Milk cartons – I cart(on) believe how difficult they are to recycle


I’ll work on the terrible pun in the title, it’s not my best work.

We drink a lot of cow’s milk alternatives in our house, due to Andrew and me being vegan and Evan having a dairy allergy. This means we generate a lot of empty cartons – about 4 a week.

Drinks cartons
Got milk?

Up until very recently I’d been chopping the plastic tops off these and chucking them in our cardboard recycling bin. I’d assumed that the cartons were made of cardboard but, oh no, it’s not that simple.

The majority of drinks cartons are made by Tetra Pak (I’ve only ever seeing one carton without the Tetra Pak logo on it, but more about that later) a huge Swedish company that worked out how to preserve liquids for longer to extend their shelf life without refrigeration.

Although the majority of the packaging is made from cardboard, it also contains plastic and aluminium. It says on the cartons that they are sustainable so I wasn’t too worried. Until I decided to find out more. And kind of wished I hadn’t.

According to the website treadingmyownpath.com, Tetra Paks are not sustainable. This ¬†article was the the number one search result in Google for ”tetra packs recycling”, which, even though it should be ‘paks’, has got to irk a company which likes to shout about its sustainability.

The main point treadingmyownpath.com makes is that Tetra Paks aren’t recycled into new packs (in the way bottles are recycled into new bottles), they are recycled (or ‘downcycled’ as the article says) into other products which are often single use and rapidly end up in landfill.

What’s more, if you did want to recycle the packs anyway, which, I suppose, is better than just binning them, there are very few places that will take them.

In Sheffield, the fourth largest city in the UK, there are only two Tetra Pak recycling points and only one of them is near the city centre, in Waitrose carpark. I don’t know why the recycling point for Tetra Paks is here, it’s certainly no bigger than any other supermarket recycling centre. Maybe the council think that people who go to Waitrose like drinking things from cartons? Turns out they like drinking a lot of Oatly Barista.

Tetra Pak recycling bins
Purple recycling bins also known as the Oatly Barista mass grave

One of the bright purple bins was 90% full of empty Oatly Barista cartons. Maybe, like me, people find the Oatly packaging so toe-curlingly awkward they want to know the cartons get tortured by being torn into layers before being recycled into something super dull like office paper.

Oatly pack
Say what?

The one carton I’ve come across that didn’t have the Tetra Pak logo on it was a carton of almond milk from Morrisons. I’ve heard little bits about how bad almond milk is but I haven’t look into it yet as we don’t buy it very often as it’s rubbish in tea and Evan can’t have nut milks. I will get around to looking into it and, as with everything else I’ve researched so far, I will no doubt be horrified.

This is what the carton has on it:

Drinks carton
Buying the carton actually helps care for the world’s forests? Really? Really?

And on the other side:

A carton made of pure cardboard, hmmmm.

I’ve emailed Morrisons customer service team to ask them and tomorrow, some poor employee will no doubt roll their eyes when they appreciate the true geekiness of my email. But, I want to know! Have Morrisons found a way to preserve milk long-term in plain old cardboard? If so, why isn’t every company doing this? Surely it would be cheaper than the Tetra Pak alternative? Or, have they just put the wrong thing on the packaging, which, if true, would be an EPIC fail.

I shall await their reply.

This blog post, along with most of my other posts, has left me feeling confused. Is it better to have cow’s milk in a glass bottle that can be recycled, or non-dairy milk in a carton that can only be recycled so far and may just go straight to landfill anyway?

I don’t think I can go back to cow’s milk so I think the best eco option is to try and drink less non-dairy milk. I’m sure I can make a tasty porridge made with water and a litre of maple syrup, right?

 

Update

Morrisons replied and confirmed that the carton is made of cardboard and can be recycled in household paper recyling.

Checked thier website and every one of their own brand dairy-free milk I checked said the cartons were made of cardboard.

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