Are Stickers Eco-Friendly? 16 Facts You Should Know (+3 Alternatives)

Savanna Stanfield

Stickers can be a great way to represent ourselves, our favorite brands, or places we’ve been.

But if you’re someone who collects a lot of stickers, there are two questions you need to ask yourself.

The first question is: “Wherever will I put this?” 

After all, we all have commitment issues when it comes to deciding where to stick our stickers.

But the second, and perhaps more important question is: “Are stickers eco-friendly?”

We can’t answer the first question for you, but we can answer the second.

The short answer is: no, most stickers are not eco-friendly.

Continue reading to learn why.

1. What Are Stickers Made Of?

Most stickers are made from, you guessed it: plastic.

However, there isn’t just one type of plastic that is used to make stickers.

Here are six of the most common materials used to make stickers.

1. Vinyl

The majority of stickers are made from plastic vinyl due to its durability as well as moisture and fade resistance. 

Souvenir stickers and decals, such as those designed to stick on water bottles, cars, and laptops are typically made from vinyl.

Vinyl is also used to make stickers for product and industrial labels due to its flexibility, chemical resistance, and general longevity.

2. Polyester 

Polyester is another type of plastic that is commonly used to make stickers intended for outdoor use.

These are the stickers that look metallic or mirror-like and they are frequently found on outdoor metal and electronic equipment such as control panels on air conditioners, fuse boxes, etc.

Polyester is ideal for outdoor stickers because it is durable and can withstand varying weather conditions.

3. Polypropylene 

Another type of plastic, polypropylene, is ideal for sticker labels.

Polypropylene labels have similar durability when compared to vinyl and are cheaper than polyester.

Polypropylene stickers are resistant to water and solvents and are usually clear, metallic, or white.

They are commonly used for window stickers in addition to labels for bath products and beverages.

4. Acetate

A plastic known as acetate is commonly used to make the stickers known as satin stickers. 

This material is mostly for decorative stickers such as what is used for holiday gift tags and labels on wine bottles.

Stickers made from satin acetate can also be found on some types of clothing to indicate the brand as well as sizing.

5. Fluorescent Paper

Fluorescent paper is used for sticker labels, usually in manufacturing and industrial processes.

Essentially, paper stickers are coated with fluorescent dye to make them stand out.

That’s why they are used to convey important information that shouldn’t be missed.

For example, boxes may be marked with a fluorescent label to indicate that the contents are fragile or hazardous.

6. Foil

Foil stickers can be made from vinyl, polyester, or paper.

The foil is either stamped or pressed onto the material, or designs are printed onto foil material.

Foil stickers are commonly seen around the holidays for either decorative purposes or gift tags.

2. How Are Stickers Made?

The process for making stickers is relatively simple and isn’t much different regardless of what material the sticker is made from.

Essentially, the plastic or paper material is made into flat sheets.

The sheets can be white, colored, or clear, depending on the material type and purpose of the sticker. They can be different thicknesses as well.

A machine then attaches the sheet to pressure-sensitive adhesive to create the sticky side.

Pressure-sensitive adhesive just means that the sticker won’t adhere until pressure is applied to it.

After the adhesive is added, designs and prints are added onto the stickers including pictures and words.

Finally, the stickers are cut and the back liner is slit to make the stickers easy to remove. 

3. Are Stickers Eco Friendly?

Most stickers are not eco-friendly simply because of the materials used to make them.

It has very little to do with how the stickers themselves are made.

Most stickers are made from some type of plastic, some of which are better than others.

However, plastics in general aren’t eco-friendly because they are all made from crude oil.

Crude oil is a non-renewable resource that is collected by drilling and then has to be refined and combined with other chemicals to make plastic.

The exact type of plastic that is made depends on what chemicals are combined with the refined oil as well as the processes used to make it.

But, all of these processes have the potential to cause pollution, and both the collection and refinement of crude oil aren’t sustainable.

4. What Makes a Sticker Eco-Friendly?

Since the process of making stickers is mostly mechanical, the main factor in determining whether or not a sticker is eco-friendly is the materials that it is made of.

Stickers made from paper materials are more sustainable than stickers made from plastic.

But, as you learned above, most stickers are made from plastic and there are only one or two types of stickers and labels that are made from paper.

Other factors can determine whether or not a sticker is eco-friendly as well, including whether or not stickers are recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable and how you dispose of them.

5. Are Stickers Recyclable?

Despite being made from types of plastic that are capable of being recycled, stickers usually can’t be recycled due to having adhesive on them.

Adhesives of any kind can cause the recycling machines to gum up and become sticky. This can cause the machines to tear up, especially if large quantities of stickers are recycled.

But another reason that stickers usually can’t be recycled is that some of them have a coating on them to make them more water- or chemical-resistant.

As with adhesives, this coating makes stickers difficult to recycle because it would need to be separated from the sticker. This is difficult and expensive to do.

6. Are Stickers Sustainable?

As long as they are made from plastic materials and can’t be recycled, stickers are not sustainable.

Most stickers can’t be reused either, so they are a one-time-use product which isn’t sustainable either.

7. Are Stickers Toxic?

Stickers can be toxic depending on what type of plastic they are made of. 

For example, vinyl is said to be the most hazardous plastic for our health.

It is known to have high concentrations of volatile organic compounds and phthalates which can cause cancer.

Although harmful chemicals are used to make all types of plastics, other types of plastic aren’t toxic as long as they are used as intended.

However, there have been concerns about toxic chemicals found in sticker adhesives, particularly in stickers that are used on food packaging. 

The concern is that these chemicals seep from the sticker, through the packaging, and into the food.

But research has shown that the overall chance of this happening is low.

8. Are Stickers Bad for Your Skin?

Some people put stickers on their skin (particularly the face) for decorative purposes. 

Some stickers are designed to be put on your skin for cosmetic purposes, such as reducing the size of pimples.

Stickers used for cosmetic purposes are tested to ensure that they are safe on the skin.

However, regular stickers that you use to decorative your skin may or may not be safe.

The adhesives used for stickers can irritate your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies.

9. Are Stickers Biodegradable?

Stickers that are made from plastic are not biodegradable.

Plastic takes a long time to decompose – if it decomposes at all – so it is not considered to be biodegradable.

Stickers that are made from paper will biodegrade, but sometimes the paper is coated with plastic to make it more water-resistant. 

If this is the case, the paper material will biodegrade, but the plastic film will remain behind.

10. Are Stickers Compostable?

Since composting is essentially human-controlled biodegradation, stickers are not compostable if they are made from plastic.

If you throw a sticker into your compost, it will not decompose. 

And as mentioned above, paper stickers may decompose but any plastic film or material will be left behind and therefore ruin your compost.

11. Are Stickers Vegan?

Most stickers are vegan since they are not made from animal products.

There are concerns that some of the glue used to make sticker adhesives contains proteins that come from animals, such as casein that is found in milk.

However, the pressure-sensitive adhesive that is used for most stickers is made from rubber or synthetic rubber and does not contain any animal products.

12. Are Stickers Waterproof?

Most stickers, including those made from vinyl, are not waterproof.

However, they are water-resistant to a certain extent.

The difference between waterproof and water-resistant is that waterproof materials won’t break down or be permeated by water no matter how much time they are exposed to water.

Water-resistant materials may break down or become damaged if they are exposed to water for long periods. But they are generally safe when exposed to water for short periods.

Stickers made from vinyl and other plastics are usually water-resistant. 

Stickers that aren’t made from water-resistant materials are sometimes coated to make them water-resistant.

13. Are Stickers Reusable?

Some stickers – particularly a certain type of polypropylene sticker – can be peeled off of some surfaces and still adhere to other surfaces.

This is because they are made with less adhesive than other stickers to make them easier to remove.

But, most stickers are not reusable because the adhesive is too strong and will be left behind when you remove the sticker from the surface.

14. Are Stickers Bad for Surfaces?

Whether or not stickers are bad for surfaces depends on the surface that you stick the sticker to. 

Stickers don’t usually pose a danger to surfaces as long as the sticker stays stuck to them. The danger comes when you peel the sticker off.

For example, if you stick a sticker onto a glass, metal, or plastic surface, the only damage that will happen is that the adhesive will be left behind.

This adhesive can be easily removed by scraping it off or with products that are designed to remove the adhesive.

However, if a surface is painted, the sticker can peel off the paint when you remove the sticker from the surface.

Placing stickers onto fabric can also cause the adhesive to be left behind on the fabric when the sticker is removed. 

For some fabrics, the adhesive can be removed with certain laundry products.

But there are some delicate fabrics in which it is hard to remove the adhesive without damaging the fabric.

And even though stickers don’t pose a danger to surfaces such as cardboard, or porous materials, the adhesive often won’t stick to these surfaces in the first place.

15. Are Stickers Flammable?

Stickers are flammable, but not in the way that we might picture when something catches on fire.

However, stickers will burn and melt when exposed to a flame, and because of some of the chemicals they are made of, they can release toxic fumes when they burn.

16. How to Dispose of Old Stickers Properly

Since stickers can’t be recycled, there is no way to dispose of them other than to throw them away.

They will go to a landfill, which isn’t eco-friendly but you don’t have many options.

If you remove a sticker from a surface, you can use alcohol or an adhesive remover to remove the stickiness that is left behind.

3 Eco-Friendly Types of Stickers

Even though plastic is the most common material used to make stickers, there are other types of materials that can be used to make stickers more eco-friendly.

All of the following sticker types aren’t recyclable, but they are biodegradable and are more sustainable than stickers made from plastic.

However, they may not have the same weather-resistant qualities or durability as stickers made from plastic.

1. Recycled Paper

There are some stickers and labels that are made from recycled paper

Recycled paper stickers can be used for labels and decorative stickers, and they are typically made from Kraft paper.

2. Wood

Wood stickers come in different thicknesses and are typically used for decorative purposes.

They can have designs burned, etched, or printed onto them.

3. Cellophane

Cellophane stickers are made from the same materials as cellophane film, which is cellulose that usually comes from wood pulp.

Stickers made from cellophane are usually thinner, but they are more moisture-resistant than stickers made from wood and paper.

Conclusion 

Most stickers are made from plastic, including vinyl, polyester, and polypropylene.

They are not eco-friendly or sustainable, and they can’t be recycled or composted. Some stickers may even be toxic.

For a more eco-friendly option, choose stickers made from paper, wood, or cellulose.

They may not be as durable, but they can be just as pretty in addition to being more sustainable and better for the environment overall.

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