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Recycling adhesives - a complicated question

We’ve heard it many times before:

“Can adhesives be recycled?” 

The short answer is:

Some adhesives can be recycled and some cannot be recycled. 

Confused? Allow us to break it down in this blog post…

What does ‘recycling’ mean?

First, let’s take a step back and look at what the word ‘recycling’ means. Recycling is the process of reusing components in the article. In this case and throughout this blog post, we will be referring to the paper with dried adhesive.

Can you recycle water-based adhesives?

Let’s say a recycling facility receives a folding carton or corrugated carton. These products usually use water-based PVAc/VAe type adhesive. Most likely, the small amount of adhesive on the board stock will not interfere with the process of reclaiming paper. The actual adhesive will be in the recycling slurry, but this will usually be filtered out to provide a better recycled paper.

In this case, the adhesive itself is not recycled and reused - it is discarded.

What about hot melt adhesives?

Hot melt adhesives are different than water-based products and therefore are treated differently. These products are 100% solid when they go on the substrate and remain 100% solid. And, these adhesives do not break down easily. In fact, if there was an effective process of extraction, the films could be reused.

But, does that mean they are unable to be recycled? Not necessarily. 

Because hot melt adhesives do not break down easily, the broken particles can be screened and filtered. Meaning, there will typically be a higher ratio of adhesive to paper board.

Will this prevent the hot melt-containing board from being recycled? Most likely, no.

The number of impurities will vary with local regulations and the recycler. Generally, hot melt adhesives will be in the same form as they were when they entered the slurry. And while the films may break, they will be larger than water-based films.

What about pressure-sensitive adhesives?

Pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) type hot melts pose other problems. These adhesives have the tendency to form “stickies” which can affect the recycling process. 

These stickies get caught on equipment and must be removed. Hot melt pressure-sensitive products are particularly bad at creating these stickies, and therefore, recyclers are reluctant to accept paper with high levels of PSA.

So, how do you know what adhesives CAN be recycled?

Knowing what adhesives can be recycled and what adhesives cannot be recycled can be confusing. The best thing to do is call your local recycling facility to ask and verify.

And, if you have additional adhesive questions, give us a call: 440-786-7185. We always appreciate the opportunity to speak with you!


Readers are invited to use the links below to find and contact a local adhesives representative that can help with your company's industrial adhesives needs: HAR Adhesive Technologies has a presence in seven distinct states, uniquely focused on serving the adhesives, adhesive application, and equipment needs of each region in: OhioIndianaKentuckyMichiganNew YorkPennsylvaniaWest Virginia


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