We recently calculated that every year, we sell enough packing tape to circle the Equator 6,672 times. That’s a lot of tape. This isn’t even our major product line; we must be a drop in the bucket in terms of global usage. So what’s happening to all the plastic tape being used worldwide?

The problem with most packing tape is that it isn’t particularly good for the environment. Most of it is made from polypropylene or vinyl, neither of which is biodegradable, and removing it from scrap cartons adds to the cost of cardboard recycling.

One challenge faced by greener substitutes is the popular perception that they don’t offer commercially-viable alternatives. To prove this wrong, we are not going to look at a revolutionary new technology, but actually go back to a product that once looked threatened by plastic tape.

Envelope flaps and postage stamps that were once moistened before they were sealed now use a pressure-sensitive adhesive, so it might seem strange – regressive, even – to replace pressure-sensitive tapes with ones that require moisture to activate the adhesive. Well, first the good news – water activated tape dispensers moisten the tape for you, so you won’t be expected to lick it. The adhesive is also a lot thicker than on an old-fashioned envelope flap or stamp and will grip instantly to cardboard. You won’t have to hold it in place until it dries.

Gummed paper tape – or water activated kraft paper tape to give it the full official title – is as eco-friendly as a tree-hugger. The kraft paper is manufactured from sustainable softwoods and the adhesive is 100% natural starch. This means that it is fully biodegradable and can be recycled along with scrap cartons without any additional separation or filtering processes.

If you need evidence that this is a commercially viable alternative, consider this fact: water activated tape is used exclusively by the world’s largest ecommerce order fulfilment company – don’t worry Jeff, we won’t mention your company by name – and is rapidly being adopted throughout the sector.

Don’t be put off by the higher cost per metre compared with plastic tape; it has been scientifically, independently tested and found to be more cost-effective. Here’s why:

  • The adhesive sticks instantly to cardboard, even if it’s low grade, previously used or not entirely flat, so packers don’t feel tempted to add a few more overlapping strips ‘just in case’ and tape usage and packing time are both considerably reduced.
  • Electronic water activated tape dispensers dispense pre-moistened tape to precise lengths, reducing tape wastage.
  • In auto mode, the dispenser will prepare and hold a length of tape while the previous length is being applied, giving the packer both hands free to fold and seal the carton. If cartons are H-sealed, some dispensers can produce the different tape lengths in the correct sequence. This impressively speeds up packing time.

Water activated tapes continue to cut operational costs long after a consignment has been packed and despatched.

  • The adhesive actually penetrates the fibres of the cardboard and effectively welds it to the tape, creating a stronger, entirely permanent bond. This improves carton rigidity and reduces the risk of tape burst, so contents are kept intact and undamaged.
  • The bond will also resist deliberate attempts to pilfer from or tamper with carton contents (did you know that plastic tape can be softened with a hairdryer and removed without trace?) and leave indelible evidence if this has happened.

Southgate® is the UK’s largest wholesale supplier of machinery and consumables to the packaging distributor market and is constantly developing its product range to increase customer productivity and eco-credentials.

Tegrabond® water activated tapes and tape dispensers, Pacplus® MSK masking tapes and Pacplus® ECO-X kraft adhesive tapes are all Southgate eco-products available from their network of approved distributors throughout the UK and across Europe.

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