Are Packing Tapes Recyclable?

Your standard packaging materials are usually not a concern when it comes to recyclability. In fact, cardboard boxes and packing papers are a staple in the art and science of recycling materials to form other products. Packing tapes, however, are a different story.

packing tape shipping box

Image: Pexels


Can packing tapes be recycled? The short answer is that they can, as long as they are made of paper. And there’s the rub: many of the most popular types of adhesive tape are made of something else. But that doesn’t mean recycling is completely off the table.

In this article, we will briefly discuss which packing tapes are recyclable and how they should be recycled properly.

Recyclable adhesive tape options

When a type of tape is made from combining paper and a natural adhesive, it becomes recyclable or biodegradable. Below are a few of these tape options.

Gummed paper tape

Also known as water-activated tape (WAT), gummed paper tape is typically a mixture of a paper material and a water-based chemical adhesive. It’s the type of tape often used by large online retailers and carriers.

Remember old postage stamps? That’s basically how gummed paper tape is activated. You place a roll of gummed tape  into a custom dispenser which moistens the adhesive surface at the end, giving it the ability to bond. Alternatively, you can also moisten it with a sponge or a cloth. Beside the environmental benefits, people like using gummed paper tape because it tears cleanly and does not leave sticky residue.

While regular gummed tape is the go-to tape for shipping and packaging lighter objects, there is also a much durable type called reinforced gummed tape, which has embedded fiberglass strands. Because it’s stronger and harder to tear, it is usually used to pack heavier loads. The paper on both reinforced and non-reinforced gummed tape is recyclable.

gummed tape

Self-adhesive paper tape

Self-adhesive paper tape is another recyclable tape option. It has a strong resistance to moisture and humidity, and it also requires minimal pressure when applied.

Self-adhesive paper tape is widely used in the craft and framing industry and is often referred to as ‘framing tape’ or ‘framers tape”. 

Are there biodegradable tapes?

The search for zero-waste, eco-friendly, and fully biodegradable tape is a challenge, to say the least, primarily because packing tape is not for long-term use often. There are several options to get our tape usage to zero waste, as new technology is paving the way towards biodegradable and greener options. 

Cellulose tape

Cellulose tape is slowly becoming the poster child for biodegradable tape options. It’s already available in some markets. Its growing popularity is due to its unique combination of durability and renewability.

Cellulose, being one of the main chemical components of wood, may look like petroleum-based plastic on the surface. But because this tape is entirely made from trees, it makes for a great choice for packing heavy materials, especially when paper tape won’t do the job. On top of that, cellulose tape takes longer to break down in landfills than paper tape.

ealing packed carton box with tape

Image: Pexels

Masking tape

The biodegradability of masking tape is a favorite debate subject among adhesive aficionados until this day, but it’s no doubt that it’s one of the handiest types out there.

On paper (pun intended), masking tape is a type of pressure-sensitive tape made of easy-to-tear paper. It is also known as painter’s tape as it is primarily used by painters to mask off the sections that are to be untouched. Therefore, there really isn’t a need for masking tape to be that strong. It also looks a lot like paper tape, so one’s initial assumption would be that it’s biodegradable. 

masking tapes

Image: Pexels

Here’s the thing: For something to be regarded as biodegradable, it must have the ability to be decomposed by living organisms or bacteria. Paper is biodegradable. Technically, masking tapes fall under that category, as most types are made from paper-like material. But for other types of masking tape that contain material other than paper, it’s safe to assume that they’re not 100% biodegradable.

Also some masking tapes are already made from recycled materials, and therefore cannot be recycled again (although some would say it’s still an eco-friendly choice since you’re using something made from recycled material). Either way, masking tape is a good choice for its intended purpose.

Non-reinforced gummed tape

The most obvious option for biodegradable tape is gummed tape, particularly the non-reinforced type, which is entirely made out of paper. And because it contains basically no other material other than paper and the water-soluble plant-based adhesive that goes along with it, it can be left to be recycled with the box. The process of manufacturing gummed tape does not even involve adding any other solvents, which adds to its biodegradability.

It’s more than just making the eco-friendly choice 

Beside doing our research and choosing the packing tapes that are suitable for us, there are some other important factors we also need to consider. 

We need to understand that each kind of packing type has its own unique composition, and thus would break down differently. Just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean they can go into the same recycling bin.

Plastic bags, including mailer bags (classified as Flexible Plastics) should not be put in the same recycle bin as hard plastics such as milk cartons or other plastic containers. They would often get tangled up in the sorting machine, causing the staff to have to get in and detangle it.

For gummed tapes specifically, while the regular gummed tapes are biodegradable, the reinforced ones are not because of the woven fiberglass in those tapes.

What we can do as brand owners is to educate ourselves on how our packaging should be recycled, and inform our customers to make sure the packaging waste is handled properly. Opting for more sustainable packaging options is a huge step forward towards protecting our planets, it would be even more beneficial if we go the final mile and make sure they are recycled/disposed of properly.

Wrapping up

With online shopping becoming the norm, as shop owners, it is important to consider the impact of packaging waste when shipping your products to customers. It may seem like a small thing but they sure add up! USPS sent out millions of packages domestically last year alone. Imagine the number of packaging wraps, shipping boxes, and mailers that ended up in the waste.

We can all do our part to pack responsibly and make sure to share recycling and disposing tips with our customers to make sure the packaging waste ends up in the right facility. 

It’s a great feeling knowing that more people are choosing to go with eco-friendly options, and hopefully, technology can soon create greener alternatives to the common packing tapes that are made using chemicals.

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1 comment

Hello, i appreciate this a lot! I have been trying to find if there is a laminate layer within many gummed paper tapes — this site seems to say there’s a polypropylene layer between 2 sheets of paper in the tape?

I know lamination is a pretty common thing and would guess packages by big companies like Amazon use laminated gummed tape… so i would guess this is reasonably low concern. But I did find this link about how screening out plastics from laminates (mostly food-safe coatings, i think?) is part of the recycling process:

I wish I could find some gummed tapes that did NOT have laminate layers.

Thanks for this site!

Jeffrey Yoo Warren

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