Alex Henriksen | A holistic approach to a closed-loop circular economy


The key is the need for a closed-loop circular economy that takes into account the reduction of waste, the reuse and recycling of materials and the regeneration of natural systems. This means that the packaging industry must balance providing safe and nutritious food in protective packaging while incorporating low carbon renewable resources throughout the life cycle process.

With UK consumers now more concerned about the environment than the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the 2021 Tetra Pak index, businesses and policymakers need to reflect on the value of adopting circular strategies and initiatives . Not only that, but how can the best and most impactful changes be made – and urgently? There are several steps we need to take.

Tie free ends to complete the loop

Recycling has become the essential solution in the movement towards a circular economy.

This is reflected in the food packaging industry, where we have already made significant strides in increasing recycling rates around the world. On average, Tetra Pak cardboard packaging is made of approximately 70% cardboard, which can be recycled several times.

But, other measures are necessary. The current recycling rate for cardboard packaging in the UK is not as high as it should be. The government recently proposed a 73% cardboard recycling target by 2030, but currently 40% of all cardboard sold in the UK is collected for recycling and sent to recycling factories.

How to increase recycling rates within the framework of circular economy plans? The key is not the recyclability of cardboard packaging, but overcoming the current limitations of the infrastructure for collecting, sorting and separating materials for recycling. Getting it right is the first step in building a sustainable circular economy.

Packaging companies need to work with policy makers to build a better infrastructure and think about how they can support its development. In 2013, Tetra Pak facilitated the opening of a carton recycling plant near Halifax, capable of recycling 25,000 tonnes of cartons produced each year for the UK food and beverage market.

We also support the UK government’s plans to introduce several measures focused on waste and recycling, including a Guarantee Deposit System (DRS), extended producer responsibility and consistent household recycling collections. However, the development of a UK-wide DRS that captures the maximum amount of waste, including cardboard packaging, will require more investment in the relationship between the packaging industry and policy makers. policies.

Beyond the UK, we are working with 170 recycling partners around the world to improve recycling infrastructure. Collaboration like this is vital to ensuring that we reduce the amount of food packaging that enters the environment as trash.

Responsible resource management

The world cannot rely on recycling alone, and recycling itself cannot create a circular economy either. We have to go beyond this single focus.

The production of fossil-based plastic continues to grow exponentially and only 9% of all plastic is recycled. It is not enough to have a circular packaging design that does not take into account energy intensity, carbon emissions and end-of-life impact. We must therefore design products with end-of-life strategies in mind to optimize the use of renewable material resources of plant origin in order to limit the permanent drainage of the world’s fossil resources.

Simply put, plant-based materials are renewable, recyclable, and often have a lower carbon footprint than alternative packaging materials. We are already seeing innovative steps in product and material design and have worked closely with our partners to pioneer the use of renewable sugar cane polymers. In addition, our Tetra Rex® plant-based packaging is the first and still the only fully renewable carton packaging in the world, made from fully certified and traceable materials.

Completely closing the loop also means giving value to recycled materials, or upcycling, so that they can be used in new markets. Cardboard pulp recovered from recycled cardboard can be used to create new products, such as cardboard tubes and floor mats. Separately, the recovered polymers and aluminum can be made into new products such as tiles and furniture.

The importance of product design

The way products are designed and created can also have a significant impact on the amount of energy and materials used throughout their life cycle. Innovative product design can help reduce the CO2 impact of packaging. Take the Tetra Rex® herbal packaging. It is the world’s first fully renewable packaging, made from cardboard from FSC ™ certified and other controlled sources, and plastic derived from sugar cane, and has carbon neutral status, in accordance with the PAS 2060 standard internationally recognized by the Carbon Trust.

Tackling climate change is no small feat, but with evolutionary steps, a tangible circular economy is within reach. Tetra Pak is committed to making this a reality, in particular through its ambitions to create the most sustainable cardboard in the world – a fully renewable, fully recyclable and carbon neutral cardboard. But getting there requires improved recycling collection rates through a UK-wide ‘all-inclusive’ DRS program and a wider use of plant-based materials to help decarbonize the UK economy. . We are not alone, and together we can reinvent the way we design, develop, manufacture and manage waste, to ensure a sustainable future.

Alex Henriksen, Managing Director, Tetra Pak – Northern Europe


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