Tetra Pak packaging is mainly made of responsibly sourced paperboard; however, we see it also as our responsibility to address the plastics issue because polymers are used in our packaging for protective layers, caps and closures, and straws.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Bio-based polymers

A Tetra Pak package has a thin layer of polymer, or plastic, to prevent moisture getting in or out and to keep the product inside fresh. It is also in our caps, closures and straws. Our long-term ambition is for all our chilled and ambient packages to use renewable and/or recycled polymers, with no further extraction of fossil feed stock necessary.

However, there is much work to be done before renewable polymers fully replace traditional fossil-fuel based polymers as the industry to convert it is still embryonic. We currently use the same responsible sourcing requirements for our plant-based polymers that we use with all our purchase categories.

Beyond this, our supplier of plant-based polymer is working with ProForest, a world leader in supporting the sustainable management and sourcing of natural resources. Our supplier is also establishing a Bonsucro Chain of Custody from sugar cane plantation to their production facility for renewable polyethylene. In 2018, 60 percent of the bioethanol used for our renewable polyethylene was sourced with Bonsucro Certification.

Our history and development with polymers

In 2011, we launched the industry's first caps made from bio-based polymers. Derived from Brazilian sugar cane ethanol, they look exactly the same as conventional caps but have a significantly lower carbon footprint. Where bio-based caps are available, customers can easily switch without additional investment or modifications to filling machines. Recyclability is not impacted, as the new materials are processed together with conventional polymers without restrictions. We can now offer bio-based caps for all advanced packaging formats.​

By 2014, we had created the world's first fully renewable package for liquid food, the Tetra Rex® Bio-Based, made with bio-based cap, neck and film. By early 2018, we had delivered more than half a billion fully renewable packages to meet customer demand. In 2016, we also launched the Tetra Brik® Aseptic 1000 Edge with Bio-based LightCap™ 30. It is the first aseptic package to have a film and cap made from sugar cane-based plastic. Combined with the paperboard, this lifts the share of materials from renewable sources in the package to above 80 percent, the threshold for four-star certification from testing company TÜV Austria.

Bio-based polymers in numbers

• By early 2018, we had delivered over half a billion Tetra Rex Bio-based, fully renewable, packages to meet customer demand (up from 100 million in 2016).
• Between 2014 and 2017, we delivered 55.1 billion packs with a bio-based polymer coating
• In 2018, 11 percent of our total closures sold were bio-based caps​

In early 2018, we pledged our support of the EU’s plastics strategy​, an important part of the EU’s Action Plan for a Circular Economy. The pledge has three parts, and parts two and three are relevant here: Tetra Pak will substantially increase the use of plastics made from renewable feedstock; and use recycled plastics once they are validated as safe and are legally acceptable for use as a food contact material. ​

In March 2019, we signed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy Global Commitment​, and one of our pledges was to work with partners to increase recycling for PolyAl – a mix of polymers and aluminium that make up the non-fibre components of a beverage carton. ​

Challenges and opportunities

There is a long way to go before bio-based polymers become mainstream. In particular, we are mindful of the social cost of bio-based polymers, such as how local food availability and working conditions are affected. And despite considerable progress, bio-based polymers are still a niche product for the plastics industry, and therefore only in a small fraction of our cartons at present. Our commitment remains to expand their use to cover more of our packages, across all sizes. 

We are working with partners to further explore these issues, while also continuing to assess alternatives like other plant-based materials, organic waste and algae. For example, we have formed an agreement with Braskem, the largest thermoplastic resin producer in the Americas and are now using low-density polyethylene derived from sustainably-sourced sugar cane for coatings in all our packages produced in Brazil. A Code of Conduct including social and environmental criteria guides Braskem's sourcing and is part of our agreement. Braskem have committed that by 2020 they will be able to certify 100 percent of the bio-ethanol used for our bio-polymer to the Bonsucro standard (up from around 40 percent in 2017).​

Find out more how we use polymers