Paper tape on parcel

Gummed paper tape (or Water Activated Tape as it is otherwise known) has been around since the 1800’s and was the only viable way to seal a cardboard carton. The mass production of pressure sensitive tape from the 1930’s by the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company (now known as 3M and a global organisation) commenced the steady decline of gummed tape usage. By the end of the 20th Century, the demise of gummed tape seemed to be complete. It took the advent of Amazon and other e-commerce operators to reverse this trend and fan the dying embers into a furnace. And for the right reasons too.  It ticks all the environmental boxes without having any ‘nasties’! So is that the only reason why Amazon use it? Let’s find out more about the tape we’ve all become so much more familiar with thanks to Mr Bezos!

Is paper tape cheaper and easier to use?

It’s generally considered to be more economical in use. So for the rest of us without huge buying power (like Amazon) the tape may not be cheaper per metre. However savings accrue because fewer metres are needed per package. So a single ‘U’ strip on small and an ‘H’ on larger parcels would certainly do the job!

Then there is its compatibility with the more fibrous surface of recycled (or re-used) corrugated boxes that many like to use these days. It soaks into the paper surface creating a tamper-proof, permanent seal which will help ‘rigidify’ the package once dry. By contrast, cheaper plastic parcel tapes generally struggle to adhere properly to fibrous surfaces. Plastic tape can ‘unstick’ overnight. This means it could cause the contents of parcels to be strewn around the distribution chain and not arrive at the intended destination!

The remedy has been to either a) upgrade to premium PVC tape and b) upgrade the carton outer skin to contain more virgin fibres or c) cover the same cartons with huge amounts of the same tape. All these outcomes are expensive, tipping the financial scales strongly towards paper! Throw into the mix the risk of pilfered items from your consignments. Where brown plastic tape is used for sealing, it’s easy for a thief to lift up or cut the tape. It’s even possible for items to be removed and the box be resealed without showing any sign of damage. This means paper tape provides more security for your parcels, hence the prolific use by Amazon.

Speeding up the process

For volume users, the fastest and most economical use of paper tape involves the investment in the latest generation of electronic dispensers. Not only will a ‘magic eye’ size-up the critical three dimensions of the carton, but it means it can produce the 3 pieces of tape to the correct lengths. Programmable so they will also arrive in the right order, the strips are ready-creased and pre-wetted. The tape is manageable and will not curl back on itself either. Rather nifty!

If the budget is less creative, then gummed tape dispensers start from about £40 but rely on the operator’s judgement to pull through the right length of wet tape for the task. Somewhere in the middle  price-wise are lever-operated dispensers. These can produce the exact strip lengths that the operator pre-selects.

The packer benefits in other ways too. Instead of needing to manoeuvre a loaded hand carton sealer all day, tape can be placed precisely on the parcel using once it has been ejected from the compact dispenser sitting handily on the bench-top. In this way, risks of RSI and fatigue are all eliminated.

Loading a Water Activated Paper Tape Machine

Loading a Water Activated Paper Tape Machine

Pressure sensitive paper tape

Have you decided that you need to move away from plastic tapes but gummed paper tapes are a step too far? There is a middle ground and it incorporates the best of both worlds. The medium is still paper which may be crepe or smooth, with either hot-melt or natural rubber adhesive. The tape can be applied by hand or by using any standard hand case sealer at a cost of about £9. The bonding is as instantaneous as when using plastic tape. The rolls are 50 meters and standard widths are 1”, 2” (48mm) and 3” (70mm). The tape does not need to be removed from the paper or cardboard because it’s also recyclable! Paper tape may be branded with one or more ink colours to build brand awareness and increase security in transit.

And the best benefit of all with paper tape…

Reinforced paper tape

The tape of choice by Amazon – reinforced paper tape!

Finally, we’re back to where we started. The benefit to the environment can be the game changer. The recycling of cartons and paper sacks that have been sealed with gummed paper tape could not be more straightforward. The main product is Kraft paper which is exactly the same ingredients as the box or paper bag. The adhesive is made from corn starch and the printing inks (if branded) are generally vegetable-based which all ensures it’s green credentials. No extra processes are required on the part of the paper tape. Sadly, that’s not the case with plastic tape which is notoriously difficult to separate and is never fully recyclable or degradable.

If your packages are generally heavy then it would be best to use paper tape with a fabric reinforcement. This adds good resistance to tearing under load. Most households in the UK will have received a parcel from the largest of etailers and experienced the tough reinforced paper tape.  Generally this performs better than all but the dearest of plastic tapes and the reinforced version is fully recyclable.

What next?

You will find paper tapes used for purposes such as picture framing, both traditional (using gummed) and modern (using pressure sensitive). One of our art gallery customers uses it both for its aesthetic qualities as well as its green credentials which means they get the best of both worlds. The adhesive is generally permanent and this makes the distinction from paper masking tape.

Paper tape use is definitely making a comeback.  Time will tell how much of the market-share it will claw back from plastic. By sourcing thicker, more resilient papers, manufacturers can offer a range of paper tapes that will increasingly match or exceed the performance of plastic tape. Sometimes, ‘going green’ can cost a lot of money. But not always. Paper tape does give the benefit of similar pricing and similar performance with a sound and visible environmental benefit.

So that’s good news all round isn’t it?

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