The 100% recycled paperboard Conversion Guide


Created by the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance (RPA-100%), this guide answers some of the most common questions that packaging professionals are faced with when they consider converting virgin grades of paperboard or other fiber and resin-based packaging alternatives to 100% recycled paperboard.

First, some definitions. Virgin grades of paperboard are substrates made from the harvesting and processing of trees. One- hundred percent recycled paperboard is made from 100% recovered fiber collected from post-consumer and post-industrial sources. There are two forms of 100% recycled paperboard – coated recycled paperboard (CRB) and uncoated recycled paperboard (URB).

CRB is used to package a wide range of goods, including dry and frozen foods, household products, ready-to-eat meals, pharmaceuticals, fast food, beverages, electronics products, health and beauty products and more. General Mills, Kellogg’s, Safeway, and Alcoa-Reynolds Consumer Products are just a few of the more than 200 companies that trust 100% recycled paperboard to package their products.

URB also has a variety of uses among within consumer products (school and office supplies, game boards and boxes, hard-bound book covers, pressurized laminates for flooring and countertops, household product cores), consumer packaging (skin/blister packaging, interior packaging partitions), retail displays (point-of-purchase display cases, set-up boxes) and industrial supplies (fiber drums, air filter frames, thermo coupling testing device rods, among other uses).

The three leading reasons that consumer packaged goods companies make the switch from virgin paperboard to 100% recycled paperboard (either CRB or URB) are environmental benefits, performance qualities and cost. The following pages contain details of each of these areas, as well as other considerations when making the decision to convert to 100% recycled paperboard.

The Selection Process

Customization & Versatility Several manufacturers of CRB regularly produce light caliper grades, including .012 and .014. The most widely used and evident example of this is the use of 100% recycled paperboard in express mail envelopes.

One hundred percent recycled paperboard has the unique ability to be completely customized. It can be poly-coated where needed or designed to be fully recyclable without poly-coating within the production process for applications such as:

  • Moisture Vapor Transfer
  • Moisture Transfer Resistance
  • Mold Resistance
  • Anti-Tarnish
  • Oil Grease Resistance
  • Opacity
  • Special Color Outer Liners
  • Special Color Inner Plies
  • Customized Coating and/or Colors
  • Coefficient of Friction Surface Treatments

The above attributes are built into CRB during the paperboard’s production of paperboard and become a specified inherent part of the paperboard grade, thus avoiding costly third- and fourth-party conversion processes.

Several 100% recycled paperboard manufacturers currently have grades available with a “white back” or white-inside surface. This is achieved by using a high percentage of a variety of white recovered papers as furnish (raw material) for the inside ply of the paperboard.

Quality & Cleanliness

CRB is accepted by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under guidelines regarding direct and indirect food contact (refer to FDA guidelines 21 CFR 176.260, which permits the use of reclaimed fiber; 21 CFR 176.170, which governs the acceptable components of food grade board to be used in aqueous and fatty food applications; 21 CFR 176.180, which governs the acceptable components of food grade board to be used in dry food applications).

100% Recycled Paperboard & Contaminents

Because eliminating metals is so critical to industry customers and to consumers, the CRB/URB industry has designed new cleaning systems at recycled paperboard mills to trap and eliminate all types of contaminents.

The recycled paperboard industry routinely uses high-gain metal detectors to ensure that no metal makes it through the process. CRB/URB is routinely used in the packaging of food products that also must pass through a metal detector once they are packed.

100% Recycled Paperboard & Other Contaminants

The 100% recycled paperboard industry began testing for PCB levels in the 1960s following discoveries of carbon copy paper with high PCB levels contaminating other recovered fiber. Since that time, carbon copy paper producers have eliminated PCBs and today there are no identified sources of PCBs in the secondary fiber stream. This means that any threat posed from high levels of PCBs in 100% recycled paperboard has been eliminated.

The recycled paperboard industry relies on high quality recovered fiber to ensure the cleanliness of the finished paperboard. The industry has made significant capital investments in the systems used for cleaning and preparing the incoming fiber. But the industry relies on a consistently high quality clean stream of recovered fiber for the production of CRB.

Graphics & Visual Appeal

The 100% recycled paperboard industry now has many grades of paperboard that have comparable smoothness characteristics to virgin substrates. CRB/URB surfaces accept all the same modern enhancements available to consumer packaged goods companies, like hot foil stamping, UV coating and embossing.

Consumer Preferences

Surveys have shown that 77% of consumers feel better about a company that uses 100% recycled paperboard packaging and 67% would buy a product packaged in CRB/URB before they would buy the same or similar product packaged in virgin paperboard.

In addition, research shows that customers don’t always want white backsides. As more and more CRB/URB is used in the marketplace (today more than 50% of all packaging is made from 100% recycled paperboard), a light grey or tan inside has become commonplace and is widely accepted, if not preferred. Consumers now see the light grey or tan on the inside as another indication that the package is made from environmentally friendly materials.

Production Considerations

Quality Control & Consistency

The 100% recycled paperboard industry uses quality and process control systems as sophisticated as those used in any other industry. With these sophisticated systems, manufacturers are able to tightly control quality and consistency, especially as it relates to moisture content and profile control. These systems deliver highly consistent quality from grade to grade and run to run.

Folding Carton Production & Filling Line Considerations

The 100% recycled paperboard industry has benefited from the technical advances made in the conversion of paperboard into packaging. CRB performs side-by-side with virgin grades of paperboard on the high speed printing presses, die cutters and finishing equipment of converters. It is also routinely used for packaging health and beauty products, which require the strictest cleanliness standards.

Because of the need to perform on high speed printing and converting equipment as well as high speed filling lines, the moisture content (which is the root cause of warp and curl) is finely controlled. Technical advances now allow for very tight control of the manufacturing of CRB leading to the highest levels of consistency of the moisture content of finished product.

CRB is used everyday to package billions of products in some of the most demanding automated systems in the world, including all of North America’s leading facial tissue manufacturers. A 2005 RPA-100% survey noted that some consumer goods companies’ plant management personnel prefer recycled paperboard over virgin grades of paperboard because cartons made from 100% recycled paperboard open with less resistance, allowing for faster line speeds.

In a 2005 survey of consumer products good’s companies, a manufacturing plant employee stated that, “we prefer the recycled paperboard, it runs better on our equipment.”


In recent competitions sponsored by the Paperboard Packaging Council and the National Paperbox Association, packaging made from recycled paperboard has received top honors and awards for design innovation and quality. In a recent Paperboard Packaging Council ( publication it was noted that, “paperboard provides the consumer convenience, protects the product and communicates value.” Packaging made from CRB/URB has the added benefit of being the most environmentally responsible choice.

RPA-100% as a Resource

RPA-100% is available to help companies analyze the benefits of converting to 100% recycled paperboard. RPA-100% Executive Director Paul Schutes, a packaging professional with more than 30 years of industry experience, provides assistance to companies that are looking for information on the conversion process.

RPA-100% offers companies the opportunity to identify 100% recycled paperboard packaging through its licensing program, which began in 1995. The “100% Recycled Paperboard” symbol is provided to users of CRB or URB when they sign on as an RPA-100% licensee. The RPA-100% symbol was created and trademarked after use of the “chasing arrows” recycling logo became widespread on a variety of materials that were either recyclable or made of recycled materials.

Only the “100% Recycled Paperboard” symbol identifies a package as 100% recycled paperboard and 100% recyclable. Licenses for the “100% Recycled Paperboard” symbol are available at no charge by request through

As an added benefit, once companies have converted to 100% recycled paperboard, RPA-100% will work with the partner company to promote its conversion in the media. Conversion case studies have been written in publications such as Board Converting News, Official Board Markets, Packaging World and Paperboard Packaging.


The greenhouse gases that are prevented are equal to removing 54 cars from the road each year.

Learn More


What is 100% recycled paperboard? How is it made? How does it compare to virgin paper grades? What are the advantages in using it for packaging products?

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