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We didn’t raise UK recycling awareness early enough: Tetra Pak CEO

By Ben Bouckley , 17-Oct-2011
Last updated on 17-Oct-2011 at 14:23 GMT

Tetra Pak president and CEO Dennis Jönsson has admitted that his company didn’t do enough to raise awareness of the recycling potential of cartons during their crucial formative years in the UK market.

As a result research has shown that the company’s aseptic cartons, which have a renewable content of 73 per cent, suffer from poor perceptions concerning environmental qualities amongst some UK consumers.

This has in part hindered uptake – within a market dominated by plastic milk containers.

A recent report from Euromonitor International showed that only 35 per cent of UK consumers surveyed thought that cartons were ‘less harmful’ to the environment (choosing 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) compared with other packaging types.

This figure compared unfavourably with responses the same question in France (72 per cent) and Germany (62 per cent), with respondents more positive about the green status of Tetra Pak’s cartons.

Tetra Pak announced last October that it would close its sole UK production plant in Wrexham, North Wales, due to reduced carton demand in the UK and Ireland.

This reverse taught the firm valuable lessons about communicating the sustainable benefits of cartons, Jönsson (pictured) told FoodProductionDaily.com at the International Dairy Forum (IDF) World Dairy Summit in Parma.

Early awareness vital

During a summit speech yesterday, Jönsson announced a company goal of 40 per cent recycling of all beverage cartons by 2020, a tough target due to varying public awareness, regulations and collection systems.

“You have to do a good job early,” Jönsson told this publication. “In the UK what we learned is that we didn’t do enough early. When you do it late it’s going to cost you. That’s why it’s so important.”

Jönsson added that the UK market had taught Tetra Pak that “We have to start very early, in terms of creating awareness amongst consumers and government, for them to support us.

“In the end you have to be responsible and take on your responsibility as a company. You can’t leave it to others, but at the same time you need to have municipalities, governments supporting you. Otherwise it’s very tough.”

Asked whether Tetra Pak was still seeing sales decline within the UK market, Jönsson said: “Yes and no. The market there has been in decline, but actually now we’re seeing it grow again.

“That has to do with several things. One of them is new product development (NPD). We’re developing new products that have a lot of interest in the UK," he added.

“Retailers really see the value of Tetra Recart [board-based packaging treated to withstand the retort process and designed to compete with cans in packaged food] and are promoting it considerably, being quite vocal about plans, for instance, to place cans alongside Tetra Recart in many fixtures.”

Jönsson added that subdued UK carton performance was due to plastics (high density polyethylene or HDPE) assuming a major share within the nation’s milk market after the switch from glass.

“But we are continuing to work with our customers when it comes to the production of new products, and are also working with them on new uses for the carton as well, such as nutritional products.”

Sustainability challenge

Globally, renewability and sustainability was “one of the biggest challenges” for Tetra Pak, Jönsson said.

“We’ve been focusing on getting our recycling rates up, creating awareness about this with consumers and working with municipalities to improve collection schemes,” he added.

Tetra Pak was also improving recycling technology to increase the value of the board, Jönsson said, adding that if such measures were taken recycling rates could improve “very quickly”.

For instance, Spanish recycling rates for cartons had leapt from 2 per cent a decade ago to above 50 per cent now, he said.

He added:“In China, and Beijing, one of big concerns we had was that the highest-growing market had seen the lowest recycling rate – an equation doesn’t work well.

“But in less than 7 years we’ve gone from basically nothing to 40 per cent recycling in Beijing. So if you do a good job regarding awareness, participation with municipalities, providing the right technology in different ways, then you can make a difference.”

Addressing the IDF summit itself, Jönsson said that Tetra Pak was committed to increasing its renewable packaging content to 100 per cent, with initiatives such as a Brazilian move to use polyethylene made from sugar cane on closures in the country.

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