Tetra Pak is working with an institute in the US to explore the potential of turning forestry waste into plastic packaging materials.
The Swedish company has already committed to using HDPE plastic from sugarcane but in the future its plastic packaging could be made from the same trees used to make its carton.
Michael Grosse, head of R&D at Tetra Pak, told this publication that the carton packaging firm has teamed up with a research partner to explore the potential of forestry waste.
Grosse said: “We engage a lot in partnerships with universities and institutes and that is one area where we are in close collaboration with an institute in the US.”
The R&D chief added that academic institutions in the US and Japan are leading investigations into the use of forest waste and other types of waste in plastic packaging.
PepsiCo has already announced that in 2012 it plans to trial a PET bottle made from its own agricultural by-products such as orange peel, potato peel and oat hulls. It claims the innovation “far surpasses” existing technologies.
A comparable current approach is to use sugar cane as a base material to create plastic packaging. Tetra Pak is starting to use HDPE made from Brazilian sugar cane in its packaging and other big names are doing the same – Coca-Coca is a notable example with its Plant Bottle.
Assessing the benefits
The big advantage of these plant-based products is that they help the industry wean itself off oil but critics complain that the use of sugar cane can mean potential food resources are diverted to non-food uses. And there are additional concerns about the amount of water needed at the agricultural stage.
Using waste instead of specially grown agricultural produce overcomes these problems and has the added benefit of allowing companies to reuse and find value in their own waste.
Jane Bickerstaff, director of INCPEN, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment said research into the potential of waste in packaging should be encouraged. But she warned that there is no perfect pack and that industry should be careful when assessing new technology and judging its suitability.
“No packaging has a monopoly on environmental virtues – there is no silver bullet – there are advantages and disadvantages to every pack,” said Bickerstaff.