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INTRODUCTION

Recyclable paper packaging, the most preferred option for a safe environment, has its own challenges with respect to moisture and oxygen permeability. Challenges multiply when paper is used for packing beverages. Currently, paper bottles are being lined with plastic barriers, which makes recycling difficult. Of the many initiatives that technology companies have been pursuing to alleviate the problems related to paper packaging, two companies stand out for their achievements so far in meeting the sustainable packaging goals. The current whitepaper presents a glimpse of the activities carried out towards development of sustainable packaging, by these two companies.

PABOCO – The Paper Bottle Company

The Paper Bottle Company (Paboco), a Danish company, has been working towards sustainable paper bottle goals since 2019. The company creates recyclable bottles made out of wood, which can resist liquids, Carbon-di-oxide (CO2), and Oxygen (O2); making them suitable for carbonated drinks, beauty products, and many more. Paboco is a joint venture between Swedish paper packaging material maker BillerudKorsnäs (a majority shareholder in EcoXpac) and Austrian plastic packaging solutions developer, ALPLA. Paboco has grown from the start-up and innovation expert EcoXpa, which is a Danish company creating packaging solutions with a minimum or neutral environmental footprint. EcoXpac had competence in pulp moulding and tool manufacturing, but needed support on fibre technology, stock preparation, paper making, barriers, upscaling, market opportunities etc. Paboco, as a project, was first initiated in 2010 by EcoXpac. In 2015, the Carlsberg group joined in and the “green fibre bottle” project was initiated to build a prototype for a paper bottle based on recycled fibres. Meanwhile, BillerudKorsnäs too was exploring the possibilities of a paper bottle product. This led the three companies to a joint innovation platform. Over time, BillerudKorsnäs became a major shareholder in EcoXpac. Alpla was brought in, considering its shared ambition to drive packaging innovation towards sustainable direction, and the project was turned into a company under the name of Paboco in the year 2019. As of 2021, the ‘Paper Bottle Project’ included major brands working towards finding the best paper-based packaging solution through Paboco.[1]

The current product of Paboco is the Paboco Standard Bottle (First Generation), the raw material for which is sourced ‘responsibly’ and is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Compared to traditional PET/HDPE/LDPE, depending on the design, it provides up to 65% plastic reduction. The film used inside is 100% recycled PET (Poly(ethylene terephthalate)) or PEF ((Poly(ethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate)), PEN ((polyethylene naphthalate)) barrier film that is separable in the recycling stream. The paper used in the bottle is also durable and splash-resistant. Recently, Paboco’s first paper bottle making machine ‘Anni’ was replaced with a faster machine to allow faster delivery of bottles to its partners.[2] Over time, the company realized that there were unanswered challenges and this prompted work on the Next generation bottle, which is still under the developmental stage.

The targets set for the Next generation bottle are:

  • A fully bio-based barrier that withstands water vapour and oxygen transmission
  • Compatibility with the paper-recycling stream
  • A fibre blend – sustainably sourced strong Nordic fibres developed to hold carbonated beverages
  • A proprietary technology that uses the fibre properties to stay intact when exposed to high pressure
  • Integrated paper neck with thread structure to fit closure
  • A tethered cap made from either a biocomposite or just pure paper
  • Digital print with water-based inks to minimize material usage
next-generation-bottle

Figure 1: Next Generation bottle (Source)

In June 2021, Paboco announced that it will make the paper bottle interactive so as to encourage recycling and making consumers proactive about recycling. Paboco believes that leveraging IoT can help consumers to engage in the product’s life cycle. For this, Paboco has partnered with recycl3R and Kezzler (all being partly owned by BillerudKorsnäs) and has developed a recycling application concept.[3]

The concept involves the customer scanning the QR-code on the bottle to receive practical and local recycling information. The application further provides guidance on how and where to sort and recycle, depending on the location of the consumer. Also, additional information about the packaging itself, sustainability footprint and insights about the product journey is made available. In the future, the consumer can also collect rewards for their recycling actions.

interactive bottle - paboco

Figure 2: Interactive bottle – Paboco

Paboco is also being supported by partners such as Teknos, Grow and Avantium, in its vision of building a sustainable product. Avantium, the Dutch renewable chemistry startup, joined the consortium in 2019, and is extending its expertise in chemical technology to provide a plant-based, recyclable barrier in the form of polyethylene furanoate (PEF). Avantium is also a part of the consortium “PEFerence”,[4] an effort to develop innovative FDCA (a building block for PEF) and PEF supplies. Currently, 12 companies from 11 countries (Avantium, ALPLA, Carlsberg, Henkel, Nestec, and many others) are a part of the “PEFerence” consortium.[5] Avantium plans to build a flagship plant to produce pure FDCA on a large scale and commercialize the end products that are bio-based polymers.[6][7] PEF is a 100% plant-based, recyclable polymer with superior gas barrier and heat resistant properties.[8]  The so-called YXY technology catalytically converts plant-based fructose syrup from corn and wheat sugars into PEF. Incorporating this polymer is expected to expedite the usage of sustainable and recyclable packaging solutions. Avantium has patent protections on PEF technology in various geographies, and also monitors and looks out for licensing opportunities.[9]

In October 2021, Absolut, a Swedish liquor brand, began its collaboration with Paboco. Paboco is working on making a fully bio-based and recyclable paper bottle for Absolut’s pre-mixed cocktail drinks. The main challenge for Paboco is to address the challenges related to the film barrier and bottle cap. The bottle is still in its first-generation prototype and is made from 57% paper, containing plastic in the mouthpiece and a thin barrier inside the bottle. In the next phase, the bottle is expected to have a paper neck, and an integrated plastic barrier potentially made from virgin plastic until a better bio-based barrier replacement is found.  Finding a suitable barrier will depend on many factors such as availability and recyclability of materials.[10] It is interesting to note that Grow, Paboco’s brand and design partner, was awarded the runner-up position for its design of the Absolut Paper at the Dieline Awards, 2021.[11]

Paboco’s paper bottle technology promises to reduce and replace plastic content while lowering carbon footprint, compared to conventional plastic packaging.[12]  Procter & Gamble (P&G) unveiled the first paper bottle for the Lenor fabric conditioner, developed by Paboco, announcing a pilot for Western Europe in 2022. Lenor contains recycled plastic in its packaging, already using up to 100% in its European transparent bottles. P&G now aims to go a step further with bio-based packaging.[13]

Carlsberg, a leading brewer, joined the consortium to develop a bottle made out of sustainably sourced bio-based wood fibres.[14] Paboco has been building on the work done by Carlsberg on the Green Fibre Bottle. The use of PEF was tested by Carlsberg in its alcoholic beverage segment.[15]

paper packaging for carlsberg

Figure 3: Paper packaging for Carlsberg (Source)

Coca-Cola Co. and L’Oréal SA are also among the investors in Paboco. Coca-Cola is testing paper bottles for its dairy-free smoothie drink Adez, in Hungary. L’Oréal has plans of releasing its cosmetic products in paper packaging under its La Roche-Posay and Kiehl’s brands.[16] Paboco’s current process is similar to injection molding but with pulp. The bottles launched use injection stretch blow molding technology to blow the barrier inside the bottles. The paper shell builds up the mechanical strength, while the barrier is not structural and only serves as a liquid barrier.

paper packaging for coca-cola's adez

Figure 4: Paper packaging for Coca-Cola’s AdeZ (Source)

Amidst the developments achieved so far, certain questions are being raised as to why the companies have not opted for re-usable options with plastic and rather have gone ahead with paper bottles. Another elephant in the room has been the replacement of the cork. The idea is to approach a viable solution and not add to the problem differently. Paper-based bottles still have the barrier film made out of plastic, which poses a challenge in recycling due to its inseparable nature. Replacing the barrier and the cork are still work-in-progress and Paboco is striving towards finding the best sustainable alternative.

Pulpex Limited

In July of 2020, Diageo, a beverage alcohol company, and Pilot Lite Group, a venture management company, came together to offer a sustainable solution for packaging through Pulpex, a sustainable packaging technology company. Corporate partners of Pulpex include Unilever, PepsiCo, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Castrol and Estée Lauder Companies.  Imagining scotch in a paper bottle might have been laughed at a few years ago, but now, with efforts from Pulpex and its partners, it is shaping into reality. Diageo’s first paper-based bottle for Johnnie Walker (Scotch) made its debut in 2021 and is a part of Diageo’s commitment towards Goal 12 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on ‘Responsible Consumption and Production.[17] Pulpex identified its strengths and limitations before entering into imperative agreements with various players in the industry to combat its weak areas.

johnnie walker paper based bottle

Figure 5: Johnnie Walker paper based bottle

For instance, Pulpex leverages Stora Enso’s patented fibre technologies to enhance the strength of the material. The paper/material is mouldable fibrous sheet derived from fibrous cellulosic material of wood-pulp. The characteristics of the material make it feasible for 3D moulding, which is not the case with traditional materials. The core process of making the material is the deep drawing sheet forming process, where mechanisms like high consistency refining (HCR) and flash drying of wood is involved. Also an enhancement agent (like starch) is used in greater proportion to increase the strength of the paper/material.[18]

The USP of Pulpex bottles is that they are renewable, being made of pulp from 100% renewable feedstocks and responsibly managed forests. Also, the bottles are entirely PET-free, causing them to have a lower carbon footprint compared to glass (90% less) and PET (30% less) and they degrade naturally. The structure of the paper keeps changing along the recycling process and so also its durability.[19] The packaging is designed to be compatible with the existing closure modes (made from a wide range of materials) depending upon the product’s requirement. It differs from the existing paper board products in terms of the process utilized to create the bottle. In the existing bottles, the paper board is laid flat and then moulded; whereas, the Pulpex bottles are cast into a 3D moulding structure. Pulpex has managed to find an alternative to the issue of the inner barrier of the bottles being made out of plastic.

Paper packaging industries are striving to eliminate coatings that utilize polyethylene, paraffin-based waxes, silicones and fluorochemicals. The inner barrier in Pulpex bottles is made using food-grade barrier and coating technology while ensuring that the quality, safety and efficacy of the products are not compromised. Solenis, which acquired the water and paper businesses of BASF in 2018, has been providing chemical solutions and surface treatments that enhance the barrier as well as visual properties of paper packaging.[20]  Solenis’ line of barrier coatings for the paper and paperboard industry are claimed to be repulpable, recyclable, compostable and biodegradable, thus making an effort towards improving sustainability.[21] The TopScreen barrier coating technology from Solenis offers plastic-free, paraffin-free packaging, and asserts advantages such as recyclability and repulpablity, suitability for printing, heat-sealability etc. Solenis’ coatings achieved a recyclable, repulpable, more sustainable water-based barrier system with >50% non-fossil-based raw materials.[22]  Solenis was also one of the 12 winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge, an open-sourced, global innovation challenge to redesign the fiber to-go cup and create a widely recyclable and/or compostable cup.[23]  BASF was associated with Solenis while working on the barrier technologies. However, in July 2021, Platinum Equity announced that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire Solenis from Clayton, Dubilier & Rice (“CD&R”) and BASF, following which, Solenis was merged with Sigura Water, a Platinum Equity portfolio company.[24]

SPA, through its patent research capabilities, has attempted to identify the technology behind this.

US9580868 describes a method of improving the functional properties of paper and paperboard while maintaining the paper’s recyclability and repulpability. When a paper or a paperboard treated with H2-AKD is exposed to hot water and alkaline conditions during recycling, it forms an anionic soap-like substance that can be separated during the process of repulping. According to the patent, the repulpability of the paper or the paperboard is increased because of the H2-AKD coating.

Hydrogenation of AKD: As per disclosure in the patent, Alkyl ketene dimer (AKD) was hydrogenated using 10% palladium on carbon, and H2-AKD composition with a melting point of 56 0C. was isolated.

paper-bottle
paper-bottle

Preparation of paperboard: Recycled paperboard was made from the paper pulp furnish using a pilot paper machine. The temperature of the paper making pulp was set at 50 0C. and pH at 7.5.

Preparation of wax coated paperboard: The recycled paperboard made above was coated with Paraflex 4797A wax. Paraflex 4797A coatings containing 5, 10, 15, 25, 50, and 100 % H2-AKD were also made by the same method. The coated samples were cured in an oven at 85 0C for 30 minutes before testing.

Repulpability test method: The repulpability of the uncoated, Paraflex 4797A coated, H2-AKD coated, and H2-AKD/wax-coated paperboard were measured. Samples of the pulp slurry were taken every 15 minutes. The degree of repulping was quantified by comparing each sample to the series of repulping standards.

Repulpability of wax/H2-AKD blends: Samples of Paraflex 4797A, H2-AKD, and Paraflex 4797A/H2-AKD coated paperboard were made using the methods described in examples. Adding H2-AKD to the Paraflex 4797A wax improved the repulpability of the wax-coated board over the entire range of repulping pH and temperatures. The 100% H2-AKD coating repulped the most quickly. In general, the repulpability of the H2-AKD or H2-AKD /wax composition improved as the pH increased from 5 to 12.

Water resistance of  wax/H2-AKD blends: Thirty minute Cobb testing of the Paraflex 4797A, H2-AKD, and Paraflex 4797A/H2-AKD coated paperboard was carried out using Tappi method T441.[25]

Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR) testing of the Paraflex 4797A, H2-AKD, and Paraflex 4797A/H2-AKD coated paperboard was carried out using Tappi method T448.[26] The 100% H2-AKD coated paperboard gave a slightly lower level of resistance to moisture vapor.

h2-akd

Figure 6: Prototype of a Pulpex bottle (Source)

It is clear from the examples that the addition of H2-AKD to wax coating improves the coated boards’ recyclability and repulpability while maintaining high levels of resistance to water and water vapor.

prototype of a pulpex bottle

Figure 6: Prototype of a Pulpex bottle (Source)

paper based packaging

Figure 7: Paper based packaging – Unilever & Pulpex

PepsiCo joined the Pulpex consortium and brought out a paper bottle prototype by Pulpex in 2021. The significant step was in replacing the inner plastic barrier with the proprietary solution of Pulpex. The company also aims to print the information on the bottle itself rather than using a label. Also, the thin, food-grade, water-based coating obstructs any leaks by giving an oxygen and moisture barrier, and can be recycled along with the paper.[27] The texture of the bottle is a concern in doing so, as it is akin to an egg box’s texture, which does not make it suitable for printing anything on it. The design team at PepsiCo is trying to find a solution to this concern. It is expected that further research will lead to improvements and help in achieving the perfect bottling solution.[28]

pepsico & pulpex

Figure 8: PepsiCo & Pulpex

Despite the efforts of Pulpex in striving to find the answers to sustainable paper packaging and having received certain success with regard to it, there still lies the issue of the bottle caps that may not be paper based. By the end of 2022, it will try to find answers to the bottle being able to hold hot-fills as well as various forms of carbonated beverages without them losing their quality. Also, the bottles need to be made at a scalable and cost-effective manner, since packaging involves significant amount of capital investment. The Pulpex consortium is striving towards making the bottle meet food-safety standards and also developed in a way that can be used across industries.

Conclusion

PABOCO and Pulpex Limited have developed milestone technologies in the arena of paper based bottles, which could address environmental issues that could hamper the achievement of sustainability. However, research efforts are in progress to address many of the challenges that exist such as the taste of the beverage, especially carbonated beverage, being affected by the change in the nature of packaging. In the case of a paper bottle not using the inner plastic barrier, if the material disintegrates into the beverage, it will affect the organoleptic properties. Another challenge is that of the beverage being made recognizable within the paper bottle. Hence, a mixed approach that includes bottles or packaging solutions made out of various sustainable resources, along with the advancement of recycling technologies, will be needed to meet the goals.

References

[1] https://www.paboco.com/community

[2] https://www.linkedin.com/company/paboco-the-paper-bottle-company/posts/?feedView=all

[3] https://www.paboco.com/post/210607-paboco-makes-the-paper-bottle-interactive-to-encourage-recycling

[4] https://peference.eu/the-project/

[5] https://peference.eu/consortium/

[6] https://peference.eu/fdca-flagship-plant/

[7] https://www.avantium.com/investor-relations/avantium-takes-a-positive-final-investment-decision-on-the-construction-of-its-fdca-flagship-plant/

[8] https://www.avantium.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Article-PEF-Planet-Insider-issue-09-2019-page-40.pdf

[9] https://www.avantium.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/20211209-The-Journey-of-PEF-towards-commercialisaton-history-present-and-future.pdf

[10] https://packagingeurope.com/absolut-on-its-aim-to-develop-a-fully-bio-based-and-recyclable-bottle/

[11] https://thedieline.com/blog/2020/9/10/absolut-announces-trial-of-prototype-paper-bottles?

[12] https://news.pg.com/news-releases/news-details/2021/Procter–Gamble-Announces-First-Lenor-Paper-Bottle-Pilot-and-Joins-Paboco-Community-of-Pioneer-Brands/default.aspx

[13] https://www.paboco.com/post/210720-proud-to-announce-that-procter-gamble-joins-our-paboco-paper-bottle-community

[14] https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2019/10/11/Carlsberg-showcases-paper-bottle-prototype#

[15] https://www.packaginginsights.com/news/the-paper-bottle-company-finding-bio-based-alternatives-to-plastic-films-in-paper-bottle-mission.html

[16] https://www.loreal.com/en/news/commitments/loreals-latest-innovation-for-more-sustainable-packaging-the-paper-bottle/

[17] https://www.diageo.com/en/news-and-media/features/diageo-announces-creation-of-world-s-first-ever-100-plastic-free-aper-based-spirits-bottle/

[18] https://worldwide.espacenet.com/patent/search/family/070974542/publication/EP3890956A1?q=pn%3DEP3890956A1

[19] https://www.packaginginsights.com/news/the-paper-bottle-company-finding-bio-based-alternatives-to-plastic-films-in-paperbottle-mission.html

[20] https://www.solenis.com/en/resources/news-releases/2021/solenis-pulpex-collaboration

[21] https://www.solenis.com/en/products-and-services/pulp-paper-solutions/barrier-coatings

[22] https://www.solenis.com/globalassets/resources/case-histories/bar-pk-ch-e153-05.20.pdf

[23] https://www.closedlooppartners.com/nextgen/

[24] https://www.solenis.com/en/resources/news-releases/2021/platinum-equity-solenis-acquisition

[25] https://www.tappi.org/content/tag/sarg/t441.pdf

[26] https://ipstesting.com/find-a-test/tappi-test-methods/tappi-t-448/

[27] https://www.marketscreener.com/quote/stock/PEPSICO-INC-39085159/news/PepsiCo-Sustainability-36775425/

[28] https://www.pepsico.com/news/story/the-story-behind-the-world-s-first-100-recyclable-paper-bottle

Disclaimer:

  • This document has been created for educational and instructional purposes only
  • Copyrighted materials used have been specifically acknowledged
  • We claim the right of fair use as ascertained by the author

AUTHORS

Ms. Arundhuthi Bose
Ms. Kameshwari
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