Image Credit: Supplied

Every day around the world hundreds of millions of single-use containers and cans are thrown away. Although packaging is a critical part of the global food delivery system, this causes depletion of finite resources and wastage. As the demand for packaged foods rises, the need to find more sustainable packaging solutions is becoming more urgent.

Fortunately, some companies are taking up the challenge and developing truly innovative and sustainable food packaging that would revolutionise the market and help save the environment.

One of them is the food processing and packaging solutions provider, Tetra Pak.

As a leader in the field, Tetra Pak has committed to a goal of developing the most sustainable food package ever, to be made solely from responsibly sourced renewable or recycled materials, fully recyclable and carbon-neutral. The journey to reach this goal is called Go Nature, Go Carton.

It is a mammoth ambition – and one that would have untold positive repercussions for the climate fight, as the company knows all too well.

Now its packages are made of an average of 70 per cent paperboard from renewable wood fibres. However, they also contain thin layers of plastic and aluminium, both of which play a key role in securing food safety and extending shelf life.

“Bringing the world’s most sustainable food package to life requires several breakthroughs, and we are pleased to see that – despite challenging requirements – we have made significant progress on our decarbonisation road map,” says Niels Hougaard, Managing Director at Tetra Pak Arabia.

Niels Hougaard, Managing Director at Tetra Pak Arabia Image Credit: Supplied

In 2020, Tetra Pak announced its commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its own operations by 2030 and its ambition to reach net-zero GHG emissions across the entire value chain by 2050.

“As part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, global companies are challenged to not only measure and control the emissions from their own factories but also control the impact of their products across the value chain,” explains Hougaard. “For paper-based food packaging like Tetra Pak cartons, that means from sourcing and manufacturing, all the way through to distribution, recycling and end-of-life.

“We are on the right track and pace towards the achievement of our 2030 and 2050 goals. We have already managed to achieve some important milestones.

“Today, our processing systems are not only developed to treat the products gently but also to minimise the use of raw materials and energy during manufacture and subsequent distribution.

“We were the world’s first to introduce a package fully made from plant-based renewable materials and in 2020, we sold more than 1 billion of these carton packages.”

Tetra Pak’s new portfolio of tethered caps will also be available as a plant-based option, further increasing the renewable content of the package. Its first-generation non-foil packaging solution is already on supermarket shelves. “The protective aluminium layer has been replaced by a more environmentally sound polymer film, cutting the carbon footprint by almost 25 per cent,” he adds.

The company's sustainability strategy is founded on its commitment to a low-carbon circular economy, stressing that such an economy should consider not only recycling and reuse but also the climate impact of raw materials and manufacturing. Plant-based raw materials such as wood and sugar cane are essential to the company’s low-carbon circular economy approach.

Today, the average renewable content of Tetra Pak’s carton packaging material is 71 per cent, but it aims to make all its packaging from 100 per cent renewable materials.

Additionally, all Tetra Pak carton packages are recyclable and can be transformed into a wide range of new products. The company is working to improve the recycling value chain wherever its cartons have a presence – as an example, one million tons of used beverage cartons are recycled every year.

Here in the Middle East, as ever the region is embracing this vision for massive positive change.

In Saudi Arabia, Tetra Pak has partnered with two leading recycling companies, Obeikan Paper Industries (OPI) and Saudi Top Plastic Factory (STP). With a joint investment of more than €3 million (Dh11.7 million), the project aims to increase collection and recycling of cartons by creating value for post-consumer cartons, as the goal is to recycle all the components of the packages.

Image Credit: Supplied

“Together, with our partners we have created a recycling hub that can recycle materials from used carton packages collected in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries, such as Kuwait and the UAE,” explains Hougaard.

Cartons are sent through a pulping process to separate the paper fibres and PolyAl. OPI recovers the paper fibres and cleans, presses and dries them before converting them into high-quality recycled duplex board that has several end applications, such as tissue boxes and other folded cardboard packaging.

The PolyAl resulting from the carton recycling process at OPI becomes a raw material that is collected by STP and dry-cleaned to remove moisture and fibre residue. It is then put through an extrusion process that turns it into plastic granules, which are sold to plastic recyclers and used as a raw material for products such as plastic pallets and crates.

“This project allows us to start a brand-new industry that was not there before by collecting, recycling and selling new products out of something that could have become waste,” says Hougaard. “This is one example of how we create circular economies, which has always been core to Tetra Pak’s sustainability strategy. It is also another milestone towards achieving our ambition to reach net-zero GHG emissions across the entire value chain by 2050.”