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Tetra Pak is testing a plant-based barrier to replace aluminium in carton packaging

Tetra Pak is experimenting with a fiber-based barrier to replace the traditional aluminium layer on its aseptic carton packaging in order to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining shelf life.

The aluminium coating is crucial in ensuring the safety of the contents inside the boxes. Despite being thinner than human hair, the aluminium layer generates one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with Tetra Pak components.

According to Marco Marchetti, VP for Packaging Materials, Sales, and Distribution Solutions, the plant-based innovation will be deployed in the first half of 2022.

“Preliminary findings indicate that the packaging with a fiber-based barrier will deliver significant carbon dioxide reduction compared to typical aseptic cartons, as well as equivalent shelf life and food safety qualities.” Cartons with a greater paper content are also more appealing to paper mills; so, this concept has a clear promise for realising a low-carbon circular economy for packaging,” said Marchetti, who is located in Italy and trained as a mechanical engineer. He was commenting to to the press release in response to Tetra Pak Malaysia’s statement confirming the company’s commitment to sustainability via innovation and cooperation.

Tetra Pak VP for Packaging Materials, Sales and Distribution Solutions, Marco Marchetti

Even packaging is becoming more plant-based.

Tetra Pak prioritises replacing the aluminium layer since the material is non-renewable and requires complicated and energy-intensive procedures. Furthermore, Marchetti stated that the ability to recycle the aluminium component of post-consumer cartons on a wide scale is inadequate, therefore upstream and downstream action is required to speed a progressive transformation.

To preserve the product, Tetra Pak cartons are generally comprised of 70% paperboard, 25% plastic, and 5% aluminium. Where proper waste management and recycling facilities are in place, all materials are recyclable.

“However, we are eager to change and adapt in response to fast changing circumstances and rising demands from consumers, society, and authorities.” We want to create the world’s most sustainable food package, one that is constructed entirely of sustainably sourced renewable materials, is 100% recyclable, and has no carbon footprint. We must transition from high-carbon, fossil-based materials to low-carbon, renewable materials in order to avoid depleting our planet’s resources. “This is critical to our low-carbon circular economy approach,” Marchetti added.

The prototype batch of single-serve packets with the fiber-based barrier has been tested since earlier this year, and it represents an important milestone in the development of future generations of alternative barriers.

The firm’s other two packaging inventions were five tethered cap options and paper straws. The caps, which are claimed to be a global first, are intended to improve convenience during consumption while also preventing litter because they are linked to the packaging. The cap also has a plastic content decrease of 7% to 15%. The paper straw, on the other hand, claims to “further increase the usage of low-carbon, renewable materials” without jeopardising food safety or end-user drinking experience.

The ideas would be gradually implemented throughout Asia Pacific. Its plant-based packaging, for example, may be found in selected brands in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Oceania. In Japan, the alternative barrier is still being developed.

“In Japan, between late 2020 and early 2022, commercial technological validation of a polymer-based barrier to replace the aluminium layer was done, assisting in understanding the value chain consequences of the modification and quantifying the carbon footprint reduction.” It also validated acceptable oxygen protection for vegetable juice while allowing for higher recycling rates in a nation where recyclers prefer aluminium-free cartons,” he said.

Marchetti stated that Tetra Pak will invest around 100 million euros (US$99 million) each year for the next five to ten years to explore more sustainable packaging choices outside of Asia. All of its European plants can now make plant-based polymer covering for carton containers, thanks to “major investments.” More work is being done to broaden the plant-based offering to include other items and plants.

The five tethered cap solutions have also been launched in Ireland, the Baltics, Spain, and Germany in a variety of categories such as water, juice, and milk, as well as forms such as on-the-go and family packs.

“We are on track to achieve net zero emissions across our operations by 2030, with the goal of achieving net zero across our value chain by 2050.” As a Science Based Objective initiative-approved target, this entails, among other things, achieving a -46% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions across the chain by 2030, in accordance with the 1.5°C course.

This is what the most recent climate science has informed us is required to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, and we are totally committed to doing our role,” he added.

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