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All-Paper Packaging Goals

Janet Schultze
Written by
Janet Schultze
/ Published on
April 4, 2023
Quite often, Consumer Packaged Goods companies and other businesses are asking packaging businesses for all-paper packaging solutions for their products, which is driven from consumers who believe that other package materials are worse for the environment. While it may seem that is the case based on the attention plastics is getting in the news, there is much more complexity to this topic.
All-paper packaging variations

In general, the functional goals of a package include the following:

  • Protect the product from damage or contamination
  • Allow storage of the product
  • Capture the consumers’ attention
  • Present necessary information for consumption or use
  • Preserve the product until the consumer can use it
  • Possible reclose and reopen while continuing to protect the product

Attributes CPG consumers want:

  • Food that tastes good and how it is expected to taste
  • Long enough shelf life to consume the entire product-from manufacture to consumption
  • No preservatives or extra chemicals
  • No excessive packaging
  • “Sustainable” A product whose raw material is grown and renewable, meaning it is easily recycled and won’t be put in a landfill.
  • Inexpensive

Attributes CPG manufacturers want:

  • Consumers enjoy the product and repurchase, try additional brand products and recommend to others
  • Shelf life long enough to get through distribution and in consumer possession for reasonable period of time.
  • Sustainable packaging enough to satisfy stakeholders and customer base
  • Easy to fill at acceptable rates
  • Process with capabilities and equipment on hand
  • Case pack, palletize and transport efficiently
  • Minimal scrap
  • No returns due to spoilage or product damage
  • Finished product cost to be profitable (package + product + delivery)

Attributes retailers desire:

  • Sufficient product turnover (demand)
  • Easy to merchandise
  • Reliable deliveries for supply management
  • No damage, spoilage or customer returns
  • Retail ready display
  • Profitable for the retailer

When considering the basic function of a package and the needs of the manufacturer and retailer, that leaves the wants of the consumer.  Here are explanations about why an all paper package may not be appropriate for various consumer products.

Package integrity

Folding cartons made of non-recycled material have better strength properties and hold their shape better because as paperboard gets recycled, the fibers become shorter and shorter and the ‘memory’ of those fibers is reduced with each recycle is lessened. For cartons and corrugated boxes, memory means the box’s ability to bend evenly after the folding scores have been impressed into the box during the die-cutting process. With poor memory, there can be production problems in the automated filling processes which lead to lower filling and higher scrap rates, as well as making a poor appearance on a store shelf.

Shelf life

Over the past several decades, there has been greatly increased consumer demand for healthier products, specialized and more natural ingredients, better quality products and a greater variety of ingredients. High barrier packaging has made most of these better-for-you foods, beverages, personal care, health care and nutraceuticals possible.  Paper is porous and therefore does not provide a sufficient barrier to these products, as a primary package, without an additional barrier such as film lamination or an inside bag, tray lid or wrapper. As oxygen and moisture account for the majority of product deterioration, some sort of barrier is necessary to deliver an acceptable level of shelf life, especially if there are minimal or no preservatives. Some products such as foods that contain nuts and oils would not even make it to a retail shelf if they were not in some form of barrier package, as they would be rancid and/or stale before they moved through the distribution channel.  With rigid plastic, barrier containers and even dispenser closures offer consumers many types of high-quality, all natural products that would never be attainable without an environment free of oxygen and moisture, such as high end skin care products.



When comparing package formats, there much to consider, particularly behind the scenes before a product hits the store shelf and after it gets picked up by a curbside recycler.  While paperboard is tree based and renewable, the process of going from tree to paperboard rolls at a carton converter requires transport, production energy, transport to a distribution site or converter and so on. Chemicals are need to make paper and recycle paperboard.  Plastic is a petrochemical that can be recycled if it is not in combination with other additives. It typically is lighter in weight than other alternatives and takes less energy to produce. Often, large CPG companies make their own bottles under their factory roofs to avoid transportation costs, ensure their supply and reduce inventory space for storage.  Glass takes a tremendous amount of energy to make, is heavy to transport, fully recyclable and offers excellent barrier properties.  One element of sustainability rarely mentioned is the amount of product waste produced at food processing factories, distribution centers and retail stores. For example, there is a tremendous amount of produce waste at a retailer and distributor. Items such as bagged salads/greens have a breathable film layer as a component to the bag, so it reduce spoilage at the distribution point, the retailer and a consumer’s refrigerator, as the film extends the freshness of the product. Although pouches and bags with zip reclosures are not recyclable, they offer an opportunity to keep products fresher for much longer than they would if they were closed the old fashioned way, with a clip or rubber band.  


Consumers polled routinely state that they may be willing to pay for more sustainable packaging and bio-based plastics, but in reality that has been proven not to be the case for the vast majority of consumers.  But there is more to the package cost than simply the increase in material cost. Most CPG products are mass produced by either a semi-automated or fully automated process.  While smaller lot production is filled at a slower rate, package filling on fully-automated equipment can reach rates of 200 per minute and beyond, even faster for flow-wrapping, tray, pouch and bottle filling, and form fill and sealing.  With this in mind, the filling rate, the number of off-line steps in the process, the capital equipment needed to package the products and the number of humans needed to operate a filling line all factor into the product cost. What this means in terms of material selection is that a CPG manufacturer must be able to make, package and deliver a finished product to a retailer at a certain price. To wit, an 18 pack of cookies presented in a folding carton with a folded paper slide-out, paperboard tray sounds great, but if the production cost is such that the retail price is going to be $10, not enough consumers are going to purchase it due to the cost and the shelf life will have expired by the time it hits the store shelf, but they will in a stand-up pouch for $6 where it’s drop filled into the multilayer, barrier pouch.  Most of the time, a CPG manufacturer is going to offer a package format that can be packaged with existing equipment either they have on hand or their manufacturing partner has on hand. To introduce new products in a new package format is risky due to the likelihood of the product being one of the majority of new products which fail from a consumer standpoint, and capital involved in setting up a new production line for that sole purpose of making one product. The latter of these risks can be offset by working with an external manufacturing partner.

Excessive packaging

There are many examples of excessive packaging. There is almost always a reason.  Some include product visibility, theft deterrent, attention-getting branding space, multiple product components were shipped to a central facility for final assembly, product protection, production line automation, transit damage reduction, standardization of packaging sizes and much more.  Some products spoil due to absorbing odors of other products. Produce, chocolate, mint products, breads, baked goods and more get stored in distribution centers, in warehouses and placed in trucks together, so protection may be needed there.  Standardization of packaging sizes will allow lower costs in the end, as it reduces inventory carrying costs, obsolete inventory, warehousing space needed, headcount to manage, and also improves cash flow.  For higher value products, product presentation is important, as the consumer’s first impression must be that the product conveys high value. Think of an iphone, bottle of Crown Royale, your sleek new laptop computer, an engagement ring and an expensive box of chocolates.

There are more factors impacting suitability of package material than stated here, to be sure. Packaging professionals are constantly considering incremental steps to improve packaging and its impact on the environment, which is only part of the complexity of bringing new and better products with better deliveries to the market.

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