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My Response: Recycling Opens the Door to a Circular Economy

You might have seen my previous post about Tetra Pak and recycling. I read an article from their CEO and I felt I had to respond. Brian Kennell, the CEO of Tetra Pak wrote an article for the Huffington Post. The article boasted the victory of Tetra Pak and their environmentally friendly initiatives. Here was my response:

I’m glad Tetra Pak has a commitment to using responsible resources. I know I use Tetra Pak products often. A concern I have is that Tetra Pak is so focused on design and production that it loses sight of the product’s end of life. There are many ways Tetra Pak could decrease what goes into the landfills. It can eliminate waste from packaging include; reduction, reuse, and biodegradable.

Reduction

One of the ways the packaging company justifies its product is the fact that the aseptic packaging is lighter than other types of packaging. Being lighter requires less fuel to transport and this decreases the amount of carbon produced, the carbon cost of the product. However, there are lighter alternatives to their aseptic packaging. A sealed plastic bag could be used. If Tetra Pak is going for lower carbon footprint they could go lower. This argument of decreased carbon use is not where the company is innovating, it is a justification of its current products so they do not have to change.

Reuse and Recycling

The brilliant part of Tetra Pak is that it is a system. They are selling a cheap system to aseptically seal food. The company produces the machinery to make the packaging and the mother-roll, the material to make the packaging. This means that Tetra Pak can make large changes quickly to the system. They could alter the mother-roll in a way so current machinery can still be used. The mother-roll should be made so that the materials are easy to separate. Separating the layers in the packaging is what makes it hard to recycle or reuse the packaging.

Biodegradable

One of Tetra Pak’s innovations in the bio-based cap, which is great, however, is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is a plastic that is not biodegradable. Depending on the data, about ½ of their packages are recycled, that figure is lower in the United States than in Europe. Another way would be to make it biodegradable. What if the cap was made out of polylactic acid instead of HDPE? Both materials can be made from sugar cane, except polylactic acid is biodegradable, and able to be recycled.

New Mantra for Tetra Pak

The old credo of Tetra Pak from Ruben Rausing that a package should “save more than it costs”. This mantra lead the company to innovate with new packaging design and materials. Major changes to the product have not occurred since Ruben Rausing was still with the company. To move forward there needs to be a new mantra. A mantra to make Tetra Pak innovate for the future and create new products. The old credo “save more than it costs” needs to be updated to “save more than is loss”. Save more materials than is lost. By saving more than is lost is good for profits and good for the planet.

6 Comments

    • Paul,

      Hopefully they all get recycled and if not then re-purposed for another item.

      Regards,
      Elliott

  1. Lora,

    Not yet. I hope to work with Tetra Pak one day, making improvement on their products.

    Regards,
    Elliott

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