Do Judge a Product by its Packaging

“PROTECTS WHAT’S GOOD”  This is the promise made by Tetra Pak to not only protect the quality of the foods and beverages that it packages but also, perhaps more importantly, the future of the planet on which it operates. [1] The pressures of a changing climate are leading companies and the consumers that they serve to more closely scrutinize the packaging processes and materials that go into end products.  80% of consumers tend to buy products with environmentally sound packaging. [1] Corporate sustainability initiatives aimed at reducing a product’s overall carbon footprint have found a focus in renewable and recyclable packaging.  Renewable products are those made from resources that are naturally replenished, such as timber (compared to those made from non-renewable oil or coal).  Not surprisingly, governments have also shown their support for “bio-based” products as evidenced by the USDA’s Biopreferred Program, which promotes the purchase and use of such products and packages. [2] As climate change could mean BIG change for global food and beverage companies, what is Tetra doing to ensure that it is up for the challenge of meeting increased demand and evolving preferences?



  Paper-based cartons release fewer emissions throughout their life cycle than alternative packaging. [3] Tetra Pak is a food packaging company that, among other things, provides sustainable packaging solutions to customers across the globe.  Increasingly, companies are moving from plastic or glass to paper-based Tetra products.  For example, wineries who choose to use Tetra products instead of conventional glass can reduce packaging-related emissions by nearly nine-tenths. [4] In 2013, Tetra packed 1.7 billion liters of wine (or 7% of the still wine market) and predicted continued growth in the sector. [5] Recently launched water company JUST Water opted for one of Tetra’s cartons over a traditional plastic bottle to appeal to climate-conscious consumers. [6] Government regulation of packaging could be on the horizon and further fuel demand for Tetra Pak’s cartons.  In recent years, local governments have shown their willingness to enact regulation to “advance solid waste reduction, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect waterways” through plastic bag bans. [7] Could regulation extend beyond bags to bottles and other packages?  Tetra is responding to the changing landscape and the impact that it will have on business in a few critical ways: (i) securing its own raw materials (ii) product and process innovation and (iii) leading by example.

  • Security: As one of the world’s major users of paperboard (each carton is about 75% paperboard), Tetra must secure a stable wood supply to meet future customer demand. Deforestation and other unsustainable forestry practices are not only threatening future supply but are also leading contributors to global climate change.  Tetra insists on sourcing only from forests that use only “sustainable forest management” and have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.  In 2015, Tetra Pak received FSC’s Chain of Custody certification for all of its operating sites. [1]
  • InnovationIn 2015, Tetra launched the Tetra Rex Bio-based – a product it claims to be the “world’s first fully renewable package.”[1] Product innovation at Tetra focuses on using less material overall and a greater percentage from renewable sources such as sugar cane and paperboard. Tetra also recently introduced a ground-breaking carton sterilization and filling machine that both improves efficiency and reduces environmental impact.  The company also partners with customers via its Environmental Benchmarking Service to streamline processes, reduce waste, and increase efficiency. [1] Tetra today is trying to anticipate where sustainable package needs might move tomorrow.
  • “Walking the talk”: The company firmly believes that it cannot help its customers achieve reductions without itself make a commitment to change.  To achieve this, Tetra Pak has committed to capping emissions at 2010 levels through the year 2020 (despite anticipated double digit growth in production).  Tetra takes into consideration the carbon footprint of the entire chain (including suppliers, customers, and disposal methods), and actively works to reduce not only its directly controllable emissions, but also those of its partners. [1]


NOT DONE YET  Tetra is hyper-focused on bringing the latest renewable packaging options to the market, but still faces challenges with recycling.  Only one in four of Tetra’s products is actually recycled by end consumers.  The company maintains that it “acts as a catalyst to encourage recycling” but does not own or operate any actual facilities. [1] Going forward, the company should go beyond tracking and/or working with recycling partners to open its own facilities.  The sad irony of the “world’s first fully renewable package” ending up in an emission-emitting landfill won’t be lost on customers for long.

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[2]  USDA, “Obama Administration Announces New Funding for Biomass Research and Development Initiative”, accessed November 2016.

[3] Ask Umbra, “Which are greener, cartons or cans?”, accessed November 2016.

[4] The Economist, “Losing Their Bottle,”, accessed November 2016.

[5] Arthur, Sarah, “It won’t happen overnight, but the wine carton will establish itself: Tetra Pak”,, accessed November 2016.


[7] Cambridge Department of Public Works, “Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance,”, accessed November 2016.




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Student comments on Do Judge a Product by its Packaging

  1. I’m also someone who is deeply interested in the impact of modern packaging to the environment, both in terms of climate change and waste management. Tetrapak is a huge player in this industry and I’m very glad to see them promote bio-based packaging. Although, in honesty, taking the position is not such an altruistic move since they are quite focused on paper based packaging, but I am glad to know that they are also focused on responsible sourcing (FSC). I am especially impressed by their clear goals of maintaining carbon footprint despite aiming for high growth. I hope to see this ambition continue after 2020 and I hope their goals are even more ambitious. Something that I want Tetrapak to do more in the future in addition to your recommendation of having the company be more directly involved in recycling is to share their innovation on sustainable packaging to the world. This may raise a concern of facing a copycat threat but by making it easier for everybody to work with the type of products Tetrapak is promoting, other parts of the supply chain and regulators will want to work with the products Tetrapak chooses instead of other competing technologies that also try to be bio-based, yielding a net gain of revenue for Tetrapak.

  2. Thank you for highlighting the work that one company is doing to provide more sustainable solutions for the packaging of CPG products. As you mentioned in your post, a small percentage of Tetra-Pak cartons are actually recycled by consumers due to a lack of carton recycling facilities. You stated that one potential solution to this problem could be for TetraPak to invest in opening its own recycling facilities, but I am wondering whether TetraPak needs to bear this burden by itself? Perhaps the CPG companies who use TetraPak packaging for their products have a responsibility not only to educate their consumers about the recyclability of TetraPak packaging, but also to invest in facilities to process TetraPak packages. At the very least, there are organizations like TerraCycle ( that CPG companies can partner with to provide a more sustainable end of life solution for their TetraPak packaged products.

  3. Packaging is an extremely important way in which companies can go green. I think reducing solid waste is hugely important and I wonder why not all companies have moved toward such packaging. It seems that it might be the case that using packaging such as what tetra employs might be more expensive and as a result it is not as mainstream. This posts demonstrates the issues with going green extremely well, not only do corporations need to be responsible, the consumer must also be responsible because they must at the end of the day recycle the renewable package. Overall everyone has a role to play in working towards sustainability, and often we place the onus on corporations to lead this charge. I think this article does a great job highlighting the fact that everyone must play a role.

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