Tetrapak recycling in Cornwall

Filed in Blog by on March 30, 2009 32 Comments
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carole-blake- cornwall county council on tetrapaksOne of our lovely readers, Carole Blake has been busy chasing up her local council in Cornwall about tetrapak recycling. She hasn’t been able to find anywhere to responsibly dispose of her pesky tetrapaks so decided to write to her council and ask them why there is a lack of tetrapak recycling facilities in her area.

We’ve got the gossip and it certainly makes for interesting and thought-provoking reading. Not only did Cornwall council give a detailed response about why they were not providing facilities, but they also gave Carole advise to ‘boycott’ tetrapaks and seek zero waste alternatives!

Here’s the response:

cornwall county councilTetra Pak is composite packaging consisting of a waxed cardboard outer layer, an inner layer coated with foil and often with a plastic pouring spout. This makes it difficult to recycle for several reasons.

1. Because the cardboard is waxed, normal paper and cardboard reprocessing systems cannot break down the fibres, there are currently no UK mills that can take this material. However, Tetra Pak are currently running trials with mills in to UK to try to find a way to recycling them.

2. Almost all Tetra Pak’s collected in the UK are sent to a plant in Sweden for recycling. In this process the cardboard is recycled, but the foil and plastic elements cannot be separated and are incinerated with the energy being used to power the process. This means that often less that 60% of the packs are actually recycled.

3. Most of these cartons contain food or drink residue, which also acts as a contaminant in reprocessing and can contaminate paper or cardboard if collected together.

4. Tetra Pak only uses virgin material in their packaging with no recycled content included, unlike more traditional packaging such are glass and cans that often contain a very large proportion of recycled material.

5. Cartons make up less then 0.5% of the residual waste stream.

6. Because Tetra Pak’s are light weight and stackable, there are very attractive to retailers for liquid, or semi liquid products, there is a trend to use them more often in replacement of traditional 100% recyclable bottles and tins.

Tetra Pak are keen to improve their environmental credentials, especially as packaging regulations mean that they must either be responsible for recycling a large proportion of their product or pay for their obligations through the Packaging Recovery Note system (PRN’s). The company have offered a recycling model to local authorities in which they would offer to supply a limited number of collection banks and pay for their servicing for a two year period.

Cornwall County Council and Sita* discussed this issue at length as all parties are committed to offering as wide a range of recycling opportunities as possible. While the initial offer from Tetra Pak is attractive, there are concerns about how the scheme would be developed and funded after the two year period and if there would be sufficient coverage of the county to make an appreciable impact on the collection of the cartons.  Other high performing councils in the county have examined the offer in detail and have also rejected it. Issues of environmental sustainability and contamination of current collection systems were also considered before it was decide not to begin collecting the cartons at the current time.

The situation will continue to be monitored. When a sustainable system for collecting Tetra Pak cartons is identified either via collection banks, or inclusion within kerbside systems, it will be introduced across the county.

Cornwall County Council has a policy to reduce waste to landfill and to increase recycling participation following seven key principles contained in its Waste Reduction Strategy. Where facilities are not available to recycle certain types of packaging, the advice is to try to avoid it by choosing recyclable alternatives. In most cases Tetra Paks can be substituted for glass or plastic bottles or glass jars.

*Sita is the Integrated Waste Management Contactor for Cornwall. They manage and are upgrading the twelve Household Waste and Recycling Centres. They also managing the counties landfill sites, the Material Recycling Facility’s at Pool and Bodmin and provide kerbside recycling collections in North Cornwall and Caradon.

Rachael Bice
Waste Management Officer

What about you? Do you have any success / ‘they-spoke-to-me-like-I-was-human’ stories about your council to share? What is the waste policy in your area like?

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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 (32)

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  1. Although we have “tetra-pak” recycling at our HWRC I tend to gear towards the glass or tins instead.

    This is one reason why I have switched from buying fruit juice in tetrapak from the supermarket to glass bottles delivered by the doorstep milkman.

    Also things like passata if bought comes in glass bottles rather than the tetra-pak cartons.

  2. Katy says:

    Fantastic to see a council no only doing their recycling research but also communicating it so clearly when people enquire. The next step would be to communicate it before people enquire!

    Sadly I have not yet found soya milk in anything other than Tetras. We don’t drink much milk, therefore it needs to last well once opened, and so we get UHT – again, only in Tetras. Any local milk delivery here comes after we leave for work so that’s not an option either.

    I do think that some of the points made are addressable, and not permanent barriers to recycling. For example, if sufficient Tetras could be collected in the UK, another plant could be considered. Just because Tetra use virgin material now does not mean that will never change (people power?). If people can be educated to wash bottles and cans, why not Tetras? Just cut them in half and it’s easy.

    I don’t really understand point 6 in terms of why Tetras are difficult to recycle, but if it’s meant as the reason why the tide of Tetras is unstoppable, then the points above are even more valid as we will simply have to find a way to recycle them more effectively.

  3. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    Combination packaging in the worst of all with absolutely no thought given to the sustainability issue. As long as these are used they will be incinerated, in Sweden.

    My choice is not to buy this package type and search for Zero Waste alternatives for all items.

    Carole did very well to get the whole story from the Council.

  4. Jenny Walden says:


    I am one of the Recycling Officers for Tetra Pak. Please let me address some of the myths in the response that Carole received. First of all, cartons are widely recyclable, with 86% of UK Local Authorities collecting them for recycling, and globally carton recycling schemes are even more popular.

    In fact, the process is not complicated at all and a video of carton recycling can be seen here http://www.tetrapakrecycling.co.uk/recyclable_how.asp . You will see on this, that cartons are not waxed at all. They are made up of a multi layer system of over 70% paperboard to give the pack strength, polyethylene to liquid proof the package and for our ambient or long life packages, a very very thin aluminium layer to keep out the oxygen. This means that long life cartons can protect the product for up to a year without the need for preservatives or refrigeration. This feature allows you to keep the product until you need it, helping to minimise food waste, whilst keeping the goodness of your product. It also does this, using the minimum amount of materials (e.g. your typical carton will only weigh 10g-30g, meaning it is very lightweight and has a better packaging to product ratio than an egg!).

    It is true that cartons collected through the free bring bank service that we offer are sent to neighbouring European countries for recycling. Many materials collected by Local Authorities go overseas for recycling, as the UK does not have the solutions to ensure that this is done locally for every material. By using neighbouring European mills, we are not only able to ensure that the material is recycled, but we know what it is being recycled in to. We are working hard to develop reprocessing capacity here in the UK, but in the meantime we are offsetting the carbon produced in transporting our recyclate.

    It is also true that the polyethylene and aluminium are currently used to power some of the mills, but this has a lower carbon footprint than using fossil fuels. Also, some mills separate the material for recycling into other products such as garden furniture.

    The free carton recycling solution that we have offered to Local Authorities has been extremely successful, with wide scale uptake. So much so, that many Local Authorities have started taking cartons at the kerbside and kerbside collection of cartons has doubled in the past year to 13%. Many Local Authorities collect cartons with paper or cardboard from the kerbside, and with appropriate communication, contamination can be prevented.

    You will see more and more products moving in to cartons. The reasons for this extend far beyond transport efficiency and stackability. It is because when it comes to the environment cartons have a great story to tell. In fact in environmental studies across the world, they are shown over and over again to be a low carbon packaging choice. They are made mainly from a natural, renewable material – wood. This helps lower the carbon footprint of the package. They are lightweight, transport efficient; they protect the product using the least amount of materials possible. We have also taken responsibility for kick-starting recycling of cartons here in the UK; this is in addition to our contributions to the UK PRN system.

    People are demanding more choice and more from their package and we think this is a good thing. Increasingly, consumers are looking at alternative packaging for their varying needs, focussing on ease of use, lightweighting and strong environmental performance. We know that recyclability does not necessarily equate to environmental performance, consideration must also be made of carbon impact and whether we are reducing our planet’s resources. We believe recycling certainly has a part to play and this is why we have ensured that we have made this recycling solution widely available across the country, but you will also see that we are focussing on other important environmental agendas too. Have a look at our website for more information http://www.tetrapaksustainability.com.

    The majority of Local Authorities have taken up carton recycling, including Guernsey and the Orkney Islands; we’d like to help Cornwall to do it too. So, we will continue to try to work with the new Cornwall unitary council to set up a scheme.

    And a note to Mrs Green, keep up the hard work, we think your blog is fun, informative and inspiring.

    Jenny Walden
    Recycling Operations Officer
    Tetra Pak

  5. MrsJ says:

    Thank you very interesting to read both sides of the arguement. I think that many people are not going to take the avoidance that John very honourably does and that at least having a recycleable option is better than the landfill alternative.

  6. zero says:

    @Jenny Walden: Thank-you Jenny Waldon for taking the time to post here in a detailed and informative response. It’s not often we see manufacturers communicating with people as openly as this and I think this goes a long way to supporting your company’s environmentally responsible policies.

    In our area of Gloucestershire we see very limited tetra pak recycling, although one local recycling centre allows them to be placed in the cardboard recycling section. This does seem a bit odd as the material is obviously composite. Does this seem correct to you, or is there a risk of contaminating the recyclate?

  7. Grandma Green says:

    With reference to contacting local authorities re tetra pak recycling, I sent the following request to our authority on 18 March:

    “Until the recent closure of Hurrans garden centre we happily and gratefully recycled tetra paks at their Cheltenham Road branch. Since the cessation of trading the site is closed off making access and parking difficult and hazardous. Our collection of tetra paks is growing! Do you have plans to resite the excellent Cheltenham Road facilities?”

    To date I have had no response.

    Is no response perhaps better than a misleading one such as Carole received? I wonder.

  8. Carole Blake says:

    Oh, that was scary, I’ve been away all weekend and logged in to find my own face staring at me!!

    Anyway, Jenny Walden, thank you very much for putting your own side of the story. It seems very different to the one sent to me by Cornwall County Council, and do you mind if I forward your reply to them? I don’t doubt it will take them the same several weeks as the first time before they get around to replying, but their response should be interesting.

    Down here in Cornwall our Council is going through a bit of an upheaval as we are amalgamating 7 local councils into one. Other emails I have sent regarding when our next Zero Waste Week might be happening have so far been totally ignored.


  9. John Costigane says:

    @Jenny Walden: Hi Jenny, While the tetrapak is popular my concern is the 100% incineration of part of the pack. This is not sustainable longterm, and is another example of the unthinking Chain of Waste system. We need packaging which can be 100% recycled/ composted/ reused.

    A sustainable lifecycle should be the aim of producers and while this incineration continues, I would advise others to seek Zero Waste alternatives. I personally do not use them.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: Hi Maisie, you make a good point about some things being available in glass or tins. Soya milk provides a problem for us. I talked to mr Green about switching his fruit juice; but he drinks nearly a litre a DAY!

    @Katy: Hi katy, great reply with many thought provoking questions. I think too that ‘people power’ might eventually enforce a different way of doing things; rather than us just accepting things as they are.

    @John Costigane: Hi John, I agree that fully recyclable alternatives are good, such as glass and for those that want to use tetrapaks (tetrapaks are much lighter weight than glass for instance) then we have move forward with a more viable option.

    @Jenny Walden: Jenny, thank you so much for your response. It’s great to hear things ‘from the horse’s mouth’ so to speak 😀 We can make assumptions and guess things, but it’s great that you took the time to come here and share your perspective with us. You have me much to think about – thank you for your honest insight into the situation.

    Like Mr Green, I’m concerned that our local recycling centre tell us to put tetrapaks in with the cardboard. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    @Grandma Green: Grandma green; I have found that emails seldom get a response from our local council. A telephone call is better; and push to speak to the right person 😉

    @Carole Blake: Carole – how does it feel to be famous and adored by people from all over the world?! I would love to hear any follow up response from Cornwall – I think we all would! I hope you get an answer soon.

  11. Poppy says:

    @Grandma Green:

    Aldi do orange juice in a large bottle. I always pick at least one bottle up if I’m in there.

    @Mrs Green:

    A little bird tells me that they are looking for a new site, but you may get more response if you contact your councillor(s) rather than the council 😀

  12. Poppy says:

    Ooops! how did that happen?? Please swap answers around as appropiate 🙁

  13. Carole Blake says:

    Hi Mrs G,

    I was waiting for permission from Jenny Walden of Tetrapak to pass on her information to Cornwall County Council, but in her absence I’ve decided to do it anyway.

    I asked CCC exactly who is imparting the correct info. They switched over from 7 councils to just 1 unitary council six days ago, so I don’t expect any answer to be too quick in arriving.


  14. Carole Blake says:

    Just had an “out of office” reply from CCC. The lady who sent me the original answer is away until 20th April. I won’t hold my breath for a minute or two then.


  15. Mrs Green says:

    Thanks Poppy, I’ll check out aldi next time I’m in Gloucester.

    Carole, I cannot think why you couldn’t pass on the information to Cornwall council – it’s been shared on here now anyway LOL!
    Let’s see what response you get…

  16. Poppy says:

    Lidl had Orange Juice in bottles this week too.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Oh very cool! I’ll have to look out for that. Do you know how much was in them? Mr G can get through a litre in a day

  18. Poppy says:

    You’ll be doing a lot of clanking to the bottle bank then Mrs G – they’re 750ml bottles 🙂

  19. Mrs Green says:

    Hmmm, well that’s not too bad and a drop of 250mls a day would probably do Mr Green good anyway – the natural sugar is clearly collecting around his tummy LOL!

  20. Carole says:

    At last, at last, a reponse from Cornwall County Council on the information I passed on to them from Tetrapak!

    “Hi Carole

    Sorry I haven’t replied before, this is an interesting response and I will offer this information around the officers in our department so we can update our information as appropriate.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    Rachael Bice

    Waste Management Officer

    Environment, Planning & Economy

    Cornwall Council”

    What next then? Shall we have Tetrapak recycling units in Cornwall at last??? This is my next question to CCC. Don’t hold your breath…

  21. Mrs Green says:

    @Carole: Ah well, 10/10 to you for the update, but to the back of the class for the council methinks.
    Not very helpful was it? LOL!

  22. Layla says:

    Well, I partly agree with Cornwall for avoiding tetrapak recycling as it’s not truly recyclable at this point!

    For people who buy the tetrapaks, it’s probably better to recycle than to landfill/burn as a whole (?) – would be interesting to see that life cycle study indeed!!

    Cornwall, if they REALLY want to go a step further, would do the right thing by BANNING the tetrapaks! 🙂 lol

    Not sure if they can do this (or heavily tax ’em? hmm..)

    If they continue to sell food in tetrapaks, the honest thing to do would probably be to recycle them too..
    I personally MUCH prefer more recyclable (& reusable) variants too!!

  23. Mrs Green says:

    @Layla: Hi Layla, long time no see – how are you?
    As paperboard makes up 75% of the Tetra Pak cartons, it is far better to recycle as most of the material is salvageable. One of the things Tetra Pak are working on is improving their packaging all the time and looking for ways to recycle ALL of the materials.

  24. mark says:

    It has bothered me for some time that TetraPak are so widespread and not recyclable. I for one would be much happier to see bottles that can be fully recycled. TetraPak need to get on board and sort this out. Rather than spending time and money on trying to process TetraPaks why not just convert to bottles. Bottles work fine for many other products and I for one would be much happier buying them than the current option. So much so that the TetraPak often stops me buying the product that I would otherwise buy.

  25. Grandma Green says:

    All households in our area have recently received an information leaflet about recycling. It states quite clearly that ‘Tetra Pak cartons (e.g. fruit juice cartons)’ may NOT be put into the kerbside box with other items of cardboard. This afternoon we drove (a round trip of about 5 miles) to our city recycling site in order to drop off our tetra paks. We couldn’t find the normal designated container so cruised the site looking for staff member. We showed him one of our cartons and he pointed behind us to an enormous green container labelled ‘CARDBOARD’. ‘In there?,’ we queried, ‘Are you sure?’ He confirmed the directive and we duly poured in the contents of a swing bin liner. All our carefully separated and stored tetra paks lay there among a vast assortment of numerous types of cardboard pieces and objects.

    So, no we may NOTrecycle tetra paks with other cardboard at the kerb but must make a special journey to take them to the city site, where we MUST put them in with other cardboard items. Can anyone see any logic in this? I’m not surprised that people lose heart and can’t be bothered to cooperate with such cuckoo schemes.

    I have emailed the council and await the reply with great interest.

  26. Poppy says:

    @Grandma Green:

    Instructions are sometimes subject to ‘Chinese Whisper Syndrome’. I’ve had similar issues with Low Energy light bulbs and the never ending saga of lids on/lids off, that are quickly sorted out with an email to the officers at the council. I hope your email sorts this out. It does sound highly suspect for tetras to be recycled with the cardboard as I was under the impression that they went to a specialised company.

  27. Mrs Green says:

    @mark: Hi Mark, I hear your frustration. But I do keep saying to people to recheck the Tetra Pak recycling bank locator on a regular basis. We didn’t have anywhere near us for ages then one day it just suddenly appeared on the map: http://www.tetrapakrecycling.co.uk/locator.asp
    I don’t know the full facts, but I guess tetra paks are better than bottles in some ways because they don’t let in light and they don’t leach anything into the contents.
    It’s worth having a read of our other tetra pak articles, the answers to which came from Tetra pak:
    Do keep asking your council though or contact tetra pak direct to see if they have plans to bring recycling into your area.

    @Grandma Green: We’ve had exactly the same at the Oak Quarry recycling site, so now we make sure we take them to a tetra pak recycling bank. I think you have a couple of tetra pak banks which are closer to you than the HWRC so it’s worth rechecking their bank locator. You an always bring them here for me to dispose of 😉

  28. Poppy says:

    I spoke with a lady this morning as she posted whole 1 litre tetra packs into the tetra bin. I told her that they were easy to flatten and then there would be a lot more room for everyone else to use the bin. She looked at me as if I was barmy (maybe she’s right!), half heartedly squashed the pack in her hand and then proceded to post the rest of them unsquashed!! 🙁

  29. Jane says:

    @Poppy: LOL – squashing = less space taken up = easier to store and transport = fewer recycling trips = more space in the recycling bank – meaning more people can use it and it has to be emptied less often so fewer lorries on the road and so on. It is a win-win situation.

    It is sooo irritating to find the recycling bank is full and even worse when you see it being filled up with air unnecessarily. Save the air, I say, keep it free!

  30. I noticed when in Sainsbugs the other day that all their value tinned products are now also being replaed with tetra-pak.

    Whilst this may be good for transportation it does seem silly that the supermarkets are doing this but not providing recycling facilities for the same.

    At the moment for me this will mean storing them to take them to HWRC rather than putting them into my kerbside.

  31. Poppy says:

    @maisie dalziel:

    I’ve not seen anything about all the basic lines, but I have seen about their tomatoes. I’m pretty sure I posted a link to a news article about it somewhere here, but I can’t find it now. Not to worry, this one will do and it looks as though it could be quite interesting for other info too 🙂


  32. Poppy says:

    I have an answer to my Tetra Pak question.

    The holes are large and round because the company empty them with a huge vacuum cleaner attached to the holes 🙂

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