The Tetra Pak is a Swedish invention, designed in the 1940’s and frequently referred to as ‘the most important food packaging of the 20th Century’. Tetra Paks now operate in more than 170 different countries, having become the largest food packaging company in the world!
The packaging and logo is something we have become very familiar with over the years as it is used to package the majority of the juices and milks we purchase from the supermarket or corner shop along with many other foodstuffs including soup and smoothies.
The aseptic packaging technology has been the key to this company’s success as the packaging process keeps food fresh for up to 12 months without the need for refrigeration. As well as the obvious benefits of the extended product life, this also means that the distribution and storage of products packaged in Tetra Pak is significantly reduced.
The cartons are all labelled as being recyclable, which is great, but if like us your fascinated about waste then you might have wondered what exactly are they made of and how they’re recycled…
The main material used in the manufacture of a Tetra Pak is paperboard, which makes up 74% of the carton. The paperboard layers are fused with thin layers of polyethylene and aluminium to produce a very strong, yet lightweight container that contains liquids efficiently and protects it from becoming spoiled by microbes.
The fusing of the three different materials means that the recycling process is not straight forward, however many recycling plants are capable of processing and recycling these cartons in order to separate and retrieve the materials.
The process involves soaking the cartons in water, to separate the thin layers of polyethylene and aluminium from the paperboard. Once separated the plastic and aluminium can be recycled indefinitely.
These materials are used to produce a variety of different products including:
The high quality paper fibres are turned into a variety of products that would otherwise been manufactured out of a virgin pulp. Examples include:
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST TETRA PAK
The main difficulty that Tetra Pak have faced with those who argue that their packaging is not environmentally friendly is the recycling problem. The trouble is that despite the fact that the packaging can be recycled, it does not necessarily mean it will be. Tetra Pak themselves have estimated that despite the fact that they have made significant efforts to become more sustainable; using FSC wood and doing their best to increase recycling rates, still only 25% of their cartons were recycled in 2013. Other figures indicate that this percentage may actually be lower than 20%.
Homes in the UK benefit from excellent access to recycling services, but in many other parts of the world this is sadly not the case. In locations where the technology to process and recycle these cartons does not exist, it is easy to understand why recycling rates are low so it is predicted that as the facilities and technology gradually becomes more readily available, these figures will significantly improve.