The Swiss-Swedish consumer packaging giant, like many others in the sector, claims that it is committed to running its business in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner. It released a report last week promising to recycle every collected carton despite a shortage of local processors. The report comes as the only processor of Tetra Pak cartons in the UK, Smith Anderson, closed in recent weeks due to rising energy costs.
Tetra Pak is now working with four UK paper mills in pilot projects to process cartons into usable products. However, the problem with recycling Tetra Pak products is the mixture of materials.
"Tetra Pak products have a more complex structure than traditional cardboard," said Tetra Pak spokesperson Richard Hands. "There are non-fibre elements in the packaging and these pilot projects are concerned with removing the non-fibre from the fibre mix."
Typically, a Tetra Pak product is made with 70-90 per cent paperboard, 10-25 per cent polyethylene and around 5 per cent aluminium foil. The combination of different materials makes it harder for paper mills to process using traditional methods.
This is a concern for processors who site growing energy costs for falling margins. The problem has nearly halved the amount paper mills in the UK. Estimates suggest there are about 60 mills currently in operation in the UK, down from around 120 four years ago.
The problems surrounding recycling in the UK are compounded by a general increase of exports to Asia. China specifically has been taking on recyclable materials en masse, where new super mills are being developed to deal with high quantities of materials at low production costs.
However, Tetra Pak believes super mills are only partially to blame as most of the recycling potential in the UK is lost because the country doesn't have a Green Dot programme - a system that charges consumers for packaging which is then refunded when returned.
"The system we have is based on tradable certificates or PRNs," said Hands. "This is a low-cost way to achieve EU recycling targets, but it overlooks light-weight consumer packaging and instead focuses on industrial waste."
Currently the UK achieves a 3 per cent collection and recycle rate for cartons. This is well below the EU average of 30 per cent, a level that is bolstered by Germany and Belgium whom obtain rates between 65 and 70 per cent.
While Tetra Pak is consults with local paper mills, the majority of recyclable cartons are being shipped to Norway's Hurum paper mill for processing.