Tetra Pak, a brand that has been making a profound impact on Australia’s food and beverage industry for more than 60 years, is enhancing its commitment to sustainability with plans to develop and produce fully recyclable and carbon neutral packaging before 2030.
Most Australians will equate the brand with the tetrahedron-shaped milk cartons that have represented clean, healthy milk for decades – while those of a certain age will fondly remember the Sunnyboy ice-lollies served in similar packs. The firm has always been primarily involved in Australia’s dairy industry, and has proudly retained Brownes Dairy as a key customer since its earliest days of business. It has now extended its reach to support customers with processing and packaging of dairy alternatives, juice and more.
What consumers may not know is that the firm has been paying close attention to its environmental impact since its inception, well before green issues came to the forefront of good business practice. Last year, Tetra Pak commissioned a market-first comprehensive lifecycle analysis of a range of consumer packaging types in Australia specifically to broaden the current packaging sustainability discussion beyond recycling. The report took account of the source of materials, manufacturing and transportation of packaging to counter misinformation in the market. It also aimed to emphasise the distinction between packaging that can be recycled vs. that which is produced sustainably – something that isn’t immediately obvious to concerned consumers.
“People pick up a glass bottle and say, ‘this is recyclable, therefore it must be good,’” says Tetra Pak Oceania MD Andrew Pooch, “but they don’t understand the carbon impact of the whole lifecycle of the bottle. I think it really surprised some people looking at what they thought was an environmentally friendly product, only to realise its true impact on the environment.”
Tetra Pak is well on its way to achieving its sustainability goals, but the challenge is not easy. Although Tetra Pak cartons are recyclable and made from an average of 70 per cent paper, the journey towards developing the most sustainable food package – fully recyclable, meaning materials are recycled in practice and at scale globally – is fairly complex. To keep food products safe, the firm uses polyethylene and aluminium foil to create a robust seal and barrier, which can’t easily be separated from the paper to reuse the material in new packaging. The firm is now pursuing a solution to recycle the entire package into building materials.
“We shouldn’t think that it has to be package-to-package in order to be recycling,” says Pooch. “Basically, if you’re capturing the value of a product and reusing it in a good way, then that’s still a positive outcome. But we’re not stopping there – we’re trying to use more plant-based materials in our packages. We’ve got quite a few products that use plant-based plastic, and we’ll be introducing more of those in the coming years. We’re also working with our paper suppliers and asking how they can help us to create paper with better barrier properties, which will allow us to create an aseptic package that doesn’t have an aluminium foil layer. If you get rid of the foil, it makes it easier to recover the pulp.”
Tetra Pak’s environmental objectives are part of its ambitions to grow its business in Australia and shape the future of the F&B sector. Its business has already expanded well beyond packaging – you’d be hard pressed to find a dairy-based product in a supermarket that hasn’t been through a piece of Tetra Pak equipment somewhere along the way. The firm’s motto is to make food safe and available everywhere, which has seen it working with Australian dairy manufacturers to support their dairy plant processing via evaporators, heat exchangers, separators and so on. Tetra Pak equipment is also used to make cheese, butter, ice cream, infant formula, milk powder, dairy alternatives and fruit juices.
“Over the last 60 years, Tetra Pak has supported the development of the Australian dairy and beverage industry by providing fit-for-purpose packaging and processing solutions. These include creating value from Australia’s milk resources and facilitating export growth. The key for us is our customers’ success. If they don’t succeed, neither do we,” says Pooch.
True to its business ethics, in 2019 Tetra Pak built a presence for water in cartons in partnership with Slades Beverages and US firm JUST Water, launched by Hollywood actor Jaden Smith as a reaction against the predominance of PET bottles used as water containers.
“From that, we’ve been able to continue supporting Slades Beverages at their new site extending their range of offerings. After a successful trial phase, they are currently preparing to launch a range of plant-based beverages soon.”
As the firm looks ahead to the next 60 years in this region, the future looks promising.
“Both Australia and New Zealand are significant food producers for their pure, natural and safe ingredients, especially in the dairy industry, and we have Asia at our doorstep,” notes Pooch. “Within a decade, there’ll be another billion consumers in the world, most of them in Asia. Australia and New Zealand have an important role to play as the gateway for quality and premium products. More than that, consumers are willing to pay more for specialised products, especially for everyday nutrition.
“We produce around 30 billion litres of milk in Oceania, most of which goes to Asia as milk powder,” he adds. “I think in the future, you’ll see more consumers buying ready-to-drink milk produced in Australia and New Zealand. So by 2030, the market could be 10 times as big as it is now for export liquid milk. The key thing for us is that we’ve got to help our customers be successful. It’s really about partnering with the customers we have, using the marketing insights we have to understand consumer needs, leveraging our global network plus the Tetra Pak solutions and technologies to help them be successful. And then we’ll all be here for 60 more years and beyond.”
Learn more about Tetra Pak’s capabilities via the Tetra Pak website.