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Beyond Boxes: Paper’s New Looks, Functionality

Advancing machinery and materials technologies are pushing paper beyond the boundaries of traditional boxes, bags, and low-barrier paper packs into the expansive and expanding realm of barrier packaging.

Paper-based coffee pods are the result of a collaboration between Bellarud AB, Syntegon, and Huhtamaki.
Paper-based coffee pods are the result of a collaboration between Bellarud AB, Syntegon, and Huhtamaki.

Driven by regulatory pushes for more sustainable protection of packaged products and the environment, paper packages are gaining—or regaining—market share for a variety of oxygen- and moisture-sensitive products in packaging formats beyond those typically associated with paper. Molded fiber bottles for liquids and collapsible paper tubes for cosmetics are good examples.

U.S. production of packaging paper and paperboard rose from 52 billion tons in 2016 to 56 billion tons in 2020. Globally, the paper packaging market was valued at $233 billion last year. And it is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 5.2% over the next 10 years, surprisingly higher than plastic, glass, or metal packaging in the same timeframe.

The following sampling of recent paper and board packaging developments shows some ways paper is reshaping what a paper package looks like and how it performs.

• Pods and other 10- to 100-mL volume form-fill-seal (f/f/s) packs are the inventive outcome of a three-partner technology collaboration among Swedish paper and board maker Billerud, Germany-based Syntegon Group, and Netherlands-based Huhtamaki. In this venture, Syntegon developed and produces the TPU1000 f/f/s equipment for the pods and paper blister packs. Bellarud converted the 3D-moldable FibreForm paper and Huhtamaki supplied the specialty coating holding the pods’ flat and formed pack webs together.

• A pair of cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) barrier coatings are being promoted by Israel-based Melodea, Ltd. for paper packaging barrier enhancement. One of the coatings, MelOx, is engineered to provide paper-packaged product protection from oxygen, oil, and grease transmission. The other, VB Coat, is meant to reduce water vapor permeation, oil, and grease penetration and “water absorption values of the substrate,” according to the company.

• Conductive ink transforms specially encoded paper boxes into digital product engagement portals. Ohmega inks from International Paper Co. powered by Touchcode codes combine to become what IP calls a “connected packaging solution,” transmitting secure data via smart phone or other digital devices to product marketers regarding where, when, and how consumers frst interact with products upon opening the boxes for the first time.

• A 2025 launch of dry molded fiber bottles to replace single-use plastic containers is what the Bottle Collective is aiming for. The collective is a collaboration of Swedish packaging manufacturer PulPac AB and global Consultancy, PA Consulting, based in London.

“Fiber bottles could work with water, dairy, non-carbonated soft drinks, adult beverages, detergent, skin care, hair care, etc.” says Tony Perrotta, PA Consulting partner.

• Squeeze tubes made with paper are trending for cosmetics. The European Tube Manufacturers Association awards Tube of the Year (2021) honors to a Permapack AG tube with 71% paper-content body, EVOH barrier layer, and PE or PP shoulders/cap. All-paper “Eco Tube” squeeze tubes for lip balm have also debuted from Eco Vision Packaging. These tubes are topped with friction-fit paper lids.

While several of these paper-packaging advances are aimed at replacing single-use plastics, they offer ample attractions in terms of appearance and performance to break into the packaging market on their own.


Ben Miyares, Packaging Sherpa, is a packaging market and technology analyst and is president of The Packaging Management Institute, Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].


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