Solid Waste & Recycling


Thinking Outside the Box

Tetra Pak is committed to being a world leader in sustainable recycling, by promoting and encouraging effective widespread carton recycling programs. The company strives to achieve a 40 per cent global carton recycling rate by 2020, doubling...

Tetra Pak is committed to being a world leader in sustainable recycling, by promoting and encouraging effective widespread carton recycling programs. The company strives to achieve a 40 per cent global carton recycling rate by 2020, doubling the rate world-wide from 2010.

On average, “gable top” cartons are 80 per cent fibre and 20 per cent polyethylene, and “aseptic” cartons are 74 per cent fiber, 22 per cent polyethylene and four per cent aluminum. Cartons have high-quality virgin bleached long fibre and the ink is on the polyethylene layer and not the fibre. This makes cartons attractive to mills that can separate fibre from the poly/aluminum. Some end-users can also use the poly/aluminum either as feedstock or fuel.

Carton recycling in Canada

Based on beverage stewardship and industry funding organization data, the Canadian residential recycling rate for used cartons in 2011 was approximately 38 per cent. (This is based on data from the following sources: ABCRC, Encorp Pacific, Dairy Container Collection Program, MMSM, Encorp Atlantic, Atlantic Dairy Council, MMSB, RRFB, NWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Stewardship Ontario, PEI Ministry of Environment, Energy and Forestry, Quebec residential waste audit data (2010), Sarcan, Yukon Environment.) To expand carton recycling, Tetra Pak along with SIG, Elopak and Evergreen, established the Carton Council of Canada (CCC) in 2011.

CCC’s strategy for increasing carton recycling rests on a four-prong approach:

1. Develop robust sustainable end markets for post-consumer cartons to ensure they’re recycled into usable end products. CCC has worked successfully with the North America paper industry to expand the number of mills taking cartons from one to 10 in the last three years, with more expected to come online over the next year.

2. Work with material recovery facilities (MRFs) to overcome barriers to sort post-consumer cartons in their own-grade. In Ontario, the CCC is collaborating with the industry funding organization to collect detailed data on the flow of used cartons from discard to end-markets. These data will help the CCC identify and pursue opportunities to increase capture and recovery of used cartons and potentially other composite paper packaging such as coffee cups, ice-cream cartons and freezer board in other Canadian jurisdictions as well.

3. Collaborate with local communities to encourage consumers to recycle cartons. Approximately 94 per cent of Canadians have access to residential beverage carton recycling but not everyone recycles them. The Capital Regional District in British Columbia (CRD), which recently added cartons to its residential recycling program, provides an opportunity for the CCC to provide communications and technical support to ensure carton recycling in the CRD is as successful as possible.

4. Promote policies that support increased carton recovery. CCC supports policy measures, such as mandating carton collection, or introducing landfill bans.

Expanding yield, and who pays?

A key measure of carton recycling success is total material yield — the percentage of incoming tons actually recovered and manufactured into new product.

Tetra Pak’s core focus over the last three years has been to identify and supply paper mills that desire cartons as a feedstock. However, Tetra Pak is working to develop recycling solutions that address the carton in its entirety (including the poly/al layers) and achieve the highest total yield possible. (Two examples — ReWall in Des Moines, Iowa, and Groupe RCM, in Quebec — are profiled here.)

Even without poly/al recovery, separation of cartons for shipment to tissue mills results in fibre yield of 70-79 per cent — the same as coated book stock, sorted office paper or printer’s mix: three feedstock mainstays. Consequently, CCC has also worked to increase North American tissue mill demand for cartons.

Depending on the jurisdiction, the cost to collect, sort and process used cartons is either born in part or fully by producers (brand owners, retailers and first importers — Tetra Pak’s customers) or by the consumer and/or producers (in deposit jurisdictions). Tetra Pak’s work to develop strong, sustainable demand for cartons is helping to keep costs competitive with other obligated materials and support sustainable carton recycling growth.

Commodity pricing for used cartons reflects carton fibre quality and yield. Pricing varies with commodity cycles, transportation distances, transportation method, quality of bales, etc. According to The StewardEdge Inc. Price Sheet, which reflects Ontario market price trends for post-consumer commodities, the average price paid for used cartons in 2012 has been $116/tonne. (You can view a sample of the Price Sheet at

Spotlight on recyclers

Groupe RCM of Yamachiche, Quebec expects to begin production in the fall of this year of a low-density granule suitable for a range of applications. RCM’s pioneering line will use a “thermokinetic” process that relies on high-speed knives enclosed in a mixing head to homogenize disparate waste materials with combined physical properties, transforming packaging waste including cartons, plastic bags and films, into plastic granules for extrusion into products such as pallets, railroad ties and flowerpots.

Located in De Pere, Wisconsin, Fox River Fibre’s current capacity is 400 tpd of pulp or 570 tpd of post-consumer feedstock. The mill uses high consistency batch pulpers that separate fibre from polyethylene and aluminum components. Used cartons and water are introduced together. The high consistency of the pulp allows a strong inter-fiber friction effect resulting in a high defibering rate. For deinking applications, the strong friction effect enables very good ink detachment while the low speed of the turbine minimizes contaminant fractionation and facilitates the removal of fragile contaminants.

According to Brian Hesprich, Vice Presi-dent, Finance, their standard feedstock of sorted office paper (SOP) is becoming more difficult to source due to less office waste being produced. The ability of Fox River to use post-consumer carton stock helps increase the availability of its feedstock and take pressure off of SOP. The mill is currently working to find a beneficial use for the poly/aluminum residuals and management is confident they will find a solution and meet their goal of keeping 100 per cent of incoming cartons out of landfills.

Elisabeth Comere is Director, Environment & Government Affairs, Tetra Pak, in Vernon Hills, Illinois. Contact Elisabeth at

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