Layers used in the cartons

On average, at least 70% of our packaging material is made from long, strong paper fibers that can be recycled several times. The thin layer of polymers – or plastics – in our beverage cartons can be blended with other polymers and turned into new products, such as roofing tiles, crates, carton boxes and more.

As we continue to drive collection and fiber recycling, we are also increasing our focus on polymer recycling in our packaging.

Recycling contributes to a low-carbon circular economy that keeps valuable materials in use. It also helps prevent littering, saves resources, and reduces climate impact.

6 layers of a Tetra Pak carton

How is a Tetra Pak carton recycled?

Once the used beverage carton goes to the collection center, they are then sorted and separated from other dry recyclables. The cartons are flattened and compacted using a baler, in order to save space during storage and transport. Once enough of these baled cartons are collected, they are taken to the recycling plant.

At the recycling plant, the cartons are emptied into a huge drum called a pulper (similar to a giant domestic food mixer) and then filled with water and pulped for a short duration. The hydra pulping process separates the paper fiber from the polyethylene and aluminum to produce a grey brown mixture (the pulp). After hydra pulping, all the fiber is recovered and converted into pulp sheets. These sheets are then used to make different grades of paper and paper products like notepads, envelopes and tissue paper.

The residue, i.e. polyethylene and aluminum (commonly referred to as polyAI) is also recovered and fully recycled. Using high heat and high pressure, the polyAI is transformed to tough, light weight and attractive boards. These composite boards replace wood and are useful for making roofing sheets and furniture items.

A few common questions about Tetra Pak cartons:

Are Tetra Pak cartons recyclable?

Yes, they are recyclable. Cartons are collected and recycled worldwide, where waste management and recycling infrastructure is in place, including in India.

How much of a Tetra Pak carton is renewable? Is the paperboard used in Tetra Pak cartons responsibly sourced?

A Tetra Pak carton package is typically made of approximately 70% paperboard, which is a renewable resource.

All our paperboard comes from wood from forests certified to Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™) standards and other controlled sources. Although we don’t own or manage any forests, we set our purchase requirements to promote sustainable forest management, including water stewardship and protection of biodiversity.

What is the current recycling rate of Tetra Pak cartons?

Today, close to 62% of cartons sold in 20 cities surveyed by TERI (Ref: TERI Report). in India are recycled. Extrapolated to the country, 1 in every 2 cartons sold is recycled. We continue to work with various stakeholders including brand owners, collection partners, municipal bodies and recyclers to increase this number. There are over 30 collection agencies across India that help recover used cartons from waste for recycling.

Is it true that the multiple layers of cartons cannot be separated, thereby affecting recyclability?

It is important to understand that all layers of the cartons are recyclable and are being recycled. They can be recycled in several ways- 1- Fibre content (~70%) is extracted and converted into paper-based products; the remaining poly-Al is separated, and used to create water-proof products like roofs and furniture. 2- The entire carton is shredded and compacted using high temperature and pressure to make composite sheets, through a zero-waste recycling process. No separation of layers is required. 3- In some countries where carton waste is available at scale, all the layers can be separated using chemical separation technologies.

What kind of products can be made from recycled cartons?

  • Seats and backrests of three-wheelers
  • Classroom furniture for schools, for underprivileged children.
  • Secondary packaging for everyday items such as tea, toothpaste, cosmetics etc.
  • Outdoor bio-toilets and low-cost housing
  • Roofing sheets
  • Industrial pallets utilised by many Food Corporations in India
  • .. and more

How environmentally sound are Tetra Pak cartons compared to other packaging alternatives?

Tetra Pak packages are primarily paper-based and recyclable. A number of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) studies have assessed the greenhouse gas emissions from different packaging formats (including glass bottles, PET and HDPE containers, Tetra Pak cartons, metal cans and stand-up pouches) and the Tetra Pak carton is generally attributed with the lowest environmental impact. The Tetra Pak package is primarily made of paperboard (70%), which has a low carbon footprint, as its main raw material – wood fibre, if well-managed, is renewable.

What are you doing to increase collections of used Tetra Pak cartons in India?

Over the past 20 years, Tetra Pak, along with the industry, has been able to grow carton collection & recycling network significantly– 30 + collection partners, supported by 8 recyclers. In addition, we continue to invest in consumer education programs to raise awareness about recyclability of cartons to encourage consumers to play their role.

Can just 8 recyclers successfully recycle all cartons sold in the country?

Recycling is dependent on the capacity of the recycling facility, and not the number of recyclers. Today, there are 8 independent recycling organizations spread across the country who convert used cartons into different types of material.

We are always looking for more recyclers. However, to make the recycling business sustainable they need a steady stream of used cartons which makes collection very important. Consumers can play a very important role by segregating their waste at source so that cartons can be collected efficiently.

You have set up drop-off points in a few cities for consumers. Why can this not be done across India?

Over the years, we have focused on raising consumer awareness about the importance of waste segregation to advance the recycling process. In some cities, to increase consumer awareness, we have also supported the setting up of drop-off points for used cartons. However, this is a significant and long-term investment for one organization to make, and is therefore not sustainable, given the size of the country. We therefore encourage consumers to simply separate their recyclable waste from wet waste so that they can be successfully collected by the existing waste management infrastructure for recycling.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Hear the 'Story of Recycling' from Robert Swan​

Hear the well-known polar explorer Robert Swan, in his quest for environmental best practices, talk about the how Tetra Pak is working in India to collect and recycle cartons in this video.​​​

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Hear the 'Story of Recycling' from Robert Swan​

Hear the well-known polar explorer Robert Swan, in his quest for environmental best practices, talk about the how Tetra Pak is working in India to collect and recycle cartons in this video.​​​

How can you contribute?

You can make a conscious choice. Purchase packaging that is based on renewable materials and which is recyclable. Ensure that you segregate waste at home – keep wet waste and dry waste separate, so that the recyclable materials are kept unsoiled and clean. Put used Tetra Pak cartons in the dry waste bin.