‘Recyclable’ is one of those words that should mean all things good - but we’ve come to realise it can cover all manner of sins.
That’s not to say you should give up on recycling all together (of course not!), but a bit of research can really help guide us in our zero waste life, and means we’re not making assumptions about the products we use and what happens to them after we’re done. One very common question we get – Can you recycle Tetra Pak?
We go through a lot of Oatly milk and other Tetra-Pak-ed goods in an effort to avoid plastic packaging (and the heavy carbon footprint of dairy milk!). So, what happens to all the cartons? When we recently found out that Coca Cola is trialling a paper bottle – but that this paper bottle has a plastic lining - it prompted us to investigate.
If you read the information on the carton label - it's all good, you can recycle Tetra Pak. But if you think about what those cartons are made of, it’s hard to see quite how it’s a sustainable form of recycling. In fact, that shiny, thick material makes you wonder whether recycling milk – or other – cartons is really helping the environment.
Let’s have a closer look.
What are Tetra Pak cartons made of and how do you recycle them?
Tetra Pak is so frequently used because it keeps liquids sealed in and microbes out. This is achieved through its multiple layers: aluminium, paperboard, and 4 layers of polyethylene. It’s the paperboard that makes up the majority, which is what makes people think they can recycle these cartons.
However, the aluminium and polyethylene components make this tricky. For true recycling (the process where materials are returned to a previous stage in the production cycle without losing quality), all the Tetra Pak layers would have to be separated out and then used to make more Tetra Pak.
However, this isn’t what happens. When the materials are separated, the paperboard tends to become office paper, while the polyethylene and aluminium remain combined and go to the cement industry.
Isn’t this recycling?
Technically, no. The cartons get used to make something else, sure, and that’s obviously better than landfill; but the process still involves using fresh materials to make Tetra Pak, then using the resulting waste materials to make a whole different product. So, it’s not a circular process, it’s a linear one. Arguably, recycling plastic bottles would allow for more circularity – but as we know, the sheer scale of plastic pollution and lack of extended producer responsibility means recycling plastic isn’t the solution either.
But we can't give up our non-dairy milks! Can you recycle Oatly cartons in the UK?
In most areas in the UK, you can put your Tetra Pak cartons in the recycling along with everything else – this is a relatively new development, as lots of local councils used to refuse to collect and recycle them. If your council still doesn’t include them in their pick-up, write to them and ask for it!
However, bear in mind what we’ve discussed above: Whilst you can technically recycle Tetra Pak, the process is not fully sustainable or green, so try and be mindful of how many products you’re buying with this packaging. And don’t forget there’s so much you can make at home with limited hassle and cut out the need for excess packaging all together – including making your own oat milk!
Do you recycle your Tetra Pak cartons? Or do you try to avoid them altogether? Share in the comments below!