Tetrapak, like really...

By An amalgamation, just like Tetrapak
It's crazy how much waste and recycling is almost treated like a state secret (!) Anyway, the below should be enough info for you to feel confident in making decisions about whether you feel it is a product you want to support, tolerate or avoid.

The headline points are:
  • We don't recycle Tetrapak (liquid paperboard) in NZ
  • The stuff we do collect is sent off-shore for processing.
  • It's not true recycling because Tetrapak isn't made into another Tetrapak, it's downcycled
  • Before downcycling can even happen, LPB needs to be separated into its constituent parts and this is an energy and water intensive process. 
  • In the end, products have to basically be invented in order to find something to do with the materials (particularly the plastic and aluminium stuck together) - would we still be making these things if we didn't have all this Tetrapak waste we don't know what to do with? I'd say, probably not.
  • Attempts to set up a LPB plant in NZ or Aus are ongoing. It may happen, but it'll still be downcycling (probably a wood plastic composite - yay, more composite... like wasteful father (LPB), like wasteful son (wood plastic))


Liquid paperboard (sometimes referred to as Tetrapak, but this is a brand name) is very difficult to recycle because it is a composite product - meaning it's made up of multiple materials. LPB is made of multiple layers of paper & plastic, as well as a thin layer of aluminium foil sandwiched in the middle.
  
There are a small number of councils in NZ that collect LPB in kerbside recycling (about 4), including Auckland. Consumers often confuse the fact that a council accepts a product in their kerbside recycling collections with that material being recycled. For example, saying things like "Auckland recycles Tetrapaks". 

To be clear, there is no LPB recycling plant in NZ. Councils that collect LPB for 'recycling' ship it offshore (often baled with mixed paper) to plants, usually in Asia (such as India), for processing. At these plants, the LPB is put into giant vats & shredded up with water so that the different layers separate. The plastic floats to the top & is scooped off & either landfilled or incinerated, or else may be downcycled into things like pallets or buckets. The foil layer is usually stuck to the plastic (in a material called PolyAl), so separating it out is difficult. Again, it may be landfilled or incinerated. Tetrapak is looking at some ways to reuse (i.e. downcycle) this material & other elements of Tetrapak. One of the things that can be done in some plants (such as where the Fonterra Milk for Schools cartons go) is to heat press the material into sheets that can be used for corrugated roof tiles.  

The main value product left over after all this shredding and soaking is the cardboard/paper part, which can be recycled like ordinary cardboard or paper. But when you think about it, this whole process is really energy & water intensive.

Tetrapak's euphemistic map of its recycling process: https://assets.tetrapak.com/static/documents/sustainability/recycling-journey-infographic.pdf   

Attempts to get a LPB recycling plant in NZ are ongoing. If this ever gets off the ground, it's not going to involve recycling Tetrapak back into another Tetrapak (true recycling), but rather downcycling it into another product. For example, the most recent initiative was to establish a plant in South Auckland to turn LPB into "wood plastic" (this has been delayed because the plant is suffering financial difficulties). Do we really want decks made of plastic mixed with wood? What is going to happen to these planks of wood plastic at the end of their life? They're another composite product, which makes managing them very difficult!

In 2020, Wellington City Council rejects petition (with reasons) for establishing Tetrapak (liquid paperboard) recycling in Wellington: https://wellington.govt.nz/have-your-say/epetitions/petitions/declined/2020-03-tetra-pak-recycling#:~:text=Background%20information,%2C%20Southland%2C%20Invercargill%20and%20Bluff.