At first glance these cartons seem destined for paperboard recycling
Think again! What you’re looking at is are Tetra Pak aseptic bricks, featuring 6 super-thin layers of low density polyethylene (plastic), paper, and aluminum foil. Lightweight, airtight and strong these are a miracle of food engineering allowing storage for over a year. These rectangular bricks stack side by side in boxes meaning no wasted space during shipping (take that jugs!)
Any trip to the grocery store will feature various non dairy milks, juices, and pre-made soups sealed in these wondrous cartons. Production for this Swedish company is soaring, exceeding 167 BILLION cartons last year! They are now operative in 170 countries with over 22,000 employees.
If you visit Tetra Pak’s website the majority of it is devoted to boasting the sustainability of their products. It paints a happy picture, and I do appreciate their effort, but I think they gloss over the real consequences of our wasteful habits. Last year they posted that 35 billion of their containers were recycled. If you do the math that is 20% of their product. In what logical mind is 20% something to boast about? Would you feel pride if you got a 20 on an exam? We need to make sure we don’t get seduced by the idea of recycling. It is a great idea, but it is not a solution to our waste problem. It still drives consumption and has its limitations. This recycling figure means that 132 billion cartons were NOT recycled. If you want to recycle them it is extremely difficult to find a recycling center to take them (to see if your town will accept them click here). The 6 layers of paper, plastic, and aluminum have to be separated and sorted to make recycling an option. Not many places have the capacity to do that (my town doesn’t). Also, in some cases the paper layer is removed and recycled and the rest is thrown away.
I don’t want to totally bash Tetra Pak’s here, if fact I am thoroughly pleased that their website provides craft ideas of how to reuse your Tetra Paks (check them out here!) We are still bound to buy some throughout the year and we will be experimenting with ways to reuse them (window basil planter??). I think they are an intelligent innovation, but we need to consume them intelligently. We need to realize we are one of over 7 billion humans, so we cannot consume mindlessly, assuming that recycling will fix everything. With a little effort we can reduce the amount of Tetra Pak waste we produce throughout the year. Can you get milk locally and support local dairy farmers? Do you know of any farmers markets that sell milk? Can we design a system where local farmers recollect used glass milk bottles, wash them, and refill them rather than a couple milk monopolies mass producing milk from animals existing in deplorable conditions to be shipped across vast distances resulting in a dramatic carbon footprint? Yes, I want to see a resurgence of the milkman!
Or you can be your own milkman and follow these simple steps to make your own lactose free soy milk!