Food and drink cartons look and feel like they are made from cardboard but the 184 billion single use cartons produced annually by market leading giant Tetra Pak contain 20% polyethylene and 5% aluminium. In addition, there are the billions of plastic ‘closures’ (lids to you and I).
Before saying anything else, let me tell you that a mere 23% of those 184 billion cartons are recycled worldwide according to the Tetra Pak website. That means that the other 138 billion cartons are simply wasted, burned, dug into the earth, or worse. Tetra Pak’s overall objective is to double the rate of recycling to 40% by 2020, still leaving a whopping 60% going to waste. Whatever else Tetra Pak claim about the goodness of their products, I think their commitment to sustainability is compromised by these facts and figures.
Tetra Pak asserts that their products are “GOOD FOR YOU, GOOD FOR THE EARTH”. Their ambition is to develop a package made entirely out of material from renewable sources, including polymers derived from sugarcane ethanol. But for now, most of their purchased volumes of polymers are still derived from conventional oil and gas sources. And, whilst the cartons are in theory fully recyclable, Tetra Paks cannot be made with recycled material. If you take the term recycling to mean “recycling of a material to produce a fresh supply of the same material” (Wikipedia), Tetra Paks do not qualify.
I am not a fan of recycling. A better way to protect our natural resources and avoid pollution is to produce less packaging and to curb our consumption. Recycling just means that the disposal of packaging becomes someone else’s problem. Of the miserly estimated 30% of consumer packaging that is actually placed into recycling in the UK, over 67% is exported to other countries, much of it to Asia.
Tetra Pak says: “food processing with Tetra Pak is all about helping customers turn their bright ideas into exciting new food products”. Their customers are the global food and drink companies who want to grow their market share. I question why we need these brightly coloured and highly processed products in the first place. What’s in it for us?
The alternative is local, seasonal food and drink, milk delivered in bottles, water from your tap and things made freshly at home or preserved in the old fashioned way. With these simple maxims you don’t need a long shelf life, easy transport across the globe or recycling technologies.
Sources and further information
Tetra Pak recycling data:
Tetra Pak facts and figures:
The Guardian: Only a third of UK consumer plastic packaging is recycled:
The Guardian: 67%+ of UK plastic packaging waste exported in 2016:
UK Environment Agency’s packaging waste report:
Treehugger blog on Tetra Paks (from 2009):