Finnish innovators have invented a new material to wrap up the packaging market – no plastic, no harmful chemicals and completely recyclable

Kotkamills has developed a new paperboard material that can be totally recycled after use. The material is water- and greaseproof, but that is achieved without using plastics, and it also does not contain harmful fluorochemicals. Packaging for food and drinks normally uses polyethylene coating to achieve the same features, which makes recycling difficult and expensive, so waste board is usually incinerated.

Kotkamills, based in the southern Finnish coastal town of Kotka, has developed a chemical combination, which changes the paperboard’s properties to make it naturally resistant to grease and liquids – at least long enough for its use by consumers. The company’s coffee cups were recently tested by YLE and were found able to hold hot and soft drinks for more than two days.

The resistance even worked for alcoholic beverages, though only for a couple of hours. But YLE pointed out that 39% of all disposable paper cups on the market are only able to contain spirits for a few hours – and that’s still more than enough for the overwhelming majority of consumers.

The new coating is, needless to say, a closely guarded secret. Kotkamills CEO Markku Hämäläinen revealed that he and a colleague developed the chemical mixture to form a coating that combines the proofing needed whilst the product is being manufactured with seams that keep together and do not tear or leak when being used.

The end product is totally recyclable after the ink has been removed during the pulping process and involves no fluorine compounds whatsoever. The quality is high enough that the recycled pulp can even be made into copy-grade paper, as the paperboard contains a large amount of short fibre.

The new packaging product, marketed under Kotkamills’ AEGLE brand, has already received certification and orders from Germany, Norway, UK as well as Finland.

“It’s mostly folding box board for consumer products such as packaging for medicines, cosmetics and alcohol,” Hämäläinen says, “Though a combination of folding box board and barrier board is also used for food packaging such as chocolate and frozen fish.”

Although Hämäläinen cannot name potential customers for the cup stock, it is whispered that major brand owners such as McDonald’s and Starbucks have shown interest in Kotkamills’ ISLA-brand paper cup, which awaits final certification after having passed thorough testing.

“Now we will start marketing the cups and I am sure orders will come fast as the brands are eagerly waiting to use it as soon as the necessary qualifications have been granted - by August at the latest,” he told Business Insider Nordic.

“Fluorochemicals are still widely used in fast food packaging, even though studies have shown them to be unhealthy and may cause cancers,” Hämäläinen, “Our products are moisture-resistant without presenting a health hazard.”

Kotkamills’ new main owner, Finnish private equity MB Funds, was behind the €170 million ($196 million) conversion of a board machine last year as part of a €210 million upgrade of the whole Kotka plant. With 400,000 tons in annual capacity “There is more than enough to satisfy European annual demand of a maximum of 300,000 tons, some of which do not need plastic-free quality for all uses, so we will target the USA, which is much bigger.”

Hämäläinen is confident of the new products’ success. Green should turn into gold as there are no similar rival products, neither in folding board packaging nor disposable cups.

Read more news of Helsinki.

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