Can Repulpable Barrier Coated Packaging Really Perform?

We Say — Definitely YES

Paper packaging such as paper cups, take-out boxes, and folding cartons has traditionally been coated with wax or 100% polyethylene.
These coatings are commonly used in fast food carryout packaging for items such as French fries, onion rings, burgers, and fried chicken. Other products, like baked goods, pastries, frozen foods, and microwavable meals, are also routinely packaged in coated paperboard.

The coating serves as a moisture and gas barrier, preventing transmission of fluids through the paper container or preventing the contents from absorbing gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide. These gases can negatively impact freshness and quality.

However, polyethylene and wax coatings make the resulting packaging products poor candidates for repulping.

Now, thanks to innovative water-based biopolymers and bio-waxes, paper packaging can offer water/moisture barrier properties or grease resistance and be recyclable. This is a big step for the modern packaging industry.

These sustainable coating alternatives will see rapid adoption in the market. But can these repulpable barriers really hold up to performance standards? Let’s take a look.

Barrier Requirements for Repulpable Packaging

Barrier requirements include resistance to oil, grease, and water in applications like hamburger wrap, and resistance to staining for on-the-go coffee cups.

Barriers need to improve the strength of the sheet and impart dimensional stability, but also allow for sealing and gluing, all without cracking. And, packaging products must still offer consumer appeal and allow for branding, which often involves printing.

Moisture Barrier

As a moisture barrier, the coating must prevent the transmission of liquids through the paper container. New water-based polymers can act as a heat-sealable, block-resistant, liquid barrier.

Water-soluble polymers are organic materials that dissolve, disperse, or swell in water, modifying the physical properties of the resulting aqueous system.

These molecules act as dispersants, suspending agents, thickeners, stabilizers, coagulants, flocculants, film-formers, binders, humectants, and lubricants in aqueous media.

Water-based polymers do not interfere with the paper repulping process. There are no additional contaminants that have to be separated — just valuable paper returned to the material stream.

Structural Performance

Paperboard is made up of cellulose fibers that form the body of the board. These tiny fibers act like paper straws and can pull away from the sheet itself when folded, increasing the chance of cracking. Imagine folding a straw in half and watching it splinter. Essentially, this is what can happen when the paper is folded and creased.

Packaging needs to survive multi-directional scores, folds, and creases without cracking and surrendering its barrier properties.


Paper-based packaging is the perfect choice for sustainably focused companies.

Paper always has the added value of appearing and feeling “natural.” It provides an excellent printing substrate with the potential for high-quality graphics to effectively communicate brand values (and sustainability credentials).

Studies reveal that consumers are more likely to buy organic, premium brands if the packaging is “natural-looking.”

Biodegradable and compostable packaging solutions are an emerging market trend in 2019, especially in niche applications like sandwiches, nuts, snacks, and confectionery.

Consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging, driven by the desire to combat the scourge of plastic pollution, shows no sign of slowing.

Overall Benefits of Repulpable Barrier Coatings

Consumer packaging groups can help clients quickly and affordably produce repulpable barrier coatings since many manufacturers already have coaters such as off-machine coaters, paper machine coaters, or even flexo/reverse gravure printing presses.

The use of water-based polymers means used packaging can easily be processed through a paper recycling stream using conventional recycling equipment. Sustainable coatings that are direct ‘drop-in’ alternatives to traditional petroleum-based barrier coatings, such as producers of polypropylene and polyethylene will see the most rapid adoption in the market.

Learn More About Repulpable Barrier Coatings

The responsibility for improving the environmental impact of packing must be shared across the supply chain. However, printers and converters should not overlook the role we play in creating an environmentally responsible package. Even if a package does offer sustainability advantages, it is up to converters to make it even better.

For more information about the transition to water-based biopolymers and bio-waxes and how these trends can positively impact your business, turn to an experienced and trusted packaging expert like Greif.

Greif CPG is a leader in providing consumer packaging solutions at the best value to our customers. Our experienced team fully understands the packaging process and can help you stay on top of emerging trends by helping you control costs. We give our clients a competitive advantage by using cutting edge materials.

Contact us today by calling 216-281-7000, or email