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  • 21 Apr 2022

Turning words into action

UK converter Mercian Labels helps its customers to reach circular economy goals by running a liner recycling service – just one of a host of sustainability initiatives.

UK converter Mercian Labels helps its customers to reach circular economy goals by running a liner recycling service – just one of a host of sustainability initiatives.

Mercian Labels has been operating since 1969. It started in a small building in Penkridge and has since expanded to a 24,000 sqft factory in Burntwood, Staffordshire, UK. 

With a combination of flexo, screen, digital toner and inkjet technologies, it specializes in short and long-run self-adhesive labels, long-run variable data labels, barcode production and ships many millions of labels every week to more than 9,000 customers.

In 2020, the company invested 1m GBP to improve and automate its manufacturing capabilities. 

‘Automation leads to increased efficiency, which leads to less energy consumption and less waste,’ says Hugo Gell, sales and marketing director, associated with the company for the last 17 years. ‘For example, all our lighting has been converted to LED. We are still learning, and keen to learn, of practical ways in which we can do better.’

Governed by a board of directors and management team, the 60-plus employees are motivated and engaged with the company values – teamwork, quality, commitment and honesty. The culture is embedded throughout the business and is the bedrock of Mercian Labels’ corporate responsibility focusing on all aspects of ethics. 

Sustainability, in its broadest sense, is one of the company’s fundamental pillars. While many businesses worldwide openly speak about decreasing their carbon footprint, Mercian Labels turns words into action.

‘The board of directors has been focused for some time on the strategic importance of sustainability for the business,’ confirms Gell. ‘The Triple bottom Line concept extends the traditional idea of focusing on simple Profit, to now include measuring of the social, and environmental performance of a company over time.

‘This brings greater and broader value to the business and ensures that we remain focused on the bigger longer-term picture – not just “get rich quick”. After all, Mercian Labels has been trading for over 50 years, something which only 1 percent of businesses manage to achieve, and this has been done through careful and considered long-term strategic focus.’

Closing the liner loop

The latest initiative, the new Closed Loop label liner recycling service, is set to impact not only Mercian Labels but businesses throughout the UK and the wider environment, generating cost savings and contributing to the growing circular economy. The program is currently wide open. Mercian Labels encourages all new and existing customers to join the recycling efforts.

‘Self-adhesive labels have traditionally had an inherent problem, which is the waste that is the liner. The liner is an essential part of the labeling process in many instances, and often it constitutes to more than 50 percent of a run of labels,’ declares Gell. ‘As manufacturers, we recognize our responsibilities around waste and are keen to partner with our customers to ensure it is minimalized.’

Customers participating in the program can return pre-sorted liner waste to Mercian Labels, which will check it, collate it, and send it off to the pulping plant, where it will be turned back into release liner and paper.

‘We keep any liner waste that is created here in the factory, and we encourage our customers to store their liner waste until they have sufficient volume to ship back to us,’ says Gell. ‘This generally costs our customers less than sending it to landfill or other waste streams. Once we have sufficient liner waste in our factory storage area, it can be shipped to a paper mill in Europe where it can be turned back into label liner again or similar products such as paper for the magazine industry. This is a truly circular waste cycle.’

According to Mercian Labels, the label release liner is often forgotten about by brands because there simply hasn't been a sustainable alternative to processing label liner waste other than landfill or incineration for many years.

Many of Mercian Labels’ smaller customers have quickly adopted the initiative and find it simple and beneficial. They can turn these ideas around without any long decision-making process. 

‘The larger blue-chip organizations involve more people over more departments, so there tend to be protracted periods of discussions,’ adds Gell. ‘We are a little surprised that the higher powers such as sustainability officers or CSR execs aren’t seizing this opportunity with both hands, but we have been faced with home-working issues, which doesn’t help.’

As a result of the Closed Loop initiative, the company expects to recycle around 100 tons of liner waste in the first year alone – the equivalent in weight to a Boeing 757-200 aircraft. This volume of waste prevents 228 tons of CO2 emissions, which, in turn, equals six average-sized cars driven for a year. To capture and store the same amount of carbon dioxide would take 3,770 tree seedlings grown over ten years.

Helping nature breathe

‘Recently, we partnered with 100 pupils from local schools to plant 450 trees in an area donated by the local council,’ says Gell. ‘Younger trees absorb more carbon than mature trees as they grow, and this all helps nature breathe. Also, these pupils will remember about this initiative for years come. They are our future – whether direct employees or residents.’

This is an excellent example of partnership between a local business, local schools, community organizations, Lichfield District Council, and the Town Council. 

‘We have been more than happy to make the links between the various partners and facilitate this exciting project which will enhance the local environment for many years to come and help address climate change issues in our town,’ comments Susan Woodward, leader of Burntwood Town Council. ‘For me, the project ticks all of the boxes and I’m delighted that it’s now starting to happen.’

It is another story Mercian Labels can tell its customers and another way of reminding its prospective suppliers that it wants to continually improve its Triple Bottom Line credentials.

‘Social responsibility, engaging with the local community and sustainability are becoming increasingly important in the world of business these days, and we are already working with customers who are looking for more sustainable products, whether it be the materials used to make them or where they are sourced,’ confirms Gell.

In March 2021 the company gained ISO 14001 certification, reinforcing its commitment to being a sustainable and environmentally conscious manufacturing business.

‘We have enthusiastically undertaken the environmental management standard that is ISO14001 – not because we want to pay lip service, but because we want to really make a difference. We offer an extensive range of increasingly sustainable materials,’ says Gell. ‘Where synthetic or filmic materials have traditionally been made with fossil fuels, we are offering materials with the same properties that are made using harvested trees. We don’t use solvents in our processes.’

When a company achieves ISO 14001 certification, it commits to do its part to protect and preserve the environment for future generations to come. By identifying its environmental impact, the company has developed actions and procedures to improve its performance to create a more efficient business with less waste and a sustainably responsible supply chain. 

‘We are always learning, asking ourselves and each other what we can do better, how we can make more positive contributions to our colleagues, our local community, and our environment,’ concludes Gell, reaffirming that these ethics will drive Mercian Labels for several more decades to come. ‘It is vital for our future and very important for the local community surrounding us. We fully recognize our impact on the local environment, and we want to make it positive.’


For further info: 

More information about the Closed Loop Liner recycling program go to: www.mercianlabels.com/liner-recycling-programme/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Piotr is a part of the global team of editors and comes to the magazine with extensive experience in journalism. He has background in print and digital media spanning different countries and industry sectors. He is based in the London office, reporting on European label market.

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