Design Guidance for the Recyclability of Paper-Based Packaging

A few weeks ago, Dennis Colley, FBA’s President and CEO, attended a recycling conference where a Senior Packaging Engineer at a major brand asked if a package for one of their new products was recyclable.  Her intent was to specify a box that was fully recyclable, but she wasn’t sure if the non-fiber components of the box would create any issues for paper mills.  Her question is one that the industry hears often and one that is currently being addressed. 

Fibre Box Association has joined a collaborative group of industry leaders across the supply chain who are working closely with the American Forest & Paper Association to develop a design guidance for recyclability of paper-based packaging.  The technical guidance will indicate the ease with which non-fiber elements used in paper-based packaging can be recycled. These non-fiber elements include items such as coatings, inks, adhesives, tapes, labels, applied and additive barriers/laminates (e.g., poly, poly-foil, clay coatings, varnishes, wax, wet strength, etc.), enhancements (e.g., foil stamping, window elements, susceptors, tear strips, etc.) and plastics.  Four categories will be used to rate the acceptance of these materials into the recycling stream: (1) easily recycled; (2) affects recyclability, but acceptable; (3) recyclable under varying conditions; (4) not recyclable. 

The work follows similar activity conducted in Europe last fall.  In November, The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) published Paper-Based Packaging Recyclability Guidelines. The Guidelines are intended to help brand-owners, retailers and others “specify and design paper-based packaging in a way to ensure high quality recycling by the paper industry.” To learn more about the CEPI guidelines, visit:

A survey of U.S. paper and paperboard mills is currently underway to collect data about the recyclability of the non-fiber elements noted earlier and the results of the study should be completed by the end of the second quarter 2020.  If any of these elements are found to be in categories 3 or 4, then the next question becomes: can they be composted rather than landfilled?  FBA will keep you updated as the project progresses.  If you have any questions, contact Dennis Colley,