Tetra packs seem to be ubiquitous and with no alternatives. They are used to carry all kind of liquids, from juices to milk and as well as some semi-solids like puree and sauces. Used Tetra packs pose a big voluminous hazard and unhygienic pile of garbage for the environment. Tetra Pak, the company which manufactures Tetra Pak, is the world’s leading food processing and packaging solutions company. They strive to provide safe, innovative and environmentally sound products in more than 170 countries around the world.
What is Tetra Pak made of?
Tetra Paks are of several types and made of diverse materials. Generally the Tetra Pak Briks are made of several layers of Polyethylene plastic so that the shelf-life of the products they contain can be stretched to one year. There are 4 layers of polyethylene and one layer each of paper and aluminum.
These three materials are layered together by heat and pressure. The six-layered Tetra Pak protects the food contents from light, air, dirt, moisture and microbes. This aseptic technology enables the product to remain fresh without any preservatives, till it is opened for use.
Are Tetra Paks recycleable?
Paper constitutes 75% of the Tetra Pak carton; and 20% is low-density polyethylene and 5% is aluminum. Tetra Paks are considered to be fully recyclable. However, what is important is that just because something is fully recyclable doesn’t mean that it will be recycled.
In developed European countries like UK, the availability of recycling facilities is very high at 85%; whereas even in USA it is around 40%, and in other developing countries it is much less. In Canada and some European countries like Germany; Tetra Paks bricks have recycle rates higher than 65%. In developing countries like India, it is close to 30%. Most often Tetra Paks are incinerated which generates toxic ash and is an environmental hazard.
How is Tetra Pak recycled ?
In the recycling centers, several technologies are employed to enable almost complete recycling of Tetra Pak empties. Tetra Pak, the company, has been rendering technological and financial assistance in collaboration with the concerned local authorities. Some of the technologies employed are given below.
One of the earliest and most popular processes of recycling Tetra-Paks is called hydrapulping. It starts with adding water and then heating and crushing the empties into pulp. Industrial blenders are used to separate the paper fiber from the polyethylene and aluminum layers. The paper is recovered, leaving the polyethylene and aluminum as a residual. These are then re-cycled.
The paper pulp goes into manufacturing of corrugated cardboards, packing materials, egg-cartons, stationery etc. The aluminum and plastic are used for making consumer goods including household furniture and other utility items. In Germany, the residual is used by the cement industry; In Brazil it is used to make products like roofing materials, buckets, brooms and other household items..
Pyrolysis or Thermal Plasma Technology
Thermal plasma technology is another recycling process for complete separation of materials. After removal of the paper pulp, the polylaminate or polyethylene – aluminum residual is dried and broken down into small pieces before being put through the pyrolysis process.
Conversion to Thermo Plastic Resins and Granules
There are recycling processes that accept Tetra Paks, as well as plastic shopping bags and cellophane films etc which are brought from the collection centers. These are made into a thermoplastic resin, which is later used in industrial and commercial manufacturing. The waste-free process converts the used materials into plastic granules, which are later used for making a variety of plastic products.
Collection of used Tetra Paks
The most important aspect in dealing with recycling of Tetra-Paks, is the collection of used cartons. As these are consumer products they have a wide spread to almost every household. Some of the ways in which the empty Tetra Paks can be collected are these:
Authorities of the local bodies and community can be requested to arrange for Blue Bins for segregating used and empty Tetra Paks. These are especially suitable for densely populated areas and near commercial and shopping centers with a heavy footfall of consumers.
In sparsely populated areas where curbside recycling cannot be extended; drop-off recycling centers can be started for accepting Tetra Paks for recycling.
With the co-operation of families and household consuming the Tetra Paks products; separate waste-bins can be used for discarding the cartons. These can be taken to the Drop-off collection centers.
Minimizing the consumption of Tetra Pak products
All citizen concerned with the environment, should attempt to reduce the consumption of Tetra Pak products. It is desirable to minimize the quantity sent for recycling, rather than generating more trash in the belief that it is recyclable.
A few simple tips to minimize your consumption are:
- Buy milk and juice that are sold in plastic or glass containers.
- When buying wine or other food products; opt for those that are available in glass bottles.
- Choose canned food, rather than those sold in Tetra Paks.
- Buy bigger sized Tetra Paks, instead of the single-use smaller ones.
Tetra Paks may be here to stay, but we can do our best to ensure that it does not turn into an environmental hazard. We can contribute by making others aware of the environmental impact of Tetra Paks and how they can help in recycling it.