Is all paper recyclable

Paper, cardboard and cardboard


Paper, cardboard and cardboard are very inexpensive and lightweight packaging materials. However, it is only suitable for dry products such as flour or pasta. Cardboard boxes for non-dry and fatty foods, such as pizza or milk cartons, so-called composite cardboard, are provided with an additional inner coating. It consists, for example, of polyethylene or aluminum. Due to the coating, composite materials must not be disposed of with waste paper.

Today, over 70 percent of paper is recycled both for environmental reasons and for cost reasons. A large part of all cardboard packaging is produced with the addition of waste paper, and many cardboard boxes for food packaging are also made from recycled paper.


Uncoated paper, cardboard and cardboard do not form a barrier to moisture or oxygen.

Recycled cardboard boxes also contain mostly undesirable substances. These include, for example, mineral oil components in the printing inks of newspapers or bisphenol A from receipts. Since these chemicals are water-soluble and adhere well to paper fibers, they can contaminate the waste paper. New paper products or printing processes that have not been tested for their influence on the recycling cycle also pose a problem.

Not only is the use of waste paper for packaging with direct food contact, such as cereals or rice, at risk. In a research project by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, food in recycled cardboard boxes was significantly contaminated with mineral oil hydrocarbons, plasticizers and printing ink components at the end of their best-before date. Over 250 potentially migrating substances were detected in recycled cardboard.

The introduction of a plastic barrier as inner packaging or the coating of the cardboard boxes are considered to be a way of reducing migration to a harmless level and are already often found in practice. The draft of the so-called Mineral Oil Ordinance provides for regulations for the transition from mineral oil from food packaging made using recycled paper to food. Consumers should thus be better protected from the adverse health effects of these substances. As consumer advice centers, we criticize in particular that the planned regulation does not include the outer boxes and has not progressed beyond the draft stage since 2011.

Food packaging is extensively printed for information and advertising purposes. Studies have shown that printing inks contain substances that are hazardous to health, some of which have carcinogenic and mutagenic properties. In order to protect consumers from possible health hazards when dealing with printed food contact materials, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has therefore launched a draft ordinance which, among other things, provides for a positive list of substances that may be used for such printing: the so-called printing inks ordinance. The current draft has now been notified to the EU Commission.


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