Poly (PE) Replacement Barrier Coatings and Test Methods

Barrier Coatings

More and more printers and converters are responding to requests for paper and paperboard coatings that can replace petroleum based extrusion coated polyethylene (PE) or Poly Replacement. Alternative barrier coating products that are safe for the environment are in favor due to brand marketers, legislative, political and consumer pressure.

Poly (PE) Replacement Barrier Coatings

The aim is to reduce the use of petroleum based plastics. The vast majority of polyethylene coated substrate is dumped into landfills where the paper portion degrades quickly, while the PE portion is estimated to take decades to breakdown. Polyethylene has dominated as a barrier coating in packaging applications because of its low cost, versatile properties, and the ease with which it processes.

Poly (PE) coated paperboard and paper is considered to be “bullet proof” by many offering an over-kill in terms of barrier performance. Therefore, these substrates are broadly accepted and are generally not subjected to barrier testing by printers or converters.

However. while poly coating offers:

  • Good Water Resistance
  • Moderate MVTR Permeability
  • Good Grease Resistance

It at the same time is:

  • Highly Permeable to Oxygen- Gases
  • A Poor Odor Barrier
Cork Industry Solves Poly Replacement

Cork Industries, long in the aqueous coating business, has developed a line of FDA direct food contact compliant barrier coatings that are providing an alternative to (PE) coated paper and paperboard. These coatings are often application specific as they can be formulated across a wide range of desired properties. Because of this, barrier performance testing has come into the picture.

Applications for barrier coatings include food bags and wraps, food trays, plates, take out containers and cups, folding cartons and boxes, flexible packaging, and other protective packaging.  Food packaging & food service products can rapidly lose their appeal to consumers if grease and oil staining, or water degrade their appearance.

Cork has developed Green Aqueous Protective Barrier Coatings have these Important Properties:

  • Oil & Grease Resistant
  • Liquid Water Resistant
  • Low in Odor Permeability
  • Recyclable and Compostable
  • Biodegradable
  • From Sustainable & Renewable Rresources
  • Direct Food Contact FDA Compliant

Other Desirable Properties of Cork's Barrier Coatings include:

  • Ease of Aapplication
  • Non-Blocking
  • Flexibility
  • Absence of Pinholes
  • Consistent COF
  • Heat Resistance
  • Gloss

Water based barrier coatings are water-based dispersions of film forming polymer(s), additives, and possibly pigments. These barrier coatings give useful properties when applied to paper and paperboard. Paper and paperboard substrates are biodegradable and sustainable, provide mechanical strength, printability, opacity, and are cost effective.

Barrier Coating Properties, End Uses, and Relevant Tests
Moisture Resistance (Water or Vapor)
  • Folding Cartons
  • Multi-Wall Bags
  • Corrugated Boxes
  • Deli Containers

The most common test method is TAPPI T 441 om-98 (commonly referred to as the “Cobb Test”). In the EU, surface water absorption is measured using the Cobb test in accordance with ISO 5351. The water absorption is expressed in g/m².

Other test methods include testing with a MOCON unit or TAPPI T 448 om-09. In the EU, they may also perform a water absorption, wick test. Water absorption at the paperboard edge is measured using a Wick test. The paperboard surface is sealed with waterproof tape on both sides. The sample is weighed, placed in water at 80°C for 20 minutes and reweighed. The amount of water absorbed by wicking is expressed in kg/m².

Oil and Grease Resistance
  • Folding Cartons
  • Fast Food Containers
  • Meat Packaging
  • Deli Containers


The most common test method is TAPPI T 559 cm-12 (commonly referred to as the “Kit Test”). Other test methods include TAPPI T 507 cm-99, and customer-specific tests.

Aroma Barrier
  • Candies
  • Chocolate
  • Tobacco Products
  • Food Products (may require an Antimicrobial Additive)

Test methods include GC-Olfactory techniques—often customer-specific.
MOCON (www.mocontesting.com) is one company that provides these services.

Chemical resistance
  • Alcohol
  • pH

Test methods include TAPPI T 559 cm-12 (commonly referred to as the “Kit Test”) and, typically, customer-specific tests.

Recommended Cork Aqueous Barrier Coatings

CK-83HV Chemical, Grease, and Moisture Barrier tested for dryer sheet boxes.

CK-6981Z-3 Poly Replacement Coating for donut and bakery boxes.

CK-71-93C Oil and Grease Resistant coating for French fry bags, clam shells, and pizza boxes.

Consult Cork coating expects to explore available aqueous barrier coatings designed to meet specific product application requirements, and in doing so replace (PE) coated paper & paperboard substrates.

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About the Author

Elmer W. Griese Jr, having accumulated 35+ years of knowledge working in the coatings and printing ink industries has now authored the Cork Tech Talk News, newsletter since 1992 producing 112 issues. He remains dedicated to educating and illuminating technological progress that offers the potential to advance coating technology and its applications.

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