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A visit to Tetra Pak’s recycling partners

April 6, 2015

Earlier last month on 18 March, Tetra Pak invited ECO Singapore to visit paper mills in Malaysia to view and understand the recycling process of their beverage cartons. Siang Yu and Zen were also joined by representatives from several schools, non-government organisations and waste collectors.

We visited one of Tetra Pak’s recycling partners, KPT Recycle SDN BHD, in Selangor, Malaysia. Did you know? Tetra Pak’s environmental ambitions are based on the principle of saving more than it costs. That is to say, they aim to minimise the impacts which their products have on the environment. 75 percent of the beverage carton is made of paper – a renewable source – and the remaining 25 percent is made of plastic and aluminium foil. As such, the beverage carton is 100% recyclable and not gone to waste as they are used as raw material for new products.

Tetra Pak beverage cartons (Source: http://www.tetrapak.com/MediaBank/TBA_crystal.jpg)

At the recycling plant, the head of operations explained the recycling process to us. The process begins with the beverage cartons being soaked in water in a large tank where they are spun and cut to separate the paper and the aluminium inner lining. After which, the recyclable paper goes into a heating chamber where it is pressed to produce rolls of new, multi-purpose paper. Here you can see a picture of Siang Yu and Zen standing in front of the final paper product:

As the aluminium is filtered out, it is crushed and dried before being packed and sent to a second recycling plant as it undergoes heat treatment to make aluminium foils for roofs. According to KPT, this aluminium foil is a superior alternative to zinc roof as it does not rust and is stronger than zinc roof, giving it a lifespan of 8 to 10 years.

A small piece of aluminium foil which can be used as roofing

15 to 18kg of aluminium is required to make a 3m x 1m sheet of aluminium foil. That’s approximately 5000 beverage cartons!

Tetra Pak have set up beverage carton collection locations all over Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. Next year, collection sites will also be set up in Australia. The recycling plant receives 40 tonnes of beverage carton boxes per day.

Besides recycling beverage cartons, Tetra Pak also recycle carton boxes for packaging large appliances such as refrigerators (they are cut into sizes that customers want and reused), collect soy fibre and chrysanthemum fibre to make organic fertiliser, and they even have a charity shop where consumers can buy pre-loved clothing and other household items.

SOME REFLECTION:

It was interesting to see how the beverage cartons are taken apart and how the different materials are reused in the making of new products such as roofing and paper. It’s also commendable that Tetra Pak are constantly innovating and searching for new ways to reduce their environmental impact. Our guide told us that currently, they are looking into converting aluminium foil into pallets.

In Singapore, we are very familiar with the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Of the 3Rs, Reduce comes first, and that should be our first consideration as consumers. But when we are unable to reduce our consumption, we should strive to work on the other 2 Rs: Reuse and Recycle. And we are happy to see that Tetra Pak have made it easier for us to do just that!

A slightly blur group photo!

Besides, visiting Tetra Pak’s recycling partners, our visit was further enriched with visits to a mushroom farm, a brown rice factory and an organic farm. Stay tuned for our next post to find out about what we learned there!

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