Last week we posted a story about Tetra Pak recycling. We were disappointed to hear that plans for recycling cartons in the UK would not be forthcoming and we would still need to send cartons to Scandinavia for reprocessing.
However, as we all know, there are two sides to every story. We caught up with Jenny Walden, Tetra Pak recycling officer during National zero waste week, to find out what led Tetra Pak to reach this decision.
Firstly, I was reassured to hear that Tetra Pak are continually working on finding a sustainable and viable solution to recycling cartons in the UK.
Life cycle analysis
Along with other industries at the moment, the mill industry is suffering due to reasons including increased energy prices and foreign competition. Many mills have closed during the recession and the ones that have survived are focusing on their core business of paper recycling, rather than carton recycling.
I now realise I’ve been a bit blinkered with my view about sending cartons to Scandinavia for recycling. I’ve been looking solely at transportation miles and not looking at the bigger picture; or what is technically known as the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).
The LCA gauges the overall environmental impact of Tetra Pak cartons from sourcing raw materials right through to end-of-life disposal.
What I didn’t realise is the recycling plant in Scandinavia which Tetra Pak send their cartons to, uses predominately renewable energy. Over here, most recycling plants use fossil fuels. When you take this into account, it works out better for the environment, at this stage, even with transportation, for us to send our Tetra Pak cartons to Scandinavia for recycling.
I know, I know; it’s like the moment when you discover polythene bags may in fact be better for the environment than paper ones. It takes a lot to get your head around these ideas, especially as consumers, because you don’t always get the full facts in order to make an informed choice.
The long term sustainable solution is always one that benefits the environment and Tetra Pak know this. Many companies bring out new products or technologies that look great in the short term, but do not take the long term effects into account.
The CFL light bulb is the perfect example. They seem great on the face of it – using up to 80% less energy than the incandescent bulb and lasting 10 times longer. What’s not to love from an environmental perspective?
The trouble is, each CFL bulb contains a small amount of mercury, so what happens to that mercury in ten years time when the bulbs need replacing? We’re supposed to put them with WEEE for reclamation of the mercury, but what about the millions that find their way into landfill? The mercury will be released and who knows what the long term environmental and health effects might be?
If I apply that principle to Tetra Pak carton recycling, I can understand their decision. What use is it to recycle cartons in the UK if the long term effects are more damaging than sending them to Scandinavia?
Tetra Pak want to ensure that whatever recycling system they put in place has long term sustainability both for business and the environment.
Tetra Pak cartons are renowned for being made from good quality, strong, clean material which in turn makes a good quality recycled end product – usually plasterboard. There is little point making an inferior quality recycled product just so we can say it is recycled in the UK!
The bottom line is, Tetra Pak are doing the best with the resources they have. They know there is no quick solution. In the meantime they are working with Local Authorities to increase kerbside collections and are having meetings with companies to try and find a UK- based solution.
What consumers can do
- Create demand! By using and recycling Tetra Pak cartons, you show that recycling in the UK is a viable option.
- Ask your Local Authority and / or Tetra Pak to provide recycling facilities in your area.
- Recycle efficiently – washing and squashing cartons means three times more containers fit into recycling containers and collection vehicles. This reduces overall transportation and environmental costs.
Tetra pak carbon footprint
- Paperboard, which makes up 75% of cartons is sourced from managed forests.
- Under their Design for Environment program, Tetra Pak are improving the environmental profile of their packaging.
- By storing baled cartons until a sufficient amount is collected, Tetra Pak ensure transport-efficient trips to the recycling mill
- Tetra Pak support Scandinavia mills which predominantly use renewable energy
- Tetra Pak are a carbon neutral company
- Promoting wash and squash means more cartons can be recycled at reduced environmental cost
- By using European mills, Tetra Pak are not only able to ensure the material is recycled, but they know what it is being recycled in to.
UK reprocessing is a long term project, potentially involving new technologies and infrastructure. In order to go ahead with UK carton recycling, Tetra Pak need:
- A viable and environmentally friendly technology
- A place to build a recycling plant
- Improved environmental impact of final recycled product
- A guaranteed tonnage of carton material to make a recycling business viable
If we, as consumers, can show potential business in the UK that there is the demand, we might just get the technology we need to recycle cartons over here.
So the message is keep using Tetra Pak cartons and don’t forget to wash, squash and recycle!
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