Maybe you think that nothing can ever beat the touch, look, and smell of books. Maybe you think e-readers and online newspapers are the future. Maybe you’re bit of both. The reality is, production of paper in its traditional sense is decreasing, and producers of printing and writing grades now feel the need to diversify their products. After all, paper is more than just books and newspapers. Paper can also mean online retailer packaging, burger wraps, and bread bags. FPInnovations is working to help newsprint operations diversify their products and to create new markets for cellulose-based products in order to minimize the use of plastics in packaging.
The increase in regulations and bans around plastic is leading to a growing demand for brown paper bags and non-plastic alternatives. As the need to produce paper in its traditional sense are simultaneously decreasing, new doors are opening for the new market of sustainable paper packaging.
Producers of newsprint and other mechanical and chemical paper grades now see the need to develop new products using their existing equipment.
That’s exactly why FPInnovations started developing new Thermo-Mechanical Pulp (TMP)-based papers and other cellulose-based grades, biodegradable barrier formulations, as well as using patented stretchable paper technology in order to meet end-use requirements for potential new lines of products. The requirements include aspects such as strength, resistance to water and grease, foldability, and stretchability. Meeting some or all these requirements would allow traditional printing and writing paper producers to enter new market segments such as flexible packaging and formable products that are currently dominated by plastic-containing products.
FPInnovations’ goal was to come up with papermaking strategies and furnish recipes based on the different types of pulps and to explore the use of bio-sourced polymers that could be suitable for the various new potential applications.
To identify the requirements that had to be met for converting and end-use, FPInnovations characterized existing products and their properties, and conducted audits of converting facilities.
The Paper Products Innovation research team had to, among other things, evaluate the potential usability of pulps obtained via the chemical pre-treatment of the chips followed by mechanical processing of cellulose fibres, with and without the use of bio-sourced polymers. The team then developed the techniques to create various barrier properties (moisture, water, oil, etc.) at the laboratory scale in order to adapt them to the manufacturing context.
FPInnovations also conducted various converting technical analyses to identify opportunities for members and to determine potential converting challenges.
The research team conducted trials to test the new approaches in the production of burger wraps, window bags (such as transparent bread bags), and foil-laminated paper (such as found in butter wrapper and takeaway hotdog packaging), as well as bundle overwrap to replace plastic film.
Converting trials demonstrated that most of the key properties required for these applications can be fulfilled by using paper made from cellulose-based fibre recipes along with bio-based polymers. In some applications where strength is a key factor, modifications in the refining strategy or in the choice of fibre mixes could enhance the pulp properties and allow the cellulose-based products to reach the target specifications.
The cost of manufacturing paper-based single-use items used to be a hurdle. However, these recent research developments suggest that converted cellulose-based products could provide a cost-effective alternative to existing plastic-containing products.
The future of flexible paper packaging looks bright. And the current health crisis will certainly open new opportunities for paper in the world of single-use items.