VP of Communications, Tetra Pak (U.S. and Canada)
VP, Sustainability, Tetra Pak (Americas)
Tetra Pak is on a company-wide mission to create cartons that are more environmentally-sound than ever.
In the 1950s, Tetra Pak revolutionized food packaging with its paper-based, aseptic carton that can store liquids, including milk, for months without refrigeration.
Today, the company aims to transform the industry once again with a commitment to deliver the world’s most sustainable food package. Tetra Pak is working to create cartons made solely from plant-based or recycled materials that are responsibly sourced, fully recyclable, and carbon-neutral.
“Tetra Pak has long been committed to sustainability, but we’re now doubling down and taking this to the next level,” says Larine Urbina, Vice President of Communications (U.S. and Canada) at Tetra Pak. “The company is investing 100 million euros a year for the next five to 10 years in sustainable packaging solutions, working collaboratively across the value chain to ensure that we have innovative technologies and approaches to develop these new packages.”
Time for a better solution
Packaging plays the vital role of maintaining the nutritional value and taste of the product it contains while expanding access to food. Unfortunately, some materials in packaging contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, depletion of fossil-based resources, and waste in landfills and waterways. While recycling is part of the solution, only nine percent of plastic actually gets recycled. The packaging industry, along with food producers and consumers, realize that the world needs a better answer. And Tetra Pak intends to be a leader on this journey.
In addition to packaging liquid food products like milk, dairy alternatives, juice, and soup, Tetra Pak also provides processing technologies for products including ice cream, cheese, prepared foods, and more. Tetra Pak’s packages are made of an average of 70 percent paperboard from renewable wood fibres. However, they also contain thin layers of plastic and aluminum, both of which play a key role in securing food safety and extending shelf life.
“It’s a balance between protecting food and protecting the planet. Every layer in the package serves a specific purpose toward protecting the product inside,” says Jason Pelz, Vice President of Sustainability (Americas) at Tetra Pak. “For example, the thin aluminum layer plays a key role in food safety and long shelf life, so we can’t just remove that from the packaging. Instead, we’re working to find a more environmentally-sound solution.”
Sustainability throughout the supply chain
Pelz says that, in addition to the actual packaging, Tetra Pak’s commitment to sustainability focuses on the entire supply chain, which includes ensuring that materials are responsibly and sustainably sourced, replacing as much aluminum and plastic as possible, and increasing the efficiency of its manufacturing plants.
Already, all of its packages use paperboard from Forest Stewardship Council™ certified or controlled sources, meaning that the company sources raw materials from forests managed in a way that prevents biodiversity loss and ensures renewability. All of its sugarcane-based plastic is Bonsucro-certified, which means that it’s fully traceable to its origin, ensuring ethical business practices.
In 2020, Tetra Pak committed to reach net-zero GHG emissions in its operations by 2030 and net-zero GHG emissions across the entire value chain by 2050. The company also educates consumers on recycling and works with customers, waste management professionals, recyclers, municipalities, and others in the value chain to expand the collection and recycling of packages.
Protecting food remains a priority
Pelz adds that the company won’t compromise on one of its founding principles—reducing food waste. Each year, 33 percent of food produced globally is lost or wasted, while many people across the world go hungry. Food waste also affects climate change. When we waste food, it wastes the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. And food rotting in a landfill produces the GHG methane.
Urbina says that to reach its goals, Tetra Pak is strengthening its valuable partnerships with food producers, raw materials providers, and recyclers. “We recognize that to truly make it to the next level, we can’t do it alone,” she says. “It takes collaborative innovation to drive change.”
Within Tetra Pak, Pelz says that the journey to creating the world’s most sustainable food package is a whole company effort, with employees who are passionate about their mission. “It’s not just one department,” he says. “It’s a much bigger movement within the company to really make this central to what we do.”