Is PE Coated Paper Biodegradable?

In the world of packaging and disposable items, PE coated paper stands out for its durability and moisture resistance. Commonly used for coffee cups, takeaway food containers, and other quick-service items, PE (Polyethylene) coated paper has become a staple in our daily lives. But as we grow more conscious of our environmental footprint, a pressing question arises: Is PE coated paper biodegradable?

What is Exactly PE Coated Paper?

PE coated paper is essentially paper that has been laminated with a thin layer of polyethylene, a type of plastic. This coating provides a waterproof barrier, making the paper ideal for products that need to hold liquids or be protected from moisture. While the paper portion is naturally biodegradable, the polyethylene layer complicates the process.

Biodegradability of PE Coated Paper

The short answer is, not entirely. The paper base of PE coated products can degrade over time under the right conditions. However, the polyethylene layer does not. This plastic coating can take hundreds of years to decompose, posing a significant problem for landfill sites and the environment.

In Korea, statistics from 2004 to 2017 on the treatment of waste vinyl from agriculture highlighted the extensive use of polyethylene, which led to blockages in the intestines of various marine species, posing severe threats to ecosystems.

Another study highlighted in the news showed that polyethylene, which is the most widely produced and discarded plastic, accumulates extensively in landfills and natural environments. One striking instance is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has grown to twice the size of Texas. It’s estimated that this patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, a significant portion of which is polyethylene. This accumulation not only illustrates the scale of pollution but also emphasizes the long-term environmental impact, as polyethylene can persist in the ecosystem for centuries, releasing toxic substances and harming wildlife.

What are Environmental Considerations of PE Coated Paper?

The challenge with PE coated paper is not just its partial biodegradability but also its recyclability. The combination of paper and plastic makes recycling difficult, as the two components must be separated before they can be processed, a task that is both costly and complex.

Are there any Alternatives for PE Coated Paper?

Given the environmental impact of PE coated paper, seeking alternatives is crucial. Fortunately, there are more eco-friendly options available:

  • Biodegradable Coatings: Some manufacturers are now using coatings made from biodegradable materials that can break down along with the paper.One of the most promising developments in the quest for eco-friendly packaging solutions is the rise of water-based barrier coatings. These innovative coatings serve the same purpose as their PE counterparts—providing resistance to moisture and grease—but with a crucial difference: they are designed to be fully biodegradable and compostable. Unlike polyethylene, water-based coatings do not hinder the recycling process, allowing the entire paper product to be recycled or composted more efficiently. This breakthrough represents a significant step forward in sustainable packaging, offering a practical alternative that meets the needs of both businesses and environmentally conscious consumers.
  • Recycling Innovations: Advances in recycling technology have made it possible to more efficiently separate and recycle PE-coated paper. A notable example is Georgia-Pacific, which has developed a new capability to recycle single-use PE-coated paper cups. Their recycled paper mills in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, now accept mixed paper bales containing PE-coated cups. This initiative, developed in collaboration with the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI) and the Closed Loop Partners-led NextGen Consortium, is a major step forward in enhancing the recyclability of paper products and supporting environmental sustainability efforts within the foodservice industry​

Making an Eco-Friendly Choice

As a manufacturer, we have the power to drive change through the paper cups and bags we make. Always looking for new ways that prioritize sustainability, and advocating for better recycling infrastructure are steps we can all take.

Conclusion

While PE coated paper is not fully biodegradable due to its plastic layer, awareness and technological advancements are paving the way for more sustainable alternatives. By making informed choices and supporting eco-friendly options, we can help reduce our environmental impact and move towards a more sustainable future.

Embracing alternatives to PE coated paper is not just about reducing waste; it’s about taking a stand for the planet. Every small choice contributes to a larger impact, making our world a cleaner, greener place for future generations.