Tetra pak recycling; how you can make a difference

Filed in Blog by on May 17, 2010 18 Comments
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tetra pak carton recycling

tetra pak carton recycling

Some of you have been writing to me or commenting on the site recently about Tetra Pak recycling. Some local authorities collect them from kerbside, while other areas don’t even have a Bring Bank to take them too. As with most recycling facilities in the UK, the differences from one area to another vary tremendously.

I’ve been gathering the latest figures on recycling, because I know that in the last 18 months or so of aiming for zero waste my tolerance levels and understanding of the bigger picture about recycling have shifted a great deal!

Blame culture

When I started on our mission I only ever saw things from my own perspective as a householder. I had quite a high ‘blame’ mentality. I felt that if the Government wanted me to recycle more they should make it easier. They should enforce manufacturers to use only easily recyclable materials for packaging and they should bring all Local Authorities in line with one another. And heck, they should do it by tomorrow morning at 9am.

Well ok, maybe I still have the occasional moment of thinking that if I’m honest; hey I’m only human, but since dealing with more organisations, companies and manufacturers through myzerowaste I’m just starting to grasp (and become more tolerant of) some of the difficulties they face too.

Changing minds

I’ve had my mind changed about things I’ve believed in for a long time on more than one occasion. It was thanks to Esther from Transmail, for example, that I learned paper bags might not be as good for the environment as polythene <gasp> and I know that John won’t mind me pointing out that he too has had his mind changed about Tetra Pak recycling since talking to them and really understanding the process. So the whole zero waste lifestyle is a huge and continual learning curve.

26% LAs collecting Tetra Pak cartons

I would dearly love to have kerbside collections here for Tetra Pak cartons; of course I would, but I feel really lucky that we have a recycling bank about 4 miles away when so many people have nothing at all. What I do know, however, is that already 26 % of local authorities in the UK to collect from kerbside. That’s 104 authorities out of 406, around 1 in every 4 local authorities ; which is a fantastic figure. Especially when you consider that at the end of 2008, only 14% of Local Authorities were collecting Tetra Pak cartons from kerbside. (This was as low as 9.9% at the end of 2007 and is almost three times lower than the figure we have today)

In London, a massive 50% of authorities are collecting from kerbside and month to month the figures around the UK are improving.

Make a difference

Sometimes Local authorities simply cannot collect certain items for a number of reasons; perhaps they are tied in to contracts, have unsuitable vehicles, don’t have the right collection bins or have other infrastructures in place which mean it’s not possible for now, but it doesn’t mean never.

Here’s the deal though:

You can make a difference.

Just Ask!

If you only ever take one piece of information from this site; remember the power that you have. I’ve set up crisp packet recycling in my local Tesco, not because I’m anyone special, have a massive budget or am an influential figure but simply because I asked. I’m currently working with a couple of manufacturers to see if they can change their packaging; again, not because I’m anyone special, have a massive budget or am an influential figure, but simply because I asked.

You get the picture, right?

Sure I’ve written to many companies and received no interest at all; but we have to focus on the successes and build on them.

So, if you want Tetra Pak recycling in your area (or crisp packet recycling in Tesco, or a manufacturer to change its packaging …) ASK! Write to your local authority about kerbside collections because they will respond to pressure from residents. Your letter can make a difference, your point of view matters and you can change the future.

Who will you write to today?

Tetra Pak and WWF

While we’re on the subject of making differences, Tetra Pak and WWF have teamed up to get people to live more renewable lifestyles. There’s £25k up for grabs to make someone’s idea on how we can all live more renewably come true. Not only that, but every time someone enters an idea, or votes on their favourite, Tetra Pak are donating money to WWF.

You can read all about it on the renewable idea website, follow progress on Facebook and get updates on Twitter.

I know many of you have some fantastic ideas, so enter today to be in with a chance of winning and of changing the world!

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (18)

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  1. I have to say that all our tetra packs go in the log burner. Because we have non-dairy milk we don’t have the options of buying it in plastic or glass only tetra paks, but they made up a good 1/3 of what was going in our bin! Now I stuff then with other paper waste (scraps, recipts etc) and use them as fire lighters.

  2. You’ve hit it on the head Mrs G. It really is amazing what can happen if you ask. :-D

  3. Julie Day says:

    There are a couple of recycling banks in my borough that we recycle Tetra paks on a regular basis. My mum was told by the recycling collection men that they are trying to get it done kerbside so I wait with bated breath for that to happen. It would certainly make life easier for my mum who gets the responsibility to lug a big bag of Tetra paks to the nearest one when she goes shopping.

  4. Karin says:

    We’re lucky to have Tetra pak recycling banks in our area. It looks like they are managed by a private company rather the council, but I don’t know what the deal is. We save them up in a large recycling bag and take them down about once a fortnight.

    Good point about asking. There are one or two things I must get round to asking about.

  5. We’re lucky – our council collects Tetra Paks kerbside in our blue bin – alongside paper, card, Type 1 & 2 plastics and aluminium…

    I’d like to see them doing more with plastic, though – and have tasked the Organikal child with finding out more about the recycle schemes in our area and what more could be achieved. It seems the will is there on the council’s side :o)

  6. John Costigane says:

    Thanks for the mention re Tetra Paks which have proved a Zero Waste Alternative. Initially, avoiding plastic was the main focus for the trend but this has proved difficult in the case of milk jugs for example where aluminium/plastic seals and plastic labels were a constant waste outcome before Tetra Pak provided a better option for recycling. Unpackaged purchases are best of all where there is no extra cost but polythene wrapped veg is far less expensive in supermarkets. The case therefore is to minimise the use of polythene rather than avoid it altogether.

    As the trend has developed the promotion of good businesses is seen to be more effective than just avoiding purchases, which had left many items out of reach eg cakes and biscuits, sweets and chocolate, home cosmetics. These are now more generally available in Zero Waste form, which includes home baking.

    Container use has proved very effective, though I have yet to see another local person use one. Reusable bags are a different story, especially in supermarkets. I remember being the only person to use one which made me stand out but the notoriety was a bonus. Nowadays, a good percentage (~40%) bring their own bag(s) with some carrying 6+ for the weekly shop.

    Cheaper cuts from the local butcher have proved successful with slow-cooked liver,a tip from Maisie, and long-cooked tripe now part of the diet. Milk soaking for liver helps but I have yet to find a way to reuse the ghastly drained liquid which looks like strawberry milk.

  7. Jane says:

    Tetrapak collection was one of the things I asked my Council about. First we had several banks across the borough and now we have a kerbside collection. So was cardboard. We now have a kerbside collection for that too. I am just one voice but I used it.

    I am still unhappy about the fluorescent lightbulb (inc low energy lightbulb) collection bank provision and am gearing up now we have a new Council to write about that. When I find info poor on the Council website I try and get round to telling them so. I’m old enough to have learnt through experience that if I can’t understand it/find it then neither can other people!

  8. Karen says:

    I don’t seem to gather many tetrapaks. Only a couple per month. Think of ways to use them.
    Cut the top off and fill with compost to plant seeds .
    Cut top off and cover with pretty fabric/ paper and use as children’s crayon pot.
    Use to post breakables by opening a flap on the side. Stuff the space with shredded waste paper.
    Cut top off and use as a container for paint rather than using a large can.
    Schools and playgroups can use them for their crafts.

  9. LJayne says:

    I know I asked my borough several times about tetra pak recycling. I was lucky in that they are collected kerbside where my mother-in-law lives so I was able to send her home with visits with our stash! But I still wanted it local and now we have it.

    I never got a response so don’t know what finally sorted my council out and I do still have to take them to the recycling centre. But that’s enormous and so I save up a number of things and make a big trip – we have to take foil there and garden waste can also be taken there. Large bits of cardboard that I feel it wouldn’t be fair to put kerbside because of the space it takes up and so on.

  10. gill says:

    I have had two goes at asking my council to provide tetra pak recycling but absolutely no joy, so maybe 3rd time lucky!

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Kelly Basford: Hi Kelly, do you then salvage the foil afterwards and recycle it? Would like to hear how you dispose of the waste and what you do with them during the summer when (hopefully) we don’t need the fire lit!

    @Julie Day: It would be great if you could get kerbside pick up Julie – let me know if it happens for you :)

    @Karin: Good news Karin and I hope you get a favourable response to your questions.

    @Julie Gibbons: Your kerbside collections sound really good. If you could improve plastics recycling in your area, you’d probably be down to virtually zero waste as a community!

    @John Costigane: The trend is certainly moving in the right direction John, with more manufacturers on board with sustainable packaging options. I too have seen more people with their own bags – this is a positive step…

    @Jane: What a great success story, Jane and you’re right; if you can’t understand something then chances are lots of other people can’t either – well done for speaking out!

    @Karen: Brilliant Karen; if you only have a couple per month then reuse is a great option, Thanks for the inspiration!

    @LJayne: Another fab result! I’m so pleased you kept asking; who knows – maybe you are responsible for the change in your area :)

    @gill: Third time lucky indeed – good luck with that :)

  12. Ben says:

    @gill: Getting the local council to accept them in the recycling collection would be great, but if they don’t seem to be heading that way you could contact places like supermarkets where you shop regularly to ask if they’d consider getting a recycling bank.

    I recycle mine at a supermarket in the city, which isn’t ideal, but better than nowhere. I can’t help thinking however, there’s two recycle banks in a city of about 200,000 people. I bet a lot of tetrapaks, if not the majority are just going to landfill here. I may start emailing more stores about getting these banks, and the local council too.

  13. Jane says:

    I believe Tetra-Paks were getting a lot of negative publicity until they started to subsidise LA bring banks and I believe this was only for a limited amount of time. The only mill to process them in the UK closed. Perhaps this is why they can still be a problem as your LA may not have the money to continue. Tetra-Pak claimed to be very economic in the manufacture of these containers, they are definitely a useful form of packaging, but had failed to deal with sustainable disposal. LAs don’t want to be paying out more for providing the collection than they can get for it. This is a very real reason for SQUASHING your food and drink cartons before putting them in the bank – ie to get a better weight/price per load. The same goes for cans, plastic bottles and cardboard.

  14. Jane says:

    Ben is right. Supermarkets sell lots of these cartons – and in some cases seem to be increasing the use of them – so ask them about recycling facilities especially if you don’t have them in your kerbside recycling. Many large supermarkets do have recycling banks for them. Check them out. If you don’t speak out the supermarkets will presume that not only are you happy with the status quo but that you are not interested in better solutions.

  15. brendan says:

    i feel this is some sort of terrible practical joke. tetrapaks are almost the definition of hard-to-recycle packaging. yes, it is theoretically possible to soak the containers and abrade them until you separate the paper fibers from between the two (or more!) layers of plastic and (usually) one layer of metal foil. then, the fiber, crappy in quality as it is, can be used as pulp. the plastic is in every case i know of discarded, and the metal is most commonly discarded, although it is certainly recyclable in theory.
    if you visit your local recycler, you will NOT find any significant recycling of tetrapaks in over 90% of the cases. it is very few recycling operators who are equipped to do it, and usually even they can afford it only when there is subsidy–as through a marketing program or similar.

    so yes, sort of, but no, not really recyclable. sort of like stryofoam–sure you can recycle it, but is it actually done anywhere? well…..almost nowehre. it is not economically attractive, nor technically simple.

    the one true environmental advantage these lightweight cartons (tetrapak, combibloc, etc.) is is their light weight and parsimonious use of raw materials in their manufacture. the light weight saves carbon in transport, and the thrifty use of primary resources is of course very desirable.

    so, one does not have to oppose the use of this packaging in many of its applications–there are specific uses or cases in which it is the preferable option– but to think it is recyclable is a marketing illusion.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @brendan: Hello Brendan, welcome to the site. Over here in Europe it is much easier to recycle tetra pak cartons than it is in the US. Over here, 27% of local authorities collect from kerbside and most areas in the UK have bring banks. It’s not a perfect system, but Tetra pak are improving their facilities and recycling capacity all the time.

  17. Rachel says:

    I know this is an old post, but I just found your site and have been poking around a bit.
    I spoke to our local council about recycling Tetra pak cartons. They don’t include them in the kerbside collections because Tetra Pak themselves take them for recycling. I don’t know whether they’re required to or whether they do it voluntarily, but they do provide banks in the nearest town. That’s probably why the banks Karin uses look like they’re managed by a private company. It’s less convenient for us, but from the council’s point of view, there is some sort of recycling service, at no cost to them, so they don’t bother including them in the kerbside collections, and then having to do the recycling themselves, at considerable cost!

  18. Mrs Green says:

    @Rachel: Hi Rachel, glad you found us! And thanks for clarifying how things are in your area; there is always something new to learn :)

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