Tetra Pak Recycling in the United States

Goals

We will determine whether milk cartons or Tetra Paks can be recycled easily in the United States and the United Kingdom. Specifically, we would look into how readily recyclable, and/or widely recycled, Tetra Paks are in these two countries.

Early Findings

United States Tetra Pak Recycling

  • The ease and accessibility of recycling beverage cartons in the United States varies, depending on the community. The RecycleCartons website lets users enter their zip code to find the beverage carton recycling program for their area if any such program exists.
  • In 2009, only 18 percent of households in the United States had access to food and beverage carton recycling programs. As of 2019, 61 percent of households have access to such programs.
  • In the United States, 16 percent of food and beverage cartons make it to the recycling bin.
  • According to Recology, a waste collection and recycling company that handles most of the recycling in San Francisco, California, the city has an official mandate to recycle Tetra Paks. The San Francisco program is carbon-intensive, with two 18-wheel trucks delivering Tetra Pak bales across 2,000 miles to a facility in Mexico every few months.
  • While many recycling centers in the United States accept Tetra Pak cartons, they typically only recycle the paper components and do not always recycle the plastic and aluminum components. The paper components are pressed into recycled paper sheets that can be reused as paper towels, writing paper, food containers, and other products.
  • Companies that recycle the entire carton press them into boards that can be used for building materials such as roof cover boards and wall boards. One company that does this is Continuus Materials, which is based in Texas.

Additional Tetra Pak Recycling Information

  • According to Tetra Pak, approximately 70 percent of their packaging material is made from recyclable paper fibers.
  • Polymers or plastics in Tetra Pak packaging can be blended with other polymers into other products such as roof tiles, crates, and carton boxes.
  • As of 2018, the global recycling rate of Tetra Paks was at 26 percent. Their target goal for 2020 is to increase it to 40 percent.

Summary of Insights

  • In the United States, the ease and availability of recycling Tetra Paks vary per community.
  • For communities with available Tetra Pak and beverage carton recycling, it's the paper components that are typically recycled. Whole-carton recycling typically requires specialized facilities and is not as widespread within the United States.
  • In this hour of research, we did not have time to look into the Tetra Pak recycling efforts in the United Kingdom.

Proposed next steps:

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