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Tetra Pak comes clean about its biggest recycling ‘headache’

By Jenny Eagle+

10-Mar-2014
Last updated the 10-Mar-2014 at 11:17 GMT

Bio-based LightCap 30
Bio-based LightCap 30

Tetra Pak doesn’t believe it will be the first company to launch a 100% renewable carton and claims its biggest recycling challenge is working with countries that have a poor economy.

The company launched a report last week confirming it is committed to increasing the recycling of used beverage cartons and wants to double the global recycling rate by 40% by 2020 by raising consumer awareness, sharing knowledge and expertise and facilitating collection infrastructure and supporting recycling technology development.

Mario Abreu, environment performance director, Tetra Pak

'Beyond our control'

But, Mario Abreu, environment performance director, Tetra Pak, told FoodProductionDaily.com the firm has ambitious targets and the challenge is related to ‘what is beyond our control’.

Some of the recycling targets we have require other things, other players, other activities, to happen,” he said.

We do a lot regarding economical development - giving 50 other countries across the world the capacity to recycle, but the challenge is how to get our cartons to their paper mills.

Very often the focus is to create awareness among consumers to make that extra effort to take their waste to a recycling bank. But in countries like Brazil, for example, the infrastructure is limited so even though we have the paper mills they have to find the value of what’s in a carton to compensate rubbish handlers and the people involved in the collection to collect the cartons.

This includes having a place where they will be picked up for recycling but the infrastructure is different from one country to another. It’s an area which we cannot develop – the constraints are beyond us.

We are invited to participate in recycling schemes but how much and how fast that can happen, depending entirely on us, is intangible no matter how much we try to influence it.”

Bio-based LightCap 30

As one of its long-term ambitions, Tetra Pak wants to develop a fully renewable package and said one of its highlights in 2013 was the release of its bio-based LightCap 30 made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) derived from sugar cane.

Approximately 1.1bn packages which carried bio-based caps hit the market last year, almost doubling the number for 2012.

Our founder, Ruben Rausing, famously said a package should ‘save more than it costs’ and we are working in that direction, added Abreu .

The biggest source of material the company uses is paperboard made from wood grown in responsibly managed forests, but about 25% of the material used for the packaging produced is non-paper, mainly polyethylene.

Tetra Pak’s ambition is to offer a package made from 100% renewable raw materials by 2020, but the challenge is substantial.

'Not racing to be the first'

The company claims 32bn Tetra Pak packages carried the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-label last year, an increase of more than 5bn over 2012.

We were one of the first companies to replace fossil based polymers with bio-based material. I can’t say if we’ll be the first to market with a 100% renewable carton. We are not racing to be the first. For us making food safe and available is more important,” said Abreu.  

There will be more bio-based polymers, driving certification of paperboards. We want to give consumers reassurance our paperboards are coming from good sources.”

He added the next challenge is focusing on recycling technologies and enabling more collections as a method of commercial value of the beverage carton, once it has been used by the consumer.

We need to develop technology to obtain as much as possible from the fibre and other polymer layers. Developing this is key to bringing more value to the cartons we use,” he said.