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Paper that Stretches? A Deepish Dive on Stretchable Paper and the Opportunities It Presents

February 22, 2023
Author: Stuart Sharp

We’ve heard it time and time again: Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) initiatives are poised to reshape the global economy from top to bottom within the new few decades.

As individual governments attempt to influence new behaviors among manufacturers and citizens that are in line with ESG goals, some have implemented legislation that either bans or enforces a fee for the use of single-use plastic. For example, just this last year in 2022: 

As a result, companies have been on the hunt for a replacement material that can be used to create a variety of products, is still efficient, and above all, is eco-friendly. The objective is to fall in line with the sustainability demands of consumers while following these new and emerging regulations.

A Paper-Based Alternative to Plastic?

For all its environmental drawbacks, plastics do have a lot of enticing qualities for myriad uses. Plastics maintain strong barrier properties, are cost competitive, low weight per package and a material with high stretch properties. This provides them with versatility that covers both the industrial and consumer spectrum.

If paper could stretch much like plastic, a whole new world of product opportunities for the industry opens up. Natural stretch properties in kraft paper bags like grocery sacks are very low, with about 1.5-3% in machine direction (MD) and 4-5% (highly refined long virgin fiber) in cross direction (CD).

However, ‘stretchy paper’ may be the next new thing of the future for the Pulp and Paper industry. As regulations on single-use plastics are increasing, paper is continuously proving itself to be a worthy player as an alternative.

Stretchable Paper Paving the Way for Sustainable Compliance

Many major players in the industry have been working hard on innovative ideas to help their company enter the market of stretchable packaging and diversify their products.

FPInnovations for example has developed a paper-mill-friendly approach to stretchable paper that can reach up to 20% stretch – more than double the percentage of paper’s typical stretch capability. The new patented stretchable paper technology developed by FPInnovations meets end-use requirements for potential new product lines while still ensuring stretch that is above traditional specifications.

The stretchable paper from FPInnovations is made up mainly of wood fibers and includes the addition of an extensible polymer. However, depending on mill setups, its production may not require significant capital investments.

Another example is Gruppo X’s patented Papermorphosis® technology. This technology, unlike FPInnovations, is advertised as being manufactured from 100% cellulosic material including recycled fibers.

With the installation of two patented units which uses principles from the expired CluPack Technology patents, Papermorphosis® can transform a conventional paper machine into one capable of producing a stretchable, fabric-like material that acts like thin plastic in a short timeframe. Papermorphosis® micro-shrinks the paper in the machine direction on one unit, and in the cross direction on a second unit, first using special cylinders after the forming section and before the drying section in a paper machine to deliver stretchable paper.

Increasing paper stretch, among other criteria, allows traditional printing and writing paper producers to enter new market segments such as flexible packaging. This segment is currently dominated by plastic-containing products.

Not only does this open the door to opportunities for the pulp and paper industry, it provides a solution for companies and consumers in search of more sustainable options.

Understanding Stretchable Paper and Its Future

However, some important questions to consider include:

  • What are the costs per ton of paper and per converted finished product associated with the production of stretchable paper?
  • How will demand for stretchable paper look in the future?
  • What will the converted product characteristics be after printing, gluing and perhaps laminating?
  • In addition to being a potential disruptive technology for single-use plastic packages common in food service and stretch-wrap films, how could this impact current kraft paper, corrugated medium and linerboard as well as FBB applications?

For a deeper look into the future of stretchable paper and to stay on top of any news surrounding this topic, talk with an expert at Fisher International today. You can also learn more about how Fisher International’s analytics platform, FisherSolve, can provide you with detailed information on every paper and pulp mill in the world for both market and competitive analyses.

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