Friday, July 27, 2007

TetraPacks: A bigger problem for recycling than the 'weeky or not' row. 

The next big recycling problem is almost upon us – Tetra Packs and similar cartons, and even more so the new compact pouches originally developed to hold US military rations.

Cans and glass jars are due for a steep decline as supermarkets make more and more use of the pouches–and that will change the whole balance of the waste disposal cycle. If we don’t get a grip on this change before The Market leads us into it we will find ourselves with a massive increase in landfill flow and greatly increased costs to the taxpayer.

Most areas do not have facilities for recycling Tetra Packs, something which the TP company commendably tries to tackle. It has a website with lots of links, notes on policy initiatives and a call on the public to contact their local authorities if they do not have TetraPack recycling facilities locally. Unfortunately things are not quite the way described on the website… for example the only facility in the UK capable of dealing with tetrapack-type waste has just closed down so all material needs to be exported to European facilities. And there are real practical problems with the solutions suggested on the web.

However a number of new Pack Collection Bins are due to be opened for business on 31st July across the UK in various authorities. These are provided free by Tetrapack. Keep an eye out for these, and do note how well they are administered. As with all these central collection facilities (outside supermarkets for example) a key question is how often the bins are cleared. There are a lot of packs out there and overflowing bins would be a real public nuisance.

The use of these packs for fruit juices and smoothies has resulted in a big jump in this waste flow – but the big big impact will come with the new pouches. These are the snip-the-top, stand-up-in-the-microwave packs. For things like cook-in sauces, soups, and similar foods now sold in cans or jars, they represent a huge attraction for the shops as they are much easier to store and display. Plus, a whole new range of prepared dishes are emerging in this new packaging. Market forces are selecting this as the first cycle of costs and benefits shows clear cost and handling convenience pluses for producers, retailers and shoppers. But the choices freely made in this cycle lead to big costs in the next round. We need to think about this carefully…


In addition to tetra-packs, no one really in our local council seems to be grasping the issue of recycling cardboard packing - not the corrigated stuff, just the thing that wraps around a ready meal,fish-fingers,etc. Why have they been able to do this for over 15 years in Australia, but not here...???
The pouches that I've seen seem to be much smaller and lighter than the equivalent capacity jars and cartons. Surely then, this is a reduction in packaging which is even better than recycling - and something to be cheered, not bemoaned.
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