In What World Can You Call Tetra Pak Green?

tetrapak packaging photo

Tetra Pak is a wonderful invention. The aseptic packaging can keep milk fresh for months without refrigeration. There are hundreds of products that are given extended shelf life with it. Perhaps it is better for certain foods than canning, like the tomatoes in Bonnie's post, because it isn't lined with epoxies made with BPA.

And goodness knows, they put on a show of being green. In Europe, they are now using FSC certified wood in them. They use renewable energy to recycle them in Scandinavia (where they ship them all, after doing life cycle analysis showing that the carbon footprint of that shipping is low). They have websites in every country in the world touting how green it is. TreeHugger goes so far to ask Would You Drink Bottled Water If It Came in a Recyclable Paper Container? from a bottled water company that says "save the planet, one bottle at at time" as if drinking water packaged in it is actually a good thing. Triple pundit calls it "Packaged Sustainability."

But what do we mean by green anymore?


Tetrapak construction

First of all, what do we mean by recylable? As Warren noted in Enough, Already. 'Recyclable' is Not Recycling,

Some things just annoy me to the point of distraction. A case in point being companies selling products by proclaiming their materials are easily recyclable. Especially when their own product does not include any of these very same materials.

To my mind this is hypocrisy. It is "do as I say, not do as I do." Recycling is a complete loop. A joined circle. You are only recycling when you are buying recycled.

When they do recycle Tetra Paks (which is rare, on their own website they admit that worldwide, only 18% of them are), what do they turn it into? In North America: toilet paper.

If you can get it recycled. Only 20% of America has access to recycling facilities for Tetra Pak, the rest goes into landfill.

And what is Tetra Pak recycling?

You can watch this German video, or more at the UK website.

There is no question, they are doing a lot of work here to get that paper separated from that foil and polyethylene. I like TreeHugger emeritus Ruben Anderson's description, discussing Tetra Pak wine:

First, even if you can get the drunkards off their lazy asses to join the mere quarter of the North American population that recycles, few places recycle Tetra Paks. Second, the places that say they recycle Tetra Paks are liars. What does "re" mean? It means again. Can a Tetra Pak be made into another Tetra Pak? No. Tetra Paks are seven incomprehensibly thin layers of paper, plastic and aluminum. The poor suckers who try to recycle them use giant blenders to mush the paper pulp off the plastic and metal, then they need to separate the plastic from the metal. What idiot thought this would be a better idea than washing a bottle and refilling it?

And who pays for this? Who goes to the trouble of separating the tetra pak and dealing with it? You do. As Philip Fleischer wrote many years ago:

By supporting recycling programs, governments are subsidizing companies like Tetra-Pak, whom they relieve of part of the cost of packaging disposal. This hidden subsidy penalizes bottlers who offer a refund and refill their bottles. Although selling products in refillable bottles uses energy and material more efficiently, it is made to appear more expensive because all the costs are visible. Refillables do not get hidden subsidies through blue box programs or tax supports for landfill.

Or as we say, Recycling is Bullshit.


Look at Tetra Pak in America, Canada or the UK. and you will see the most remarkable, expensive and elaborate campaigns to convince us that buying stuff in a fancy new Tetra Pak is green.

Green is reusable. Green is refillable. Green is not disposable and downcylable, for the lucky 20% of Americans who have access to it, and landfill for the 80% who don't. Tetra Pak is the most elaborate greenwashing scheme ever, and they are doing a very good job of it.

Related Content on