Tetra Paks: The Good, the Bad, and the OH GOD MORE TRASH

Tetra paks... Those inventive little containers that you can buy on a warm shelf and keep in your warm cupboard for months/years before it spoils.... I have been asked about tetra paks a few times in the last few weeks so I figured I would write a little blog about them. Since one of the most bought items in our house used to be almond milk in a handy little tetra pak, I went and did my research on why tetra paks are not-sustainable, not recyclable and definitely not zero-waste. Soup, almond milk, juice, etc. The verdict?

Tetra paks were an incredible invention. These new containers could extend the shelf-life of many products by months, if not years. Drinks and food could be transported unrefrigerated and shelved at a store in a non-refrigerated section and not spoil. And on top of that, they were made to flatten down for easy transportation to a recycling plant. It is a much safer alternative to epoxy lined cans containing BPA (your canned foods are actually COOKED in the cans leeching BPA into your food, and also in your beer or soda can - more on that later in a BPA post - yay). So yes, tetra paks sound awesome. Their massive amounts of moneygreenwashing their product is a little disturbing though. There are actually not as many places that will recycle these containers as you think. Only 20% of cities in America offer recycling of tetra paks and even then, you will probably have to drive to the facility and pay to drop it off. Why is this so difficult? Tetra paks are created using seven layers. Of those layers, the LDPE (Low-density polyethylene used for moisture protection, adhesion and lamination), is layered in between aluminum (used for oxygen, flavour and light protection) and paper. Now to “recycle” the container, the recycling plant has to strip these layers apart. This process is close to impossible and extremely time and money consuming, so most facilities (which are subsidized by the government) end up with a big blender type machine that chomps its all into mush and recycles it into toilet paper or other non-recyclable items at a very high cost to tax payers. This is not recycling, it is actually considered “down-cycling” because the product that is being recycled, is being turned into a non-recyclable item which will eventually end up in the landfill: the exact place that you thought you were saving the item from going. That is not RE-cycling. The idea of recycling is to continue using that same material over and over and never let it get to the landfill. Unfortunately, our recycling system is broken and most mixed plastics, once “recycled” have one more life in them before going to the trash. This is a good thing to remember before rationalizing buying a container that has a #plastic on it. Glass, paper and metal have a greater chance of being truly recycled since these materials can be broken back down into their original material and reused again and again. But that is a whole other blog post for the future. Going back to the tetra paks, 80% of these containers actually end up in the landfill anyway and with all those layers of polyethylene, it takes a veeeeeeeeery long time to break down. It will NEVER biodegrade, but the sun will at least break it into smaller pieces through photodegradation (thank you science class) so wildlife can eat it up and die. BOOOO! Bye bye, tetra. You were great until I realized how ungreat you were.

So, if you are like our little family and LOVE your non-dairy milks, like almond milk, try making your own! It is extremely simple and much more cost effective. Not to mention it connects you more to what you are putting in your body. Listen to Winter: She will show you how to make your own here. Enjoy!