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Re: [greenyes] Glass versus Tetrapack
Dear Sharon, Margaret, and others,

It is neither a trick question nor a no-brainer.

Sharon's question "is it better to use something disposable or something
recyclable?" is too simple.  The energy savings from recycling (per ton, per
unit, per trip) vary dramatically among the different container materials,
and for a multi-material package like aseptic containers ("TetraPak" is a
brand name), the energy required to collect and recycle them could, in
theory, exceed the energy required to landfill them and replace them with
aseptic containers made from virgin materials.

In order to answer this question, you need to understand (among other
things): the quantity and origins of the virgin materials going into
aseptics, and the economies of scale necessary to recycle these containers
regionally--as well as other environmental effects of virgin and recycled
production.  Unfortunately, I do not have enough information to answer these
questions right now.

Another interesting question is: what are the comparative net savings of
producing and recycling one "something" versus another "something,"  say,
glass bottles vs. PET bottles vs. aluminum cans vs. aseptics?
Unfortunately, in one of the rare EPA docs that makes such a comparison,
aseptics are not included ("Waste Management and Energy Savings: Benefits by
the Numbers," Choate and Ferland et al. 2001).

And yet another question is: if (in theory) the net energy expenditure of
recycling aspetics is roughly equal to that of landfilling and replacing
with new aseptics made from virgin materials, what happens to the equation
when you factor in the net energy savings accrued in the transportation
sector (ie. it uses less fuel to transport 12 oz of fruit juice in an
aseptic than it does in a glass bottle)?  How does that change if the glass
bottles are refilled rather than recycled? Etc.

Here in the States, TetraPak has done environmental analyses of their
containers, and has received an "endorsement" from NRDC (if I'm not
mistaken), but when I looked at their PR info a few years ago, I was not
convinced.  For one, I visited a Boston-area MRF where they were supposedly
recycling aseptics (including gable-top milk and juice cartons).  The site
manager explained to me that because the hydropulping facilities dedicated
to aseptics were too far away to make separating and shipping them
economically feasible, in reality, the aseptics were being slipped into the
paper loads in low enough proportions to be under the maximum permissable
contaminant limits.   So...some of the coated paper (which contains strong,
long fibers) may or may not have been recycled.  The aluminum, wax, and
plastic portions were definitely ending up as residue to be landfilled, even
if they were "counted" as recycled at the MRF/municipal level.

Ordinarily, I'd dismiss the whole question because the market share of
aseptics is so small compared to that of the other container materials, but
the quantity of aseptics is growing, especially as TetraPak has its eyes on
food--as well as beverage--packaging: soups, sauces, etc.

I'd be interested to hear others weigh in on this.


Jennifer Gitlitz
Research Director, Container Recycling Institute

Home Office:
2 Pomeroy Ave.
Dalton, MA 01226
Tel. (413) 684-4746
eFax: (928) 833-0460
Email: jgitlitz@no.address

Container Recycling Institute headquarters:
1911 N. Ft. Myer Dr. #702
Arlington, VA 22209-1603
Tel. (703) 276-9800
Fax: (703) 276-9587

On 6/30/03 11:31 AM, Sharon_Gates@no.address at
Sharon_Gates@no.address wrote:

> Is this a trick question?  While I understand that tetrapacks are
> recyclable, if there is no recycling infrastructure for them where you
> live, then they are merely disposable.  So the question becomes "is it
> better to use something disposable or something recyclable?"   Even
> weighing the environmental impacts of glass recycling (collection,
> remanufacture, etc.) against the one-time manufacture-then-disposal of
> tetrapacks, it still sounds like a no-brainer.  Am I missing something?
> Sharon Gates
> Recycling Specialist
> City of Long Beach, California
> 562/570-4694
> "Margaret Parker" <parker@no.address>
> 06/30/2003 01:16 AM
>       To:     <greenyes@no.address>
>       cc: 
>       Subject:        [greenyes] Glass versus Tetrapack
> Where I live in The Netherlands I am able to buy fruit juice in either
> glass
> bottles or tetrapacks (there is no cost or quality difference to me).
> We recycle glass but tetrapacks go in the general rubbish and therefore
> presumably in a landfill.
> My question is which is environmentally better in this situation glass or
> tetrapack ?

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