Tetra Pak innovates with carton-based solutions to meet rising sustainability demand

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Tetra Pak Southern Africa has created innovative new solutions in support of the circular economy, and to meet the growing demand for sustainable packaging from South African retailers and food and beverage producers.

Demand stems from consumers, retailers, producers, and post-consumer waste recyclers who increasingly seek the value of carton packaging to support a low-carbon circular economy, supply chain and operational efficiencies, new business and revenue models, job creation, and environmental activism.

“Our approach to sustainability encompasses the entire value chain, including the environmental, social, and economic challenges our society faces,” says Stefan Fageräng, Managing Director of Tetra Pak Southern Africa during the company’s that “Staying in Shape: how sustainability packs a better future for all” webinar, held on 18 August.

“The understanding of the importance of taking care of our planet is increasing rapidly. Retailers and our customers, driven by consumers, are constantly demanding new and improved sustainability solutions. “Based on renewable materials, such as carton fibre, our carton packages naturally have a very favourable and low impact on the environment.

Tetra Pak’s aim is to protect food, people, and futures and in doing so provide sustainable and responsible solutions to the food industry. We take pride in being leaders and in delivering solutions to the industry in South Africa.”

According to Rodney Reynders, Sustainability Cluster Leader for the Greater Middle East and Africa region at Tetra Pak, the company’s sustainability strategy is founded on their commitment to a low-carbon circular economy.

“We believe that such an economy should take into account not just recycling and reuse, but also the climate impact of raw materials and manufacturing. Our carton packs are made mainly from paperboard, a renewable resource, giving cartons a lower carbon footprint than other types of liquid packaging.

“In partnership with some South African retailers and one of our milk producers, we introduced plant-based closures made from polyethylene derived from sugar cane. This innovation increased the renewable content of the total package to greater than 80%.

“These innovations support our customers’ and retailers’ sustainability strategies in reducing their climate impact.” Tetra Pak South Africa has several other recycling initiatives underway. It has developed innovative new uses for the recycled materials.

Agripa Munyai, Sustainability Manager at Tetra Pak Southern Africa says that the company is constantly working with local rigid plastics product manufacturers to develop products made from recycled plastics and aluminium elements of the beverage cartons.

Some of the products developed include durable pallets for use in logistics systems. “These new applications ensure that we close the loop and that valuable raw materials are kept in use for longer.”

He adds that the company has some exciting developments on the cards in South Africa, such as the pallets and point-of-sale (POS) materials that they are creating. “These new applications help our customers with their own transformation journeys by incorporating more sustainable products and methods, further ensuring the protection of people, food, and futures throughout the value chain.”

The recycled carton packs are now also used to produce the cores for new reels of carton packs. When new carton packs are produced at the facility in Pinetown, they are produced as flat carton packs in a continuous roll and wound onto reels that can weigh several hundred kilograms each.

They are then sealed for safe and hygienic transportation. The inner cores of those reels, like giant versions of the centre of paper roller-towel, are now made using recycled Tetra Pak cartons.

Post-consumer waste is recycled by two partners in Gauteng, Mpact Recycling, and Gayatri Paper Mill. The two partners have the facilities to separate the various layers of carton packs that serve to protect packaged food and beverage products while offering many additional benefits throughout the supply chain.

“The recyclers are in Gauteng but they have collection points across the country,” Munyai. “The recycling rates have steadily increased since 2016, up from 3 709 tonnes, to 4 906 tonnes in 2019.”

He adds that they have more capacity and can handle up to 36 000 tonnes, so there is an enormous opportunity for them, for South Africans who choose to act responsibly, and for the kerbside sorters who are an important part of the chain.

“Being able to recycle these products in South Africa means that South African consumers can act responsibly, create jobs and ultimately, income for collectors, resulting in growth opportunities for local business.” Tetra Pak Southern Africa continues to improve sustainability in its own operations. Their converting factory in Pinetown currently uses renewable credits.

The Johannesburg and Cape Town offices are currently transitioning to 100% renewable solar energy in phases. A total donation of R1,5 million was also recently made to the COVID-19 relief effort. Half fo that went to Food Forward SA (FFSA) and the other half went to Feed SA. FFSA recovers edible surplus food from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers then redistributes it to registered beneficiary organisations that serve the poor across the country.

Feed SA is a non-profit organisation with 100% B-BBEE beneficiaries, feeding around 6 500 people per day. It has also established 35 crèches in townships, feeding schemes, classrooms, and helps to renovate existing facilities. “We are mindful of our role, as a leading provider of processing and carton packaging solutions, to address the challenges faced by our industry and society as a whole,” says Stefan Fageräng.

“That is why we have a long history of working in partnership with our employees, customers, and stakeholders to help drive positive sustainability change.”