Is Your Business Using the Right Packing Tape for Packages?

The green movement is here and we’re eliminating plastic bags and straws as part of that.  It’s time to eliminate plastic packing tape as well.  Just like consumers and businesses are trying to replace plastic bags and straws with eco-friendly alternatives, they should be replacing plastic packing tape with an eco-friendly option – paper tape. Green Business Bureau has previously discussed the many options for eco-friendly boxes and packaging materials to replace things like plastic bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts. This article digs deep into eco-friendly options for packing tape that are reliable and secure for shipping packages.

Plastic packing tape is detrimental to the environment

The most common forms of plastic tape are polypropylene or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and they are generally less expensive than paper tape. Cost can typically drive the initial purchasing decision but does not always tell the product’s complete story. With plastic, you may use extra tape to further secure the package and its contents. If you find yourself double taping or taping completely around the package, you just used extra material, added to labor costs and increased the amount of damaging plastic that ends up in landfills and oceans.

Eco-friendly Paper Tape Options

Paper tapes are a better eco-friendly option and typically come in two forms: non-reinforced which is simply kraft paper with adhesive for lighter packages, and reinforced which consists of fiberglass strands for supporting heavier packages. Paper tape is also sometimes called gummed paper tape, gum tape, paper packing tape or brown paper tape. Here are some purchasing options to consider:

  • Paper tape is easy to source locally at your nearby office supply store such as Staples or Walmart.
  • You can buy from online packaging stores like or EcoEnclose.
  • Amazon has some great options including this Kraft Flatback Carton Sealing Tape with Paper Backing.
  • Fiberglass reinforced paper tape that can be branded is available from Uline. It is possible to recycle reinforced paper tape – if your facility accepts it – but keep in mind that the fiberglass strands must be separated out and will most likely end up in the landfill.

Water Activated Eco-friendly Paper Tape

Paper water-activated tape (WAT) is the most common paper tape solution and is typically made of white or tan paper with a starch-based adhesive. Known for its tough backing and reliable bond, this unassuming brown tape can fulfill many creative needs and is often called Kraft paper tape. When using paper tapes, you will need to apply water to activate the adhesive.

Water Activated Paper Tape Application

Water-activated tape is applied using a manual or electric paper tape dispenser that cuts the tape to the desired length and automatically applies the appropriate amount of water to activate the adhesive. You can also use table mounted dispensers that have a small water reservoir and are easily set to produce a consistent length of tape per use. When the tape is applied to a carton, the adhesive penetrates the surface, forming a permanent bond. The advantage: one piece of tape. This means less material used and waste generated, and an added bonus: customers can easily tell if someone tampered with their package.

Cost Comparison of Using Plastic Versus Paper Tape

The true cost of using paper tape is not significantly greater than plastic tape, even though the hard cost of plastic tape rolls may be cheaper. It is important to look at the actual total expense of shipping each package. Although plastic tape typically costs less per foot than water-activated paper tape, packers generally use multiple strips of plastic tape to wrap a package. That is not the case for water-activated paper tape. It creates a strong seal with one strip which changes the cost equation. Application of plastic tape tends to be very inexact and workers often use strips that are longer than needed adding to the total material usage. Further, using a plastic tape gun is not always efficient as tape can bunch together and adhere to itself leading to waste.

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The Hidden Costs of Plastic Tape

The quantity of tape used is not the only true cost. There are a number of hidden costs with using plastic tape that must be considered:

  • Product damage –  The money saved on “cheap” packing tape and materials are lost when a package opens in transit and the contents are damaged. One incident can easily cost a company hundreds of dollars in replacement and investigation costs.
  • Stolen items – Packages with plastic tape are easily tampered with and it’s not uncommon to have the contents of a package stolen. This is harder to do with paper tape, especially with branded tape that is not easily replaced or repaired.
  • Reputation damage – The quality of your shipping and services is critical to your brand and reputation. If a package looks unprofessional, tampered with, uncared for due to the sloppy application of multiple strips of plastic tape, it can have a negative impact on your brand.
  • Lost marketing opportunities –  Water-activated tape can be customized and branded. It can include a brand enforcement message to amplify the brand. The brand can also be seen along the shipping route to create more brand awareness.

Environmental Impact of Plastic Tape

Our focus in this article has been on the environmental and sustainable impact of packing tape, not on the engineering specification of specific use cases. Both paper and plastic tapes are available in a variety of widths and differing amounts of adhesive strength.  You can work with your vendor to select the most appropriate criteria based on weight, size and type of material. For highly valuable contents, you can also hire engineers to conduct tests of adhesion and strength to ensure the package will arrive undamaged.

Our Recommendation: Water-Activated Paper Tape

Our bottom line, if you want to lower your ‘plastic footprint” and your environmental impact, please consider paper tape. The total cost might surprise you and your customers will love you for it. Of course, Green Business Bureau loves the fact that most paper packaging tapes are completely biodegradable, recyclable and reputable. But there are other business benefits of using paper tape as well:

1. You’ll use less material compared to using plastic tape.

2. It acts as a security system for your products.

3. It maintains its seal through extreme temperature, light and humidity.

4. It retains its integrity if punctured.

5. You can use it for marketing and branding.

It’s a no brainer. Use paper tape.

Check out our Sustainable Packaging Guide for more information and recommendations on the latest eco-friendly packaging materials.

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