The (Un)Sustainability of Tetra Paks
January 11, 2023
“Is this recyclable?”, “Which bin does this go in?”, and “What is this even made of?” are
questions us recyclers are often asking ourselves while we examine a package searching for
the small recycling symbol and trying to determine the material it’s made of. Recently,
packaging has become more obscure with waxy-paper-like rectangular cartons that we find in
our local stores containing non-dairy milks, broths, juices, soups, and other foods.
Cartons are made primarily with paperboard and are either aseptic or non-aseptic. Aseptic
cartons, or shelf-stable cartons, include paperboard, an internal aluminum layer, and a plastic
seal. Non-aseptic cartons, or refrigerated cartons, don’t have the aluminum layer, and thus have a shorter shelf life and require refrigeration.
When compared to glass jars, tin cans, and retort pouches, the aseptic and non-aseptic cartons require less energy to produce and are drastically lighter, making their production and transportation carbon footprint smaller. However, aseptic and non-aseptic cartons are very difficult to recycle due to their mixed-material composition.
Here in Summit County, non-aseptic cartons can be recycled as plastic, but aseptic cartons
cannot be recycled due to their aluminum lining. Tetra Pak, the Swedish-Swiss conglomerate
producing aseptic cartons, stamp the recycling symbol on their cartons but only 30% of their
cartons are actually recycled. Without a machine specialized in separating each material in an
aseptic carton, it cannot be recycled. Recycle Utah’s recommendation is to purchase your
goods in glass jars and tin cans as those are materials that can be reused and recycled without losing quality.
By Addison Marr