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Packaging water in Tetra Brik cartons?

How is water served to you when you go to a bar or restaurant? In my case, I normally get a bottle made of glass or plastic. Sometimes they put the water directly in a glass like when you order a coffee and they are so kind as to accompany it with water. There are even restaurants that serve it in their own containers printed with the name of their establishment.

Have you ever been served water in Tetra Brik?

I haven’t. At least up until now. But recently there are companies that have begun to commercialize water in Tetra Brik.

Perhaps it is the novelty of this that has surprised me. And maybe I’m not convinced because I am a bit classical. But it has made me think, above all, when the value proposal they are making is an environmental one: “it is a recyclable material.”

Is it?

The Tetra Brik structure 

Traditionally, a Tetra Brik is made up of several layers of polymers, a carboard layer and an aluminum layer.

First there is a layer of polyethylene (1) to protect the container from moisture, then there is layer of paperboard (2) to give the container strength and rigidity, another layer of  polyethylene (3) to bond the paperboard to the aluminum, a layer of aluminum (4) to act as a barrier against light and oxygen –in addition to avoiding loss of aroma– and finally, one or two layers of  polyethylene (5 and 6) to protect the container from its contents.

Here you have a link that explains in English how a Tetra Brik is made: Tetra Pak Packaging Material

Is it recyclable?

According to the manufacturer, Tetra Brik is 100% recyclable since the paperboard can be separated from the other materials (a mixture of aluminum and polyethylene called polyaluminum).

– The paperboard is turned into pulp and is used to make sheets of paper and toilet paper, among others.

– The polyaluminum is recycled by means of heat pressing and is pelletized, yielding sheets with different calibers and dimensions which, since they are not of great quality, can be used in less demanding sectors such as for example in construction.

Therefore, we can conclude that Tetra Brik is a recyclable material although we must indicate that there are two main drawbacks to be considered. On one hand, the high energetic cost of the process (not just in recycling but also in its manufacture) goes against what we would consider a sustainable product, above all in comparison with similar products. On the other hand, the low number of recycling plants that exist for managing Tetra Brik waste –concretely, in Spain there are none, although there did exist one some time ago– have as a result that in the majority of cases Tetra Briks end up in energy recovery.

Should we use Tetra Brik to package water?

Evidently, Tetra Brik has its advantages which we are not going to dispute here, but if I had to choose one container for water, I personally think that Tetra Brik is not the most adequate one. This especially if we do it thinking in terms of recyclability or in terms of the carbon footprint.

I believe there are containers for packaging water that are much more recyclable, such as for example, and among others, a polyester bottle, which additionally to being 100% recyclable, consumes much less energy in its production as well as in its recycling process. Furthermore, there are already companies that don’t make their bottles from virgin polyester anymore but instead exclusively from recycled polyester.

Conclusion

Honestly, I think that we are misleading the consumer by launching erroneous –even malicious– messages, which, by taking advantage of the sustainability trend, forget all ethical principles in the interest of higher turnover. We should put our efforts into finding reasonable solutions that can respond to environmental issues and also generate income and benefits for companies. 

But this is only my opinion. What do you think about water served in Tetra Brik containers?

Jordi Lopez
jordi.lopez@gerosagroup.com