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Complete Guide to Biodegradable and Compostable Hot Melt Adhesives

Complete Guide to Biodegradable and Compostable Hot Melt Adhesives

Hot melt adhesives are used in packaging and assembly applications all over the world. If you've opened a box of crackers, pack of diapers, case of soda (or beer) or any other consumer package in the past 30 years, odds are it was closed using hot melt. And because traditional hot melt adhesives are petroleum based, all of this packaging closed with hot melt isn't truly 100% biodegradable or compostable.

It's the 21st Century - Where's the Biodegradable Hot Melt?

So, how hard can it be to create a truly biodegradable adhesive for packaging and product assembly? Well, the answer seems to be, very difficult. Hot melt is used because it is great at what it does. It sets fast, creates great bonds and is very cost effective. Checking all of these boxes with a biodegradable hot melt alternative has, so far, been an elusive task. But because of a rise in demand for a biodegradable adhesive solution from both consumers and manufacturers, biodegradable options are now being developed at a faster pace than ever before. As Bob Dylan famously sang, "the times they are changin".

Interested in biodegradable and compostable adhesive options available right now? Contact us below.

Contact Us About Biodegradable Hot Melt Options

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What's the Difference Between Traditional Hot Melt and Biodegradable Hot Melt?

To understand where biodegradable hot melt adhesives are going, we need to get a good idea of where traditional hot melt adhesives are now. Almost all hot melts are composed of three components - wax, tackifier and resin. We're not going to turn this article into an organic chemistry lesson but the takeaway here is that the tackifier is petroleum based making traditional hot melts neither biodegradable or compostable. Learn more about bulk hot melt in our complete overview here.

The Good

Industrial hot melt adhesives service a wide range of industries, from product assembly and packaging, to woodworking and the automotive industry. All of these different hot melt adhesives are very safe, have no VOC's and have relatively low environmental impact compared to most industrial adhesives. The same is true for most biodegradable hot melts although new technologies are emerging all the time.

Room for Improvement

The one draw back with today's hot melt compared to biodegradable hot melt, as we discussed before, is that they have a petroleum component. This means traditional hot melts can take centuries to break down - if they even break down at all. There is typically very little hot melt on each individual package being produced but it adds up to millions and millions of pounds each year.

Don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom in the eco-friendly hot melt world. With the ever-increasing demand for a biodegradable and compostable option. We are happy to offer the best of the best in this cutting-edge technology and new products coming out at a rapid pace.


What is the difference between Biodegradable & Compostable Adhesives?

When understanding the environmental impact of any adhesive, we need to be sure that we understand the difference between adhesives that are biodegradable and those that are compostable.

Biodegradable Adhesives - Mother Nature Is All It Takes

Simply put, an adhesive is biodegradable if it can be can fully return the the earth without being subjected to outside environmental factors. Biodegradable adhesives can be broken down completely naturally by bacteria, fungi, or some other biological process that doesn't require anything but time and environment. This definition and timeframe to can be tricky because some 'biodegradable' adhesives will break down much faster in warm, humid environments than cold, dry environments, etc.

So, in order for packaging products or adhesives to qualify as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements after disposal within a certain amount of time - which we will vary depending on environment. While there is no hard line on this time frame, most consider one year or less.

While many substrates like plastics, diapers, metal cans and more will eventually break down, the process can take decades or even centuries. So while technically they will break down given enough time, they are not considered biodegradable.

Compostable Adhesives - Need a Little Help Here

Compostable adhesives are similar to biodegradable adhesives except that they require help breaking down. If a compostable adhesive is disposed in a landfill, it may not break down properly or completely. However, when a compostable adhesive is added to compost, the material will be able to break down completely. On top of that, compostable adhesives may even help improve the soil by breaking down and proving additional nutrients in the process.

Typically, what a packaging company means when they call their product "compostable" is that it can be turned into compost... if entered into an industrial composting facility. This is an important distinction. Compostable products do not always biodegrade naturally in a landfill. They have to be placed in the right kind of conditions, conditions that are often only found in industrial compost facilities. Compostable products will take much longer to break down if in a landfill, especially an "air locked" landfill where there will be no oxygen.

Compostable products are great for environment, but it is important to make sure that your business has the proper waste management processes in place. Make sure that your compostable waste is going to a compost facility.


Are Biodegradable or Compostable Adhesives Available Now?

The answer is yes but the biodegradable and compostable adhesive market is relatively new. The good news is there is a lot of research and development being done and new products are being added all the time.

Currently, biodegradable hot melt adhesives are available and widely used in applications such as bookbinding, packaging and laminating. The use of these adhesives allows for 100% compostable packaging in paper products. At Hotmelt.com we offer one of the best "green" hot melt adhesive options, Infinity Bond EnviroMelt 100.

Biodegradable Hot Melt

  • Greater Safety
  • Lower Energy Costs
  • 100% Compostable & Biodegradable
  • Non-Flammable
  • Cleans Easily with Warm Water

Dispensing Biodegradable Hot Melt

What good is an environmentally friendly hot melt adhesive if you have no way to dispense it. One of the biggest barriers to entry for biodegradable hot melts and other green adhesives is dispensing them. Just as traditional hot melts have been around and unchanged for decades, the same is true for the equipment being used to dispense them.

Moving to a biodegradable or compostable hot melt like Infinity Bond BioMELT 100 may mean equipment changes or upgrades for optimal results. Don't let that scare you off from becoming an environmental hot melt hero, it's not that tricky.

The Water Problem... and Solution

Because biodegradable and compostable hot melts are often not 100% solids (ie, they contain water), hot melt tanks may need minor changes to deal with moisture that can condense around the unit. We're not talking giant lakes or puddles of water, but enough that you may want to make a couple of small changes. Changes often include adapted covers, water wash component protections to prevent rust and other minor adaptations.

Dispensing Temperature of Biodegradable Hot Melts

One of the biggest changes when moving to a biodegradable or compostable bulk hot melt can be the dispensing temperature. Many environmentally friendly products like the Infinity Bond EnviroMelt 100 require a much lower dispensing temperature. Not all bulk equipment can dispense in these ranges so small changes may be required.

On the other hand, PLA or other types of biodegradable hot melt materials may actually have a higher softening and dispensing temperature. The bottom line is, pay close attention to the recommended dispensing temperature and be sure you're hot melt equipment can get there.

Advantages of Upgrading Equipment for Biodegradable Hot Melt Adhesives

While there may be some cost associated with upgrading or changing out equipment to dispense biodegradable adhesives, it can also come with a number of advantages.

Reduced Energy Consumption

Many biodegradable packaging adhesives run at a much lower temperature than traditional hot melts. This means equipment uses less energy saving on energy costs and lessoning environmental impact.

Improved Safety

Another advantage of lower operating temperatures is improved user safety. Many traditional hot melts run around 350F and all the way up to 425F. Some biodegradable hot melt adhesives can run as low as 140F greatly reducing the risk users burning themselves.


Other Ways to Make Your Application Environmentally Friendly

Hot Melt Dotting

We understand not everyone is ready to make the change to a biodegradable hot melt and that there's not a product for every application. But there's a secret most hot melt suppliers aren't telling you, you're using too much adhesive. Way too much adhesive.

Hot melt dotting can cut the amount of hot melt used in most end of line packaging applications by up to 50%. This great for manufacturers who want to reduce their environmental impact AND their adhesive bill. Hot melt stitching and dotting really is a win-win for manufacturers and the environment. Read more and calculate potential hot melt savings here. 

Using Low Temperature Hot Melts

Using low temperature hot melts aren't any more biodegradable and won't reduce the amount of adhesive used. What they can do is reduce the amount of energy used to dispense them by running at up to 100 degrees cooler. This is not only reduces energy consumption but is a safer alternative for technicians running the equipment.

Regularly Servicing Hot Melt Equipment

Again, this one isn't going to make your hot melt adhesive more biodegradable or compostable. But regularly servicing hot melt equipment will minimize hot melt waste and make sure the equipment is using as little energy as possible.


The Bottom Line

Our dispensing experts can quickly and easily let you know if your existing equipment is likely to work 'as-is' and if not, how to easily and affordably make the upgrades. New applications? We've got you covered. Hotmelt.com provides complete hand held and automated bulk hot melt systems specifically tailored to your biodegradable adhesive.

Innovations in biodegradable and compostable packaging hot melts are hitting the market and Hotmelt.com is always on the cutting edge of new product offerings. These new technologies allow for minimal changes in packaging equipment and operations while using an adhesive that is 100% biodegradable and compostable. These adhesives use materials derived from renewable resources and they can be broken down by bacteria and other microorganisms naturally after disposal.


Questions? We are here to help!

Do you have questions on the Infinity Bond EnviroMelt 100 or dispensing biodegradable hot melt? We are happy to help! At Hotmelt.com our team of experts can recommend a product for your particular project or applications. Send us a message to get started!

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