Post-event report: Trip to Tetrapak paper mill

On 14 and 15th March, ECO Singapore volunteer, Jian Hao, and I attended TetraPak’s educational visit to their TetraPak paper mill in Malaysia.

TetraPak is the world’s largest producer of beverage cartons! Look at the base/ side of your milk carton or drink carton and chances are you will see the TetraPak logo.

However, do you know that after finishing the drink, the empty carton can be turned into other useful things?

At the paper mill, we witnessed what happens after we throw TetraPak into recycling bins!
(FYI, if there isn’t a specific recycling bin for TetraPak, just throw into the plastic one. It will be sorted out later at the Materials Recovery Facility).

The graph below shows how it happens:

Tetra-Pak-downcycling

So basically, TetraPak is made up of paper, plastic (PE) and aluminium (Al).

Trucks bring collected empty beverage cartons, including non-TetraPak ones, from across Malaysia and Singapore to this paper mill, where the paper is turned into wonderful notebooks and boxes, while the PE-Al layer is turned into roofing.

Visit the official TetraPak “Life of a Package” campaign site for more interesting graphics & info!

Unfortunately, a few problems were also identified:

1) The amount collected is a small fraction of the millions of beverage cartons used in the region every day.
2) This process is strictly speaking “downcycling”, not “recycling”, as the waste materials are not used to make new beverage cartons. In other words, every new beverage carton still requires trees to be chopped, oil to be extracted, and aluminium to be mined.

Jian Hao even questioned the 3Rs philosophy, “Sinking deeper into it, for a general public, many green campaigns and efforts have placed emphasis on recycling. However, they have not stress on the reduce and the reuse elements.

In our current age where demand/ consumerism is increasing, it is apparent that it could be inevitable to expect a reduction in consumption. Post-war generations are frugal, however, not for the younger generations who are experiencing periods of economic boom.

Therefore, my biggest question is whether there is a need to re-think about the 3Rs?

It could be time to replace the 3Rs in order to achieve the environment targets. Our current starting point in the recycling campaign can no longer begins with Reduce or Reuse.”

What do you think we can do to sustain our natural resources for present and future generations?