Next level paperisation: plastic-free barriers are on the way

Image Source: Shutterstock | Iryna Mylinska

The fibre-based breakthrough innovation with high barrier values, given recyclability in established paper recycling and complete freedom from plastic is getting closer. It seems feasible on a large scale by 2030. We take a look at the development of paperisation up to now, assess the current situation, name important factors and draw a conclusion.


Birth of a trend

We at Berndt+Partner Consultants identified paperisation as a trend around 5 years ago and named examples at an early stage.


In 2019, Nestlé was one of the first companies to gain initial experience with the introduction of its new paper packaging for YES! snack bars, which was communicated as recyclable. A key driver for the new approach was the vision that utilising the widely established paper recycling channels was perhaps a more promising solution for the future than the decades-long failure to create a truly circular plastics economy.


In 2020, announcements such as the one made by Upfield were still ridiculed as being full-bodied. At the time, the global market leader for spreadable fats had published its “Plastic free Policy” (here as a pdf) and announced that all its packaging would be plastic-free by the end of 2025. The urgency and opportunity were not automatically apparent, as neither the regulators required such a switch at the time, nor were the necessary fibre-based barrier materials available.



Today, we can see that development has not stopped at fibre-based flexible packaging. There are now fibre-based cups, fibre-based tubes, and fibre-based bottles on the market – even if the solutions are still often niche and just as often still come in the form of fibre/plastic hybrid solutions, not all of which meet the requirement for recyclability.

Nevertheless, it has been clear for years that there is a lot of power and movement around paperisation. Numerous start-ups – often together with giants from the food industry – are working on the development of further and more efficient fibre-based barrier materials.

One example is the company Papkot, which has introduced a ceramic coating that gives the paper the same packaging properties as plastic, but without using plastic.

But traditional paper manufacturers are by no means idle either and are investing on a large scale. Mondi is the first big player to claim that its fibre-based solutions for the barrier can compete and hold their own against aluminium.


Regulations provide the compass

And regulation? In the meantime, it has established a compass, even if the details of its implementation are still fuzzy. Depending on the interpretation, plastics are either being unjustifiably discriminated against by the activities of the regulators or are finally being banned as annoying non-performers and disruptive substances in the circular economy. Either way, the direction is clear.

  • Plastic packaging waste must be reduced twice as fast as all packaging waste by 2030.
  • (Only) multipacks made of plastic are threatened by a product ban under the PPWR.
  • (Only) packaging with at least 5 per cent plastic content must use recyclates by 2030 (although the level of the quota is still being debated).
  • Under the Single-Use Plastic Directive, packaging for all products intended for direct on-the-go consumption (including, for example, individually wrapped chocolate bars) is subject to a charge if it contains even the slightest trace of an industrially produced polymer (natural polymers are excluded).
  • The new German plastic tax will put another spanner in the works for plastic packaging. Postponed is not cancelled.


Conclusion & outlook

The days when paperisation and completely fibre-based solutions were ridiculed as full-bodied are over. In fact, Upfield also converted its first product at the turn of the year. The “world’s first plastic-free, oil-proof, recyclable tub for plant butters and spreads” proves that it can be done – even if scaling up takes more effort than expected. Accordingly, the company has stretched its target achievement and now aims to eliminate plastic from 80 per cent of its packaging by 2030.

The development of functioning fibre-based barrier solutions has enabled paperisation to overcome an important hurdle and reach the next level. The use of the widely established paper recycling channels now appears more than ever to be a promising solution for the future. After all, the experience of recent decades and the high investment costs involved mean that doubts about establishing a genuine plastics recycling economy are entirely understandable.

Accordingly, we are seeing promising applications in the first niches – and the competition for innovation has only just begun. Paperisation 2.0 is on its way.

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