Can You Recycle Tetra Pak Cartons? I Oatly Milk Packaging – Kempii

Can You Recycle Tetra Pak?

‘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 bottlebut 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.

Recycle Tetra Pak
Tetra Pak is made up of 6 different layers. Image Credit: Treading My Own Path

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!


  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle UK
  2. Treading My Own Path Blog

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  • Your investigation into Tetra Pak recycling sheds light on a crucial aspect of sustainable living. Navigating the complexities of recycling, especially with materials like Tetra Pak, requires awareness. Your insights highlight the importance of questioning assumed notions about recyclability . Encouraging readers to be proactive with their local councils while emphasizing homemade alternatives demonstrates a practical approach to reducing waste.

    Oliver Murphy on
  • Hey,

    We got in touch with our local Council because according to the Tetrapak website, the only place we could recycle the cartons was on a site only accessible by car. We got the following back.

    “Whatever Tetra Pak or ACE UK may say, in truth the UK has almost no Tetra Pak (or other similar types of cartons) recycling factories. As a result, last year only 2% of all cartons were recycled across the UK. We don’t exclude cartons from our recycling collections because we want to: rather, we exclude them because we simply can’t get them recycled.

    We have made representations to government in this respect, in our responses to consultations on the government’s national waste strategy (announced in December 2018 but no firm announcements yet made). In its proposals, government said that it wanted to obligate councils to collect cartons for recycling: our response was that doing so will be pointless (and a significant waste of public money) unless the UK’s recycling infrastructure is significantly improved. Indeed, we stated that if the UK doesn’t get proper cartons infrastructure, then it would actually be better to ban cartons in favour of a more easily recycled packaging product (such as plastic or glass bottles or jars).

    I fully understand that you have seen the statements from Tetra Pak and ACE UK about carton recycling but they simply don’t reflect the reality that councils face: there is almost nowhere to actually recycle cartons in the UK, so councils are forced to collect them in refuse bins, not recycling bins."

    Oatly did not dispute these claims and said their focus is on making sure recycled materials go into the carton in the first place. Even though it sounds like 98% will then go into landfill. Oatly’s response is here

    sam on

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