Figuring out how to recycle paper into a reusable fiber that is FDA approved to touch food wasn’t easy.

The patented process by recycled paper company Sustana creates its EnviroLife fiber, which is getting new attention because Sustana invested in technology for a project with Starbucks to remove plastic liners from its coffee cups and reuse the paper.

The white fiber, given the EnviroLife brand in 2016, has been used in the iconic cups for years. “On a Starbucks cup, it says, ‘contains 10 percent recycled content.’ That’s us,” says Jay Hunsberger, vice president of sales, recycled fibers.

The companies, with a WestRock paper mill, completed a pilot last year to recycle 25 million cups, using the fiber for new cups.

EnviroLife can touch food directly or works in containers with liners. It’s used in food service containers, such as clamshell sandwich boxes, and it is suitable for microwave popcorn bags, ice cream tubs, french fry boxes and sandwich wrappers.

Some businesses interested in EnviroLife go through an education curve to understand how reused paper is safe for food contact, Hunsberger says.
To get FDA approval, the company proved it could remove or neutralize chemicals, the most difficult being optical brightening agents that make paper white.

Coffee grounds are another example of contaminants removed in the rigorous certification testing. Pulp also is sent to labs multiple times a year for retesting, and companies interested in the product often send audit teams to the plant to test, Hunsberger says.  

For more information, visit