Study says soluble bio-digestible barriers for paper and board packaging are effective

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Getty Images/igoriss
Pic: Getty Images/igoriss

Related tags Packaging Sustainability recyclable packaging

DS Smith and Aquapak said a new study they commissioned shows bio-digestible barrier coatings increase paper recycling rates and fiber yield, without compromising functionality.

The companies said this provides a viable new packaging alternative ready and available for use.

The research, ‘’Considerations for process, product and environmental fate testing of soluble bio-digestible barriers for paper and board packaging’, ​showed new barrier technologies such as Hydropol provide an alternative to conventional plastic coatings used in paper packaging by promoting improved paper fiber separation and removing plastic waste from the recycling process, reducing the negative impact of paper packaging on the environment.

DS Smith and Aquapak have been working together to find a solution to the issue of non-recyclable paper packaging, the use of which has increased as the industry has moved to replace conventional, hard to recycle and single-use plastics. This has resulted in a va­riety of fiber-based packaging formats combined with alternative functional barriers being introduced into the recovered paper recycling streams.   However, the materials currently being used to give paper the packaging functionality required for products such as food, drink and household goods, are not easily recyclable and lead to the paperboard being rejected because paper mills cannot process the paper and plastic combinations.  Instead, they are incinerated or go to landfill.

To provide a solution to this problem, Aquapak has developed Hydropol, a com­mercially available fully soluble, biodigestible barrier polymer, which can be adhesive- or extrusion-coated onto paper and brings benefits to fiber-based packaging, including oil and grease resistance together with a high gas barrier. It is non-toxic, marine safe, dissolves in water and subsequently biodegrades but still provides the functionality required for food, drink and household product packaging.

Tests used in the study showed Hydropol is compatible with the processes used by high volume recycling mills and enables high fiber recovery, while reducing insoluble single-use plastics, which are ejected and sent to landfill or waste. The companies said Hydropol improves on current regulations, which allow the ‘recyclable’ label to be used if there is up to 15% unrecyclable material in the product. The results obtained in the study provide packaging designers with a method to meet the Paperbased Packaging Recyclability Guideline set out by the European association representing the paper industry (Cepi), which are in place to ensure the paper fraction of the packaging breaks down into single fibers when pulped within a specified timeframe, and to give preference to polymers and other sealing agents that can be dealt with efficiently by the papermill process and effluent treatment systems and do not compromise the finished product, the production process or the environment whilst being recycled.

Mark Lapping, CEO of Aquapak, said, “The new research is hugely important for the packaging industry as it proves that they now have an alternative solution to existing plastics which is commercially available and, crucially, does not compromise on functionality or the end of life of the materials. It is now up to the industry to embrace the new technology available to them and create a new generation of packaging which meet the needs of the circular economy.”

Nick Thompson, materials development director at DS Smith Group R&D, added, “It’s clear that materials used in paper-based packaging have to be designed into the packaging with recycling in mind from the start.  This is why DS Smith developed circular design principles; to ensure repulpability, recyclability and no negative impact on the end of life of the materials used.  It seems like the Aquapak Hydropol product during recycling, has now been shown to help fiber separation and can itself be eliminated from the process with no negative impact and with no need for finding an outlet for unwanted waste material, such as difficult to recycle plastics.”

Aquapak said Hydropol is three times stronger than alternatives and is designed to be used in existing thermo-processing equipment, giving it a wider range of applications.  Hydropol enables up to 100% paper/board recovery whatever the percentage packaging makeup.

Extrusion coatings and laminates for paper/board applications are at customer production trial stage, including home delivery and ecommerce applications, packaging for dried pet food, snacks, cooked meat and convenience food applications.

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