Adhesive Tape

Plastic vs paper: The packaging tape debate

7 mins

As we become more and more aware of the environmental impact our actions have, even the smallest decisions can have a profound effect on the planet. This is true both in our personal lives and with the decisions we make at work.

The packaging industry is no exception to this. When it comes to sealing packages, the choice between plastic and paper tape has become a topic of debate. Whilst both options offer unique advantages and drawbacks, understanding their environmental implications is crucial to making an informed decision.

In this article, we explore the environmental impacts of plastic and paper packaging tapes, weigh their pros and cons, and ultimately, help you make a more eco-conscious choice.

Pros of plastic packaging tape

Plastic packaging tape has been a around for more than six decades. The invention of plastic tapes can be traced all the way back to the mid-20th century when Richard Drew, an engineer working for 3M developed the world’s first adhesive tape.

Since then, plastic tapes have been an extremely popular and effective tool for countless tasks. One of those being the use in packaging and shipping. Let’s explore the pros of plastic packaging tape:

  • Superb adhesive properties: Plastic packaging tape is known for its exceptional adhesive capabilities, ensuring that packages remain securely sealed during transit. Its strong bonding strength helps prevent accidental openings, reducing the risk of product damage and loss.
  • Versatility: Plastic tape is highly versatile and can be used for a wide range of packaging materials, including cardboard, plastic, and other surfaces. Its durability allows it to withstand various environmental conditions, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.
  • Moisture resistance: Unlike some alternatives, plastic packaging tape exhibits resistance to moisture and humidity. This property is particularly valuable when shipping products that may be exposed to inclement weather or challenging environmental conditions.
  • Transparent options: Clear plastic tape allows for easy visibility of package contents and labels. This transparency can be advantageous in situations where visual identification or scanning of barcodes is necessary without the need to remove the tape.

Plastic packaging tape concerns

Whilst there are many performance-related advantages to using plastic packaging tape, it unfortunately presents a number of environmental concerns. In an era where eco-conscious decisions are pivotal, it’s important to consider the following disadvantages:

  • Prolonged persistence in the environment: One of the most alarming issues associated with plastic packaging tape is its non-biodegradability. Unlike organic materials that break down naturally over time, plastic tape can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. As it lingers, it poses a threat to wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Amplifying the plastic pollution crisis: The ever-growing problem of plastic pollution has caught global attention and raised alarm bells about the long-term consequences of plastic waste. Plastic packaging tape contributes significantly to this crisis, adding to the mountains of plastic waste in landfills and the vast patches of floating plastic debris in our oceans. These persistent pollutants not only harm wildlife and ecosystems but also have the potential to enter the food chain, posing risks to human health.
  • Recycling complications: While recycling is often touted as a solution to the plastic waste problem, plastic packaging tape poses unique challenges to recycling facilities. Its small size and low recycling value make it less desirable for recycling processors. As well, during the recycling process, plastic tape can become entangled in recycling machinery, leading to operational issues, and reducing the efficiency of recycling operations.

The rise of paper tape solutions

As eco-consciousness continues to gain momentum, both businesses and individuals are actively seeking more sustainable alternatives to traditional packaging materials. One such eco-friendly solution gaining popularity is paper packaging tape. Made from renewable resources like Kraft paper and reinforced with natural rubber adhesive, paper tape offers a range of benefits that make it an attractive choice for environmentally responsible packaging.

Research shows that paper is the preferred option for many consumers. In fact, eight in ten (81%) of people in the UK are trying to cut their plastic waste and 46% feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use.

As well, two-thirds of consumers (66%) prefer their products ordered online to be delivered in paper packaging over plastic.

But why is this the case? Let's explore the many benefits of using paper tape today:

  • Biodegradable and recyclable: One of the most significant advantages of paper tape is its biodegradability. When discarded or exposed to the elements, paper tape breaks down naturally over time, contributing to a reduction in long-lasting waste. Unlike plastic tape, which persists in the environment, paper tape leaves behind minimal traces, alleviating the burden of plastic pollution. Paper tape can also be easily recycled alongside cardboard boxes, simplifying the recycling process and promoting a circular economy approach to packaging materials.
  • Renewable materials: Paper tape is predominantly made from sustainable sources, such as Kraft paper, which is derived from wood pulp obtained from responsibly managed forests. Unlike plastic tape, which relies on fossil fuels, the production of paper tape helps reduce dependence on finite resources. By supporting the use of renewable materials, companies and individuals contribute to conserving natural habitats and promoting responsible forestry practices.
  • Safe for the environment and humans: Paper tape is usually free from harmful chemicals, making it a safe and eco-friendly option for packaging various products. Unlike some plastic adhesives that may contain harmful additives, natural rubber adhesive used in paper tape is less likely to pose health risks to both users and the environment.
  • Versatile applications: Paper tape can be used for a wide range of packaging needs, from sealing lightweight parcels to securing heavy-duty cartons. Its strength and adhesive properties can effectively hold together various packaging materials, making it suitable for diverse industries and products.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Beyond its eco-friendly attributes, paper tape can enhance the visual appeal of packages. Some companies choose to print their logos or branding on paper tape, creating a professional and eco-conscious image that resonates with customers who prioritise sustainability.

A balancing act: Durability and performance

While paper tape presents compelling eco-friendly advantages, its main drawback is its strength and durability compared to plastic tape. Plastic tape is known for its robustness and resistance to moisture, making it a preferred choice for heavier packages or items sensitive to water damage.

On the other hand, paper tape's adhesive strength may not match that of plastic, and it might not perform well under extreme conditions. However, technological advancements have led to the development of reinforced paper tapes that offer improved performance without compromising sustainability.

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The way forward: Making an informed decision

As consumers, businesses, and industries strive to minimise their environmental impact, the choice between plastic and paper packaging tape becomes increasingly crucial. While plastic tape may seem convenient, it perpetuates the plastic pollution crisis and contributes to climate change. On the contrary, paper tape aligns with sustainable practices and eco-friendly principles.

For businesses, selecting the right tape involves considering the weight, size, and shipping conditions of their products. Using plastic tape for heavy or moisture-sensitive items might be unavoidable, but businesses can prioritise using paper tape for lighter packages and explore sustainable alternatives for special cases.

In short, there is no clear or obvious winner in the plastic vs paper tape debate. It all comes down to business goals, requirements, and what is feasible. Different products and shipping conditions require different packaging solutions. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Plastic vs paper tape: Consult with the experts at Swiftpak

For businesses and individuals seeking guidance in making the right choice for their packaging needs, consult with our team of experts today. With our extensive knowledge and experience in the packaging industry, Swiftpak can provide personalised solutions that optimise both efficiency and sustainability. From exploring innovative eco-friendly packaging alternatives to understanding the specific requirements of different industries, our expertise can pave the way towards a more environmentally conscious packaging strategy.

Let us embrace the responsibility of making conscious decisions and together build a better, more environmentally responsible future. Contact us today for more information on how we can support your business.