The Paper Bottle
It’s all over the news. The paper bottle revolution will disrupt the packaging industry.
Is it really the case?
First myth; the paper bottle is not really a new invention.
Paper Bottles Companies
- GreenBottle and Frugalpac
Martin Myerscough was the founder of the GreenBottle Ltd company and invented the GreenBottle concept in 2005. Martin had the idea to create a paper bottle after talking to a local landfill owner who complained that his landfill was full of air because people were leaving the cap on plastic bottles. Martin initially developed the GreenBottle for the milk sector and signed an exclusivity agreement with British retailer ASDA. Californian wine “Paper Boy” was the first commercially launched wine paper bottle in 2013. Martin continued to develop his portfolio and came up with the Frugal Cup and Frugal Carton.
What’s the difference?
The Greenbottle was launched in 2011. It was used as a milk bottle, the consumer had to detach the plastic bag from the paperboard shell after use and the cap was made of plastic.
Frugalpac was launched in 2018. It’s used as a wine bottle, the plastic bag is detached from the cardboard bottle during the recycling process (paper re-pulping process) and the cap is made of aluminium.
Danish packaging company EcoXpac was founded by Jesper Servé in 2005. The company started working on the Green Fiber Bottle project in 2010. The Carlsberg Group joined in 2015. Paper packaging company BillerudKorsnäs and plastic packaging company ALPLA formed a joint venture and acquired ecoXpac in 2019. The name was changed into Paboco. The offices are in Copenhagen, Denmark. L’Oréal, Coca-Cola, Absolut (Pernod Ricard) and Avantium are partners in this project.
Change of tone:
At the time of ecoXpac, the bottle was referred to as a wooden bottle. Now it’s referred to as a bottle made of paper. Initially, it was called the Green Fiber Bottle, now it’s called the Paper Bottle. Initially, it was marketed as made from biodegradable materials and made from sustainably sourced woods. Now it’s marketed as a fully bio-based and recyclable paper bottle.
Read more: Coke Rolls Out Paper and Plastic Bottle
Pulpex Limited was launched in July 2020. It’s a joint venture between alcohol producer Diageo (Johny Walker, Smirnoff, Baileys, etc.) and Pilot Lite (venture management company). Unilever and PepsiCo also joined the consortium. Pulpex claims to be 100% plastic free and that their bottle will naturally degrade. The bottle is made from sustainably sourced wood pulp.
Read more: Johnnie Walker Goes Paper Bottle
Ecologic was founded in 2008 and has recently been acquired by Jabil, an international supply chain management and manufacturing group. Ecologic position themselves as the paper water bottle brand. They claim the outer shells are made from recycled cardboard & newspaper and can be recycled again after use. Inner liners use minimal plastic, and post-consumer recycled plastic wherever possible.
Read more: Jabil Buys a Paper Bottle Company
Will Smith and son Jaden Smith launched the JUST water brand in the US in 2015. The bottle is produced by Tetra Pak and made of 82 % renewable resources: 54% is paper from FSC managed forests, 28% plant-based plastics, 3% aluminium and 15 % BPA-free plastic film.
- Choose Water
The bottle is made of recycled paper on the outside and an inner waterproof layer. Sky News set up the Ocean Ventures fund that invested in this company.
Read More: Sky News Invests in Bioplastics
- First Paper Bottle
Paboco is branded as the first paper bottle. I think GreenBottle was the first one.
Technically speaking, the paper bottle is not really a paper bottle. It’s a paper and plastic bottle. The cap is made of plastics and the inside of the bottle is made from a thin layer of plastics.
- Plastic Layer
Avantium claims to be making the thin plastic layer of the Paboco bottle (Avantium Provides Inner Layer of Paper Bottle). However, nobody in the world has ever seen any Avantium PEF.
If you look closely at the bottom of the Coke Paper Bottle banner, you can read .. thin plastic lining made from 100 % recycled PET.
It’s not 100 % plant-based and thus technically speaking not fully bio-based or renewable if the inner layer is made of PET.
- PET Bottles
Coca-Cola and l’Oreal initially intended to use Paboco paper bottles to replace PET bottles.
PET bottles are the only existing example of plastic bottle-to-bottle mechanical recycling at industrial scale. A PET bottle can be recycled into a new 100 % PET bottle. Why would you want to replace this?
- Eco-design & Monomaterial
Eco-design principles such as using one material (mono material) are important to make the recycling process easier. Should we replace a mono-material PET bottle with a multi-material paper and plastic bottle? This is in contradiction with eco-design principles.
- Lack of Transparency
I found GreenBottle to be the most transparent technology. It’s possible to see how they produce the bottle and how the inside of the bottle looks like. However, they lacked transparency regarding the type of plastic used.
I found Pulpex the less transparent option. They say they’re 100 % plastic free. They pretend to be using a resin instead of plastic. I would love to know more about that! Pulpex claims their bottle will naturally degrade. Seriously? I would love to know more about that.
GreenBottle looks the most sustainable option. Why? They use low cost recycled cardboard with a packaging fanciness reduced to a minimum. The Frugal bottles design looks more elaborated but less sustainable.
Initially, the inventor of the GreenBottle was inspired by a box of cereals. Consumer had to separate the plastic from the cardboard shell. It would be interesting to see if this is more sustainable than when it’s done during the recycling process.
I found the Coke bottles to have the highest level of Greenwashing. Their Paboco bottle looks like a hard PET bottle with an extra cardboard packaging. Why do you need the extra cardboard? Just keep the PET bottle.
I have to be honest with you. My intentions were to burst the paper bottle myth. I thought it would be easy. However, the more research I did, the more I started to have some doubts.
I’m getting mixed feeling now. The Paboco Coca-Cola paper bottle looks like Greenwashing but the milk Greenbottle seems to have something truly sustainable.
- PET Bottles
I don’t see a paper (and plastic) bottles replacing PET bottles.
- Glass Bottles
The recent Paboco (Absolut Vodka, Carlberg) and Pulpex (Johnie Walker) prototypes replace glass bottles with paper bottles.
And here’s the fine line in the sand … here’s were I think paper bottles may be more sustainable than single use glass bottles.
Single-use glass bottles are used once and are melted and recycled after one use only. Glass transport and glass melting are not sustainable operations because glass is very heavy and it requires very high temperatures to melt.
The paper bottle has a 10 % carbon footprint of a glass bottle and only weighs one sixth of a glass bottle. Glass bottles are dangerous in public events and can break easily.
- Laminated Cartons
Laminated cartons (milk and juices) are not easily recyclable. They consist of several layers made of different materials. It’s hard and expensive to separate these layers and there are almost no recycling infrastructure that can do this.
Another fine line in the sand … The paper bottle may be more sustainable than the laminated cartons.
Before we go any further with paper bottles, we need to straight out a few things
- Sustainable Cardboard / Pulp
I use to be convinced that paper was a sustainable material. However, today I’m not sure anymore.
We should use only “recycled” and “recyclable” resources. No Trees should be cut down. Let me re-phrase this …. no trees should be cut down for the paper bottle industry. Not a single one.
What kind of plastics will be used? No hazardous plastics should be used such as BPA (Bisphenol A).
We should use only easy-to-recycle plastics.
Should it be soft or hard plastics? To put it bluntly, should it be a plastic container or a plastic bag inside the paper bottle?
Should the plastic layer / container be made of one material or several materials? Preferably one!
- Waste Management
What kind of changes in the (EU, Member States and local) waste management legislations and operations are needed to make the paper bottle a packaging with a sustainable end-of-life?
The GreenBottle has been around for some time and it would be nice to evaluate their success and get some insights:
- Did the consumers like the bottle?
- Were the materials processed easily and sustainably after use? Was it really circular?
- Has the paper bottle a lower environmental footprint (virgin ressources, energy, transport, CO2, etc.) than glass bottles and laminated cartons?
- Should the plastic be separated from the cardboard container by the consumer or by the recycling operator?
I’m sorry folks. I have to be fully honest with you. I don’t think I was able to completely burst the paper bottle myth. I don’t see the paper bottle as an alternative to PET bottles, but I’m open to have a look at glass containers and laminated cartons.