Sign up for NPL updates
Sign up for NPL updates

Receive regular emails from NPL to get a glimpse of our activities and see how our experts are informing and influencing scientific debate

  • Home
  • Case studies
  • Reducing reliance on plastic drums as part of the green recovery 
Case studies

Reducing reliance on plastic drums as part of the green recovery 

NPL helped Fibrestar prove that sustainable fibre drum containers perform as well as plastic competitors. 

Case study

The challenge

Fibrestar Drums is the largest producer of fibre drums in the UK, manufacturing 100% recyclable drums from paper and board. The company has historically lost business to cheaper plastic pails, and was impacted when environmental and sustainability focus became secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic for many customers.   

Post-pandemic, Fibrestar Drums aims to grow their operations by making a clear business case for sustainable, low carbon drum and pail options. To do this it needs to be able to prove that recyclable products - especially a new product range, Pailpak - perform as well, if not better, than inexpensive, non-sustainable competitors. However, no performance standard currently exists to compare sustainable pails with plastic ones, which is why the company approached NPL. 

The solution

Fibrestar’s drums are made from natural, renewable paper and board, through accredited forestry management suppliers making them both 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable if the optional PE liner is not used. They can be re-used multiple times and their versatility and weight make them easy to use, transport and store. 

Prior to NPL’s work no comparable standard existed for the performance of pails. NPL developed a test method including compression testing that provided evidence that fibre drum products perform as well as the unsustainable plastic alternatives.     

This testing showed that the fibre product did not fail or collapse under static and long-term use. Further measurements gave an insight into how future designs could improve the product further.

The impact

Convincing more businesses to move to fibre drums will help the UK to work towards a more sustainable future, and the results produced by NPL's testing showed that the sustainable option performs as well as the alternative, non sustainable competitor, helping meet this goal. A cultural change is required for customers to transition to use sustainable pails, and the robust testing data reassured customers that the stacking performance is comparable to the existing plastic product.     

With this measurement, Fibrestar Drums can confidently progress the development of a new product range of fibre drums, Pailpak, which will include five pails ranging from 5 to 30 litres in capacity. The new range is being developed further and will also be stackable - reducing the cost of transport and storage area.    

With NPL’s independent verification, Fibrestar Drums now has 1,000 units with the initial customer, and then, following a process of tooling and automation, plan to enter full production by end of 2021. The company estimates that this will initially consist of 800,000 units sold per year with line capacity for 3.6m units. Over the next 5 years, depending on government and climate change pressure for production scale up, Fibrestar hopes to license the technology for manufacture across Europe and the US.     

The pail market in Europe is estimated at €8 billion, and it is believed that around half of these products could be sustainable products. Government plastic regulation, scheduled to come in by 2022, will help incentivise the transition to sustainable pail use.    

The widespread use of sustainable, recyclable and renewable materials for this purpose will make a significant impact on meeting national sustainability and low carbon targets at no additional cost to the consumer.   

What the customer says

Support from NPL through the Measurement for Recovery (M4R) programme will enable us to potentially help offset the increased use of plastics due to COVID-19. Without the measurement expertise from NPL any testing we would have undertaken would have been less sophisticated, with results less meaningful to customers. I am happy that the results can help us to open up new opportunities to offer sustainable alternatives to plastic pails

Colin Pardoe, Director - Fibrestar Drums


Fibrestar has 70 years' experience in the manufacture of drums for safely carrying and storing products including solids, powders, pastes, semi-liquids and hazardous materials. It is the largest manufacturer of recyclable fibre drums in the UK. 

Find out more