Repulpable Barrier Coatings

New trends in paper and paperboard packaging: repulpable barrier coatings

Consumers are increasingly choosing fast food options and eating meals at home.

While these two trends may seem counterintuitive, a closer analysis reveals that while many Americans want to eat at home, they do not necessarily want to cook at home.

Unlike years past, fast food does not always mean a burger and fries from McDonald’s. Many health-conscious consumers are choosing healthier fast food options, signing up for meal kits and grocery delivery services, or buying premade dishes at grocery stores.

One thing all of these food options have in common is the need for food packaging options.

The increase in “take out” choices are having an impact on the food delivery system, and on the environment, too. For example, looking at single-use paper-based cups, estimates show that 200 billion cups are thrown away every year in the U.S. alone. Only about 0.25% is recycled.

The good news is that fast food brands are capitalizing on the popularity of eco-friendly food packaging options. The most significant initiative came from Chipotle, which announced that by 2020 it plans to achieve 50% waste diversion for its food and packaging. According to the press release, this is similar to a move made two years ago by McDonald’s.

The goal is to have half of the restaurants’ waste accumulated from food and packaging be re-routed through a combination of recycling and composting rather than sent to landfills.

The Problem: Food Packaging Containers Are Not Recyclable

A major hurdle to achieving waste diversion is that the average fast-food containers for soda, french fries, and sandwiches are not recyclable.

Similarly, many take-out containers, like the typical Chinese food box or the take-out box from your favorite restaurant, are not recyclable either.

Many food containers that appear coated with wax (which can cause issues at the recycling plant) might actually be coated with polyethylene (PE) plastic. Often, the containers are made from fibers held together by a PE compound, or the container is lined with PE.

The PE serves as a moisture and gas barrier. As a moisture barrier, PE prevents transmission of liquids through the paper container. As a gas barrier, PE prevents the contents from absorbing gas in the air like oxygen and carbon dioxide, which can negatively affect the freshness and quality of food products.

PE and wax coatings have historically been used to seal porous paper, corrugated boxes, and sheets to provide a moisture barrier and/or moisture-vapor barrier to these substrates. The resulting paper product poses an environmental problem because it cannot be recycled through traditional channels.

Returning to the single-use paper-based cup mentioned above, the cup is often coated with PE to seal the rim, sides, and bottom of the cup. This coating makes the cup non-recyclable because PE is (currently) non-biodegradable. It also does not respond to microbial action in composting systems and breaks down into flakes during the repulping process, which blocks filtering screens.

PE and other food container coatings cause problems during the recycling process. For example, the PE moisture barrier separates from the fiber during the repulping process and creates additional residue in the recycling/milling process.

To create environmentally friendly, recyclable paper products, manufacturers are turning to a water-based coating. The water-based coating allows take-out containers that are recyclable, repulpable, and compostable.

The Solution: Water-Based Barrier Coatings Allows for Recycling

Water-based biopolymers and bio-waxes are derived from renewable resources. This means they can produce sustainably. They are also suitable for packaging applications that require specific water/moisture barrier properties or grease resistance and can replace PE formulations.

Also, water-based coatings could allow food containers to go to a traditional paperboard mill to repulped without creating additional residue. Then cups can be included in a mixer-paper bale without adding PE contamination. 

Learn More About Repulpable Barrier Coatings

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

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