Only if it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Does your council offer kerbside recycling collection for Tetra Paks?
An increasing amount of the food I buy now seems to be packaged in Tetrapak cartons rather than tin cans. Is this better for the environment?
K Lacey, by email
The “Tetra Recart”, as this replacement carton is officially known, was first introduced in the UK in late 2007. Sainsbury’s was the first supermarket to use them and it partly justified the move by saying that the Tetra Recart, which is produced by the packaging giant Tetra Pak, is made from FSC-certified “paperboard” and, overall, has less impact on the environment over its life cycle than a “tin” can.
“As the 21st-century alternative to canned foods, the Tetra Recart carton reassures Sainsbury’s customers that the paperboard used comes from well-managed forests and controlled sources,” the supermarket said. “The package’s rectangular shape also reduces carbon footprint, as it is highly efficient during transportation, storage and in distribution, using 33% less space than a can. As well as being two-thirds lighter than a tin can, the carton is recyclable and can now be recycled with over 70% of the UK’s councils, meaning Sainsbury’s customers will be buying one of the most sustainable packages on supermarket shelves.”
Tin cans, of course, are also recyclable, but Sainsbury’s said that Tetra Recart cartons “have been shown to have one of the lowest carbon footprints of all non-reusable rigid packaging systems in life-cycle analysis studies across the world”. Sainsbury’s didn’t provide the reference to these studies, but I have found one “peer-reviewed scientific study” examining the life-cycle impact of steel cans versus the Tetra Recart on Tetra Pak’s own website. The study (pdf), which was “prepared for Tetra Pak, Inc” by a firm called Franklin Associates based in Kansas, says that, over its lifetime, a tin can of tomatoes will be responsible for over three times as much carbon dioxide than a Tetra Recart containing tomatoes.
This all makes perfect sense, but the one main issue I have with all Tetra Pak cartons, not just the Recart, is the ease of recyclability. Judging by Tetra Pak’s “Where can I recycle?” map, very few local authorities offer kerbside recycling for Tetra Paks. The best most of us can hope for is that a collection point will be offered somewhere within our local authority, typically at a supermarket. However, I suspect that most people just toss their Tetra Paks out with the rest of their card and paper recycling – where it will likely end up in landfill and add to emissions – rather than go to the hassle of taking them all down to the local collection point.
I’d certainly be interested to hear what you do with your Tetra Pak cartons.