Engineered plastics pick Washington pears to highlight compostable labels

Maximum separation. It's a visionary concept where all labels, including those adorning cans, produce, plastic containers and more, are completely compostable.

For plastics engineers, it was an entire shipment of spoiled fruit ending up in a landfill due to non-compostable stickers that sparked this idea, and helped them realize there might be a better way.

Finding the right formulation

For Washington pears, it all begins in the orchard, where they are picked with precision timing to ensure peak market freshness. The fruits then immediately enter the grower's highly automated labelling process, which begins with segregation by both weight and width, like little soldiers marching down laneways. Different sized labels are then applied at impressively high speeds to different sized pears, before being hand-packed into crates for timely delivery to grocery stores nation wide.

Getting the right formula took a lot of tweaking and months of trials. Each sticker needed to have the perfect thickness and opacity while still allowing for highly legible printing, easily scannable UPCs, and strong adhesiveness.

Manufacturers had to tinker with formula blends, and experiment across different extruders to ensure the absolute flattest sheets possible. But when motivated by the tangible effect the labels can have on our environment, getting it right was all that mattered. Should these labels catch on, each and every fruit or vegetable will require an adhesive specifically formulated for it's unique skin.

Bounty of benefits

And there's no reason for compostable labels not to catch on — the benefits can be seen all through the value chain.

For growers, the compostable labels are easily marketed with call-outs on produce boxes, which could be a strong brand differentiator. Growers may also find themselves privy to some brand loyalty, especially if they are among the early adopters of the environmentally progressive labels.

And for shippers, if an entire container of produce without compostable labels is spoiled or spilled prior to compostable labels, the shipment would be taken directly to landfill. But when garnished with their compostable counterparts, it can all be salvaged, reducing a ton of waste and landfill costs, while also making a lot of potent compost.

Meanwhile for consumers making, say, a fruit salad, they would have to remove each sticker individually before placing the sticker in a recycling bin and the fruit skin in the compost. But with Washington pears, both skin and sticker can be dropped right into the compost saving time, especially for larger culinary endeavours, like canning, or cooking for an entire mess hall.

In a perfect world, all labels, even those adorning canned good or plastic containers, would be completely compostable. And like every green movement, this one is starting small, and it's up to consumers around the globe to embrace its intrinsic value.