The Tech Box
Recyclable Wax Alternatives
For the corrugated packaging industry, every day is corrugated recycles day. It’s true - recycling boxes is a key element in our business model, with over 90% of box production recovered and the average box containing 50% recycled content.
Are there boxes that can’t be recycled? Yes, a small amount, BUT the industry continues work to ensure that only boxes with specific conditions – such as HazMats – enter the landfill in the future.
The corrugated industry has traditionally used wax as a moisture barrier to preserve the strength of a corrugated container holding wet or iced products such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood.
Wax coatings cannot be easily recycled for the same reason they’re used - because they do not dissolve in water.
To develop recyclable alternatives, the corrugated industry worked for a decade in partnership with suppliers and containerboard mills who use old corrugated containers (OCC) as feedstock. In 2005, Fibre Box Association (FBA) published a recyclability standard,
Voluntary Standard for Repulping and Recycling Corrugated Fiberboard Treated to Improve Its Performance in the Presence of Water and Water Vapor
that identifies wax alternatives that have been tested and proven, certified recyclable for mills to readily process.
The development of recyclable alternatives has increased the amount of corrugated packaging that can be recycled. In 2019, the corrugated industry shipped 19.1 billion square feet of boxes using recyclable wax alternative coatings. Progress has been made in replacing wax impregnated and curtain-coated boxes with recyclably treated corrugated boxes. Fifty-seven recyclable wax alternatives have passed certification testing for repulpability and recyclability and have been registered with FBA.
The synergy of our industry’s continued focus on environmental-performance improvement and retailers’ recognition of the marketing and sustainability opportunities of which using wax alternatives is an example, has made minimal non-recyclability of corrugated products an attainable goal. The wax-alternative recyclability standard has served the industry well for the past 15 years, but FBA is looking into ways to adapt it to current testing and modern packaging needs.
This is where you come in. If your company manufactures boxes with wax alternatives or if you still use wax coatings, we need your help. Any feedback you can provide on updating the standard to ensure progress continues in the elimination of non-recyclable boxes is much appreciated.
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Mary Alice Drain is the Director of Technical Services at Fibre Box Association (FBA). If you have technical questions about the corrugated industry, you can reach her direct at