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Lots of UK supermarkets have recently started selling chopped tomatoes in Tetra Paks, rather than the tins they were always in. My first thought was that this was environmentally bad - given recycling facilities for Tetra Paks are much harder to come by, compared to tins.

However, there are also obvious positives:

  1. I imagine far more energy is needed to form/recycle a metal can, than a Tetra Pak.
  2. Tetra Paks tessellate far more neatly - less space between cans on a lorry = less lorries.
  3. Tetra Paks would be lighter than cans, therefore, again, less fuel used to transport.

Overall, would this appear to be an environmental decision from the supermarkets, or a financial one, for the supermarkets margins? (I'd imagine Tetra Paks are definitely cheaper to produce than cans.)

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  • On point 1 you are so wrong it's laughable. Because of the number of layers in a tetrapak, huge amounts of energy are needed to separate the layers. It is even debatable if recycling terapaks is environmental friendly.
    – Aron
    Sep 9 '14 at 3:18
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    @Aron There is no need to laugh about a perfectly good question!'
    – THelper
    Sep 9 '14 at 5:39
  • @THelper I agree its a perfectly good question. But it is unfortunate how bad tetrapaks can be for the environment...To be clear, I did not mean it as laughing at ignorance.
    – Aron
    Sep 9 '14 at 5:46
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    There are two interesting posts on threehugger that mention several pros and cons of Tetra Paks, here and here. The main con of Tetra Paks seems to be, as Aron already suggested, the difficulty and energy needed for recycling. The energy needed to create them is also high. The main pros are less energy for transportation and Tetra Pak is working on raising recycling awareness and increase the number of recycled items.
    – THelper
    Sep 9 '14 at 6:00
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    The impact of transport on the carbon footprint of our food isn't as big as you might think -- check out this great study from Our World in Data: You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local
    – LShaver
    May 6 '20 at 13:45
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Currently, tin or aluminum cans are easier and more environmentally recycled than Tetra Paks. That said, Tetra Pak is working hard to improve their product. One issue is that they mixed many materials in the Tetra Pak, while a tin can have a relatively simple recycling process.

Metals have also been recycled for a longer amount of time, so there are more places to take them and more people are familiar with the process and prepared to process them.

In my opinion, Tetra Pak is more accurately comparable to other polymer packages. It has a harder time competing with metal cans, glass bottles, and the like where tradition helps recycling.

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A TetraPak is unlike the simple tin can, a complex combination of materials which need to be separated before recycling making it very hard or impossible to recycle. A TetraPak cannot even be reused as many times as a tin can. Now if it is near impossible to safely Reuse or Recycle anything, the remaining option is obviously to reduce the usage of it. We can also stretch the word "reduce" to mean "eliminate" in this context.

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While Tetra Pak is harder to recycle (you will need to take it yourself to a recycling center and there is lots of work to include it in the circular economy, eg Platnieks et al "Sustainable tetra pak recycled cellulose / Poly(Butylene succinate) based woody-like composites for a circular economy", Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 270,2020,122321, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122321.

In general, as food cans now also contain plastic layers, the CO2 savings of the much lighter and easier to tightly pack tera paks are much better for the environment on almost all measures. Also its recycling is less energy intensive as compared to cans or glass which need much greater heat.

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