PE Coated Paper Cups and Containers

If you’re in the food industry, you’re likely familiar with PE-coated materials. Many businesses continue to use PE-coated paper cups and containers for their food and drink packaging. Whether it’s single-wall paper cups for cold drinks or double-wall cups for hot coffee, PE-coated cups are often the preferred choice, despite facing regulatory restrictions in some countries. Pando has been manufacturing custom PE-coated paper cups for decades. Today, we’ll explore the reasons these cups and containers remain popular among brands, their benefits, and how to recycle them effectively.

PE Coated Paper Cups

PE-coated paper cups are a type of disposable cup that can be dated from 1940s. They are made from paper but lined with polyethylene (PE), a type of plastic. The PE coating acts as a moisture barrier, making the cups waterproof and capable of holding liquid without soaking through or falling apart. This makes them suitable for both hot and cold beverages.

The PE lining not only enhances the structural integrity of the cup but also helps to retain the temperature of the drink, keeping hot beverages warm and cold drinks cool for longer periods. It’s the most popular method adopted worldwide to prevent leakage in cups.

However, the addition of plastic in the material composition poses challenges for recycling, as the paper and plastic components must be separated before processing, which can be complex and costly. It is said that every year there are over 600 million paper cups are made yet only 5% of them is actually recycled. This is exactly why Hong Kong started to ban PE-coated paper packaging after April first this year.

Pando’s Recyclable PE Paper Cups

We have been designing and manufacturing PE paper cups for decades across our six factories located in China and Thailand. Recently, we’ve observed a significant shift in market trends and consumer demand for these cups. This is because many brands opt for PE cups due to their cost-effectiveness, yet consumers increasingly seek more eco-friendly alternatives. As a result, government and regulators tend to ban PE paper cups.

Despite their popularity, few are aware that PE paper cups vary widely in terms of the raw materials used, manufacturing quality, and recyclability. A critical aspect of their production involves the selection of raw paper material, which not only influences the cost but also the quality and recyclability of the cups.

At Pando, we prioritize sustainability by using wood fiber sourced from FSC-certified forests and varying densities of PE in our paper cups. This commitment ensures that our PE paper cups are not only high in quality but also environmentally responsible and can be recyclable after use.

Here at Pando, we have different types of Polyethylene (PE) protective films. They are differentiated based on their density into high-density polyethylene (HDPE), medium-density polyethylene (MDPE), and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Each type serves distinct purposes due to their varying physical properties:

  1. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): HDPE is less commonly used in paper cup coatings because it tends to be more rigid and can make the paper less pliable. However, if used, it can provide excellent moisture resistance and durability, making it suitable for heavy-duty applications that require a strong barrier against liquids.

  2. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): LDPE is frequently used in the manufacture of paper cups due to its excellent flexibility and good sealability. It coats well on paper, forming a smooth film that acts as an effective barrier against water and oil, which is essential for cups intended to hold beverages. LDPE’s flexibility ensures that the cup can maintain its integrity without cracking when it’s held.

  3. Medium-Density Polyethylene (MDPE): MDPE offers a balance between HDPE and LDPE, providing moderate barrier properties and strength while still maintaining some flexibility. It can be a good choice for cups that need more rigidity than what LDPE offers but with better processability compared to HDPE.

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Why are PE-lined paper cups popular?

The popularity of PE paper cups has surged, particularly in restaurants and cafes that use them for food packaging and delivery. According to feedback from our customers and the brands we serve, PE paper cups are valued for their speed and low cost. However, many are aware that these cups are not as environmentally friendly as alternatives like PET paper cups and those with Water Based Barrier Coating (WBBC).

This perception has led many consumers to mistakenly believe that PE paper cups are sustainable, complicating the shift toward truly eco-friendly options like 100% compostable products. The higher prices of compostable cups, such as those made from PLA and WBBC, are often seen as a cost that should be absorbed by brands rather than passed on to consumers.

However, many countries are now regulating PE paper cups. That’s why here at Pando we’ve seen a drastic drop in PE paper cups demand. Our clients, especially from Hong Kong and other regulated countries are looking for alternatives like WBBC, making it a trendy solution.

Despite PE paper cups are restricted in many countries, they are still in the mainstream. Many small brands or businesses still consider PE-coated paper cups as their preferred choice because of the price.

Are PE Paper Cups Recyclable?

PE coated paper cups are not compostable due to the plastic lining involved. But it doesn’t mean they can‘t be recycled.

Paper cups consist of two primary materials: paper and a thin polyethylene coating. This coating, which makes up only 5% of the cup, acts as a crucial barrier that retains heat and prevents the cup from absorbing liquid. However, 95% of the cup can be recycled because they are all made of paper.

Here at Pando, our PE paper cups are crafted from raw, plant-based materials like sugarcane, a 100% renewable resource. We proudly guarantee that 95% of our PE-coated paper cups are fully recyclable. While recycling options for poly-coated paper are currently limited, opportunities for recycling these materials are expanding. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, we recommend contacting your local municipality or waste hauler to confirm if poly-coated paper is accepted in your community’s recycling program.

Alternatives for PE Paper Cups

Brands now are embracing alternatives for PE paper cups due to the increasing awareness of greener and more compostable, sustainable paper cups solutions. Commonly, there is PLA, a corn-based polymer, which is often used as a liner for these cups, making them both renewable and biodegradable. Another popular choice is bamboo fiber, which is not only strong and durable but also fast-growing and low-impact on the environment. Some brands are exploring the use of recycled paper, enhancing the sustainability of their products by reducing waste and conserving natural resources.

Additionally, advancements in technology have led to the development of water-based coatings that are environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional petroleum-based liners. That’s also what Pando is currently providing. Our WBBC paper cups are very popular among many brands especially those who are looking for a more sustainable and 100% green cups. These coatings provide the necessary barrier to liquids without compromising the recyclability of the cup. However, water based coatings are expensive compared to other alternatives yet what we can do is provide affordable prices and top notch quality for our clients.

Efforts to improve the eco-friendliness of paper cups don’t stop at the materials used. We are also implementing practices such as sourcing materials from responsibly managed forests and using soy or vegetable-based inks for printing, which are lower in volatile organic compounds. We are also looking for new tech and method to improve the sustainability of paper cup manufacturing.