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If you’ve already read our article on the sustainability of paper packaging tape, then you may remember when we said that it was probably no surprise that paper tape is the most sustainable type of packaging tape. Well, here’s where it gets tricky. Why? Because while WAT (water activated tape) is also technically a tape made of paper, it’s actually the least sustainable of common packaging tapes available today. There’s a lot more going on with WAT’s makeup than just the brown paper it’s disguised as.

This type of tape is unfortunately a victim of green-washing, as many big shippers will have you believe that IT IS fully recyclable. Some of the largest global online retailers that deliver daily to our neighborhoods and businesses are guilty of this.

There is also a lot of inconsistent information and misinformation when it comes to the recyclability of certain tapes, WAT included. Even environmental awareness leaders like the Sierra Club suggest that you reach out to your local recycling center to find out what they accept, because it could vary from location to location

WAT is a paper-backed tape with a water-activated adhesive front. The bond created between WAT and the surface it is put on tends to be stronger than with film tapes because of the synthetic fibers sandwiched between the paper and the adhesive. It’s often – deceivingly – referred to as a “gummed” paper tape.

While there are ways to recycle fiberglass, it’s not easy, affordable, or even done many places.

When the adhesive in WAT is moistened, it creates a strong bond with porous surfaces. So, it’s sought after as tape to protect the contents of a box well, prevent tampering, and withstand harsh weather.

What is important to pay attention to is the difference between reinforced WAT, and WAT that is not reinforced. There is a small segment of water activated tapes on the market that are just paper tape without the addition of the synthetic fibers. So unfortunately, WAT can get misidentified as paper tape. When we refer to WAT here, we are referring to reinforced WAT, which is what is most commonly used in packaging. In fact, reinforced WAT makes up the largest part of the water activated tape market today.



Here’s why WAT is not sustainable.

  • The synthetic fibers that are a signature of its strength and makeup, are not kind to the environment or production efficiency.
  • Fiberglass – which is what the synthetic fibers are made of – is not very eco-friendly or easy to recycle.
  • When WAT is put through a machine for application, it ends up being very expensive and more labor intensive, because those pesky synthetic fibers get caught up and constantly need to be cleaned out.
  • It is extremely difficult, and nearly impossible, to automate WAT application due to high equipment and maintenance costs.
  • That extra maintenance required to keep the application machine working, the added cost of labor, and the lack of automation that causes waste in the process, contribute to it being a less sustainable option.

All of this said, WAT is still one of the most widely used products by companies shipping packages on a large scale today.

So, at the end of the day it can be confusing deciding whether or not to go the WAT route.

If you’re unsure what packaging tape is right for your needs, be sure you are asking questions about product makeup, recyclability, and automation when sourcing. Industry leaders in packaging, like BestPack, can help guide you in selecting the right tape to get the job done. Sustainability is important in the packaging tape industry. We are focused on providing as many sustainable options for our business partners as possible. We are not alone in our industry, and while innovations are being made every day, there is certainly still a long way to go.


To learn more about other packaging tape options view our posts on:


  • Paper tape
  • BOPP acrylic tape
  • Hot melt


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