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  • Tetra Paks – The Next Stage In Pet Food Packaging?

    Tetra Paks – The Next Stage In Pet Food Packaging?

    We talk a lot about the pet food industry’s impact on the environment, especially when it comes to packaging.  Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen more companies alter their products to make them more eco-friendly and recyclable.  Some examples include paper-based dry food packaging and the introduction of Tetra Pak packaging for wet food. 

    Although Tetra Paks are a relatively new idea in the pet food world, we’ve been using them as packaging for human food for decades.  For example, juice cartons and long-life milk are some of the more commonly seen uses of Tetra Paks.  

    WHAT IS A TETRA PAK?

    Tetra Paks are a form of packaging produced by a company of the same name. First developed in Sweden in the 1960s, the Tetra Pak became a solution for storing milk and cream, allowing it to stay fresher for longer and minimising waste.  

    The original design was paperboard coated in plastic, and today the Tetra Pak’s composition is far more complex.

    As quoted from Tetra Pak’s website, their packaging is:

    “…primarily made from paper. 75% of the Tetra Pak carton is made from paperboard, 20% of polyethylene and 5% of aluminium. These three materials are layered together using heat and pressure to form a six-layered armour which protects the contents from light, oxygen, air, dirt and moisture.”

    Layers, Tetra Pak packaging material

    Polyethylene is the most common form of plastic on the planet, used in everything from toys, water bottles, fabrics, electrical cables, and more. Although not bio-degradable, when used in Tetra Paks, polyethylene can, and should, be readily recycled.

    HOW ECO-FRIENDLY ARE TETRA PAKS?

    A quick search across the internet brings up conflicting opinions on the true sustainability of Tetra Paks.  Some people argue that it is not as easily recyclable as suggested, and others say that its environmental impact is greater than we realise.

    To understand objectively if Tetra Paks are the best option for the pet food industry, we need to compare it with the other available options. 

    TINS / CANS

    Commonly made from steel, metal cans have been used in the pet food industry for decades.

    Metal is easily and readily recyclable, and steel is the world’s most recyclable material. On top of this, metal can be recycled countless times without there being any loss of quality! Most metal cans have in fact already been produced from recycled steel. 

    The process of recycling metal creates fewer emissions compared to the manufacturing of new cans, however, metal cans increase emissions in other ways.  Cans are heavier compared to alternatives such as pouches, and as a result, it costs more in fuel to transport large amounts from factories to suppliers and retailers. 

    Trays of canned pet food also take up more space.  A standard tray of twelve 400g cans takes up nearly the same amount of space as sixteen Tetra Paks. When transporting bulk quantities of pet food via ship or lorry, space is paramount and it can be argued that the alternatives are more space-efficient. 

    PLASTIC TRAYS

    It is hard to avoid all plastics, but certain single-use plastics are still recyclable.  If you feed your pet food that comes in a plastic tray, simply check the base of the packaging for a recycling logo with a number in the middle.  This number will dictate whether the product is recyclable or not.

    Here’s what each of the numbers means:

    (1) Polyethylene Terephthalate, readily recyclable.

    (2) High-Density Polyethylene, readily recyclable.

    (3) Polyvinyl Chloride, accepted by some recycling centres and authorities.  Check with your local council!

    (4) Low-Density Polyethylene, accepted by some recycling centres and authorities.  Check with your local council!

    (5) Polypropylene, hard or impossible to recycle.

    (6) Polystyrene or Styrofoam, hard or impossible to recycle.

    (7) Other/Mixed Materials, hard or impossible to recycle unless stated otherwise. 

    We checked the recycling status of some of the trays we sell here at The Thoughtful Pet Food Store and found that the most common number was 5. We highly recommend checking your own pet’s food to see if the trays are as recyclable as they appear. 

    Another thing to consider is the film lid the covers the trays to keep the food fresh.  This cannot be recycled regardless of the recycling status of the plastic tray.

    FOIL TRAYS

    Foil trays are a more readily recyclable alternative to plastic trays, but more so for cats as foil trays are always on the smaller size. 

    Being made of metal, these trays are easily recyclable and come under the same recycling rules as pet food cans (see above).  However, we could argue the production and transportation of foil trays could result in fewer emissions compared to similar-sized tins.  This is due to the fact that they are considerably lighter than cans, and take up less space for transportation. 

    POUCHES

    Pet food pouches are categorised under the same recycling number system as plastic trays (see above).

    When we checked the recycling status of the pouches in our warehouse, we found that they were all categorised as number 7 (Other/Mixed Material).  We can assume that a majority, if not all, of pouches cannot be recycled.

    However, Mars Petcare have a recycling scheme that accepts and recycles pet food pouches at participating locations across the UK. You can find out more information here.

    As pouches are not readily recycled outside of specific schemes, most pet food pouches are manufactured as brand new.  This means that more emissions will be produced to manufacture the products compared to cans and foil trays.

    However, in terms of space and weight, pouches are considerably more eco-friendly to ship.  Pouches are lighter than all of the alternative packaging options and multiple pouches can be packed into a smaller space. 

    TETRA PAKS

    Comparing Tetra Paks to the alternatives above, we can come to some conclusions.

    First, we know that Tetra Paks are recyclable in certain areas, but unfortunately not all.  This makes them easier to recycle than plastic trays and pouches, but not as readily recyclable as metal cans. We also don’t know if recycling Tetra Paks creates more emissions than recycling other materials.

    As Tetra Paks are made up of multiple materials, these need to be separated before they can be recycled. This process is more complex than simply recycling and repurposing metal.

    Tetra Pak states on their website that:

    “On average, more than 70 percent of our packaging material is made from…fibres that can be recycled several times. The thin layer of polymers – or plastics – …can be blended with other polymers and turned into new products, such as roofing tiles, crates, carton boxes and more.”

    Second, we know that Tetra Paks are considerably more efficient when it comes to space.  Sixteen Tetra Paks take up a similar amount of space as twelve standard dog food tins, and the packing is lighter as well.  This results in fewer emissions produced during transportation.

    WHAT IS OUR VERDICT?

    When it comes to the eco-friendliness of pet food packaging, we can now see that there is no simple answer.  All of the different types of packaging have benefits as well as potential issues that could cause more issues with waste or emission production.

    In our personal opinion, we believe the best option would be to buy canned pet food that is produced either in the UK or the EU.  We know that metal is readily recycled in the UK and that it has a much longer lifespan than plastics, which can only be recycled a limited amount of times.  By purchasing foods that are produced closer to home, you are reducing the amount of shipping that needs to be done to transport the products to warehouses and retailers. 

    For cats, we would recommend foil trays for the same reasons stated above.

    However, this is simply our opinion and we will leave it up to our readers and customers to make their own informed decisions.  One thing we can say for certain at least, is that at this stage Tetra Paks are not considerably more eco-friendly than any of its competitors.

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