Water activated tape (also known as gummed paper tape) is quickly becoming the carton sealer of choice in the order fulfilment sector, with the world’s largest operations using it exclusively in favour of plastic tapes. The benefits of WAT include tamper evidence, improved presentation, cost savings and increased productivity with reduced operator fatigue.

An integral closure

Water activated adhesive becomes semi-liquid when moistened and soaks into the carton’s fibres, so that as it dries and cures it becomes an integral part of the cardboard. It is almost impossible to reactivate, requiring so much moisture to do so that the carton itself would be destroyed, and possibly its contents.

The benefits of this are threefold: less tape is needed to create a far superior, more permanent bond; permanently taped seams add to overall carton strength and rigidity, so they are less likely to collapse when stacked; it is impossible to remove the tape without leaving some evidence, so the carton’s tamper-resistance is improved.

Tamper evidence

Tamperage and pilfering cost businesses millions of pounds every year. This could be avoided with the use of water activated tape for carton sealing. It is shockingly easy to soften the adhesive of standard pressure-sensitive plastic packing tapes, so that the tape can be temporarily removed without trace and new tape applied.

The properties of WAT being semi liquid when sealing means that when setting it soaks into the carton fibres. As a result, when it dries it bonds and becomes an integral part of the cardboard. To remove this tape by hand would leave an evident mark on the packaging and if someone attempted to soak the tape and break the seal, the amount of water needed would destroy the carton.

Temperature tolerance

The plastics used to make packaging tapes become brittle if exposed to the low temperatures found in cold stores and commercial freezers, and they soften as temperatures increase. Of all pressure-sensitive tape adhesives, only solvent-based (the least environmentally friendly of them all) will continue to perform at low temperatures, while all pressure-sensitive adhesives soften when warm.

Brittle plastic is more vulnerable to cracking and splitting, while softened tapes and adhesives are more prone to separating from cardboard, particularly if the tape has been applied under tension across a not entirely flat surface.

In contrast, the kraft paper and starch adhesive used for water activated tapes remain stable at a wide scale of temperatures, maintaining the strength of the seal and the carton’s overall rigidity so that goods arrive at their destination secure and well-presented.

Improved presentation

Water activated tape is made from natural kraft paper which is thicker and more dimensionally stable than plastic. It is less prone to distortion and adheres instantly and permanently to cardboard, requiring only one strip of tape per seam.

Water activated tape blends well with natural brown or white corrugated cartons as it is available in three colours – natural brown, snow white and oyster, which is a lamination of white kraft on top of brown kraft. It is also perfect for single or multicolour overprinting if additional security or brand promotion are required. Furthermore, it sends a clear signal to consumers that you are an environmentally responsible company.

Cost savings

If you look at the cost per metre of a roll of water activated kraft paper tape, it is easy to dismiss it as an expensive eco-alternative to plastic tapes. The actual facts couldn’t be more different – after all, would the world’s largest order fulfilment company – famous for paring its operational costs to the minimum – exclusively use water activated tapes if this were the case?

A US-based independent testing and verification company investigated and found that the higher cost per metre of water activated tape is more than compensated for by two factors: the amount of tape required to obtain a satisfactory seal and the time taken to apply this amount of tape equated to considerable cost reductions when using water activated tape compared with plastic pressure-sensitive tape.

So even without the other benefits that water activated tape brings, a reduction in packaging costs should be a compelling reason for companies to replace plastic with paper.

Increased productivity

If corrugated cartons are taped manually, a hand-held ‘pistol grip’ dispenser is commonly used; inexpensive, lightweight and versatile, they are well-suited to intermittent and occasional use. However, if used continuously they can lead to short-term operator fatigue and the risk of long-term repetitive strain injury (RSI). This is because although the dispenser themselves are light, a reasonable amount of pressure is needed to apply and cut the tape, while the operator’s other hand is engaged in keeping the carton flaps aligned.

The combination of water activated tape and an electronic dispenser reduces both taping time and operator strain, leading to a happier, healthier and more productive operation.

The machine will automatically measure out, moisten and cut tape to just the right length while you finish packing the carton, holding it at a convenient angle for you to collect and place on the first carton flap.

The tape is rigid enough to not curl up on itself as soon as you release it, allowing you to neatly align the flaps and bring them down together before completing the seal.

The same machine dispenses the tape in sets of three exact lengths to H-seal the carton for extra strength and security.

The machine measures the carton for you and dispenses the correct tape length without you having to choose a pre-set.

Water activated tape has near perfect eco credentials but at the same time outperforms conventional plastic tapes. As an extra bonus, it also works out cheaper per sealed carton!

To find out more about our WAT and WAT dispensers, please speak to a member of our team today by calling 01553 692969 or emailing enquiries@southgateglobal.com.

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