approach. So this is a pioneering initiative because no one has done it before,” Steve says.

Steve Lister, Chair of SAISAG

“The great thing is that we are already seeing a positive response just from the initial founding companies coming together and talking about the issue. Normally, you wouldn’t have Avery talking to 3M, or 3M talking Mactac, or Mactac talking to Metamark. But all of a sudden they are now in a forum where they are talking to each other about their shared challenges. We leave competitiveness at the door when we have meetings – this is not a place where we talk about prices or volumes, it’s about creating a solution that can benefit everyone moving forward.”

Despite being optimistic about the obvious potential in the formation of the group, SAISAG is realistic about how it will quantify any effect it has.

“We will definitely be measuring success as we move forward, but we don’t want to make big commitments around future success until we truly understand the scope of the challenges we are going to face,” Steve says.

“This is a global challenge and within the founding group members there are global companies but this is starting in the UK and Ireland first. This will enable us to test and learn, and then we can take that learning to other countries. However, we are actively speaking to innovative companies and recyclers around the world who are also trying to tackle this challenge. We want to have an open mind and collaborate with any company who can solve these challenges.”

Confronting the doubters

For all the potential positives, Steve is not unaware of the cynicism which might meet the foundation of a plastics sustainability action group. 

“A lot of people will be looking at this saying: ‘Well, you are a group of people involved in self-adhesive plastics, why are you bothered about sustainability?’ We have been extremely mindful of that in our launch announcement and the commitments that we are going to make because we want it to be believable and we want people to join us on this journey,” Steve says.

I am more optimistic about the road to net zero now that I see global brands, retailers, manufacturers and supply chain partners coming together to solve complex issues around carbon reduction

“You are always going to get people on all sides who will either agree or disagree with plastics people making statements about sustainability. But I fundamentally believe that we can make a difference and we can move forward with plastics and enhanced recycling and other developments like that.

“This is an exciting moment. I am more optimistic about the road to net zero now that I see global brands, retailers, manufacturers and supply chain partners coming together to solve complex issues around carbon reduction. It’s challenging but an exciting time to be in sustainability as we are seeing an increased focus on it by the world’s biggest companies. There is fundamental change coming, these manufacturers are embracing it and that’s a really good thing.”

For more information, contact Steve at 

SAISAG founding members

  • 3M
  • William Smith
  • Metamark
  • Avery Dennison
  • Arlon
  • Spandex
  • Contravision
  • Pyramid
  • Greens The Signmakers
  • Antalis
  • Reconomy
  • RGVA
  • OPG
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