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Tetra Pak introduces certified recycled PE polymers for food contact applications

February 28, 2021
Food & Drink

Two Tetra Pak production sites in Europe are now certified to produce packaging with recycled polyethylene (rPE) polymers, according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) Chain of Custody mass balance attribution method.

Tetra Pak is the first company in the F&B packaging industry to be awarded the RSB Advanced Products certification.

Carton packages manufactured at Tetra Pak facilities in Budaörs, Hungary, and Châteaubriant, France, are therefore eligible to carry the third-party certification label.

The company affirms using recycled material is “a must” for the transition to a circular economy, as it can contribute to increased plastic recycling rates, make better use of resources and reduce dependence on virgin fossil materials.

The RSB is a global, multi-stakeholder independent organization driving sustainable development through certification and collaborative partnerships.

The organization’s sustainability standards are specifically aimed at recycling technologies and advanced recycled products.

Chemical recycling the only way?
INEOS will provide the first batch of attributed rPE polymers, leveraging Plastic Energy’s advanced recycling process to convert post-consumer plastic waste into high-quality polymers.

The petrochemicals manufacturer then reprocesses the chemically recycled polymers together with virgin plastic.

These supply Tetra Pak with blended plastic to manufacture new carton packages at the two RSB-certified Tetra Pak production sites.

The company views chemical recycling as the only way to currently achieve recycled polyolefin films for food-grade applications.

The underlying technologies used for chemical recycling are not new, according to Tetra Pak. However, there is increasing interest in their applications to create a plastic-to-plastic route and complement mechanical recycling to build a plastics circular economy.

Decade-long journey in bioplastics
There is a long way to go before plant-based and recycled polymers become mainstream, says Tetra Pak.

Since 2011, it has produced over 12 billion bio-based caps made from plant-based polymers, saving more than 300,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Although Tetra Pak cartons are recyclable and have a lower carbon footprint than most alternatives, the company “knows it can do better.”

In the pipeline are recyclable cartons fully made from renewable or recycled materials that are convenient, safe and carbon-neutral.

Bringing this future carton package to life will require more than renewable polymers and recycled food-grade materials. The company lists further “critical innovations”:

Ensuring full recyclability in existing waste streams.
Innovating in equipment and processes to incorporate structural changes.
Simplifying packaging material structure and increasing fiber- and paper-based content.
Replacing aluminum with an alternative barrier that still protects the food inside from oxygen and light.
Tetra Pak is exploring sustainable polymers and assessing the use of alternative plant-based products and recycled fiber-based materials.

The company is also investing approximately €100 million (US$121.6 million) annually over the next five to ten years to develop more sustainable packaging solutions.

Ellen MacArthur goals
A signatory of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, Tetra Pak has pledged to incorporate a minimum of 10 percent recycled plastic content on average across carton packages sold in Europe by 2025, subject to suitable food-grade recycled plastics being technically and economically available.

Notably, in 2019, none of Tetra Pak’s packaging included post-consumer recycled content. During the same year, the company started a strategic program on the integration of recycled and renewable polymers into both its primary and secondary packaging.

In the past two years, Tetra Pak has made 70 percent of its plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable. It aims to reach 100 percent by 2025.

By Anni Schleicher


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