In the late 1800’s the food industry was shook up by a new revelation. The aluminium can. Through the conception of the Bayer Process patented and invented in 1888 by Carl Josef Bayer, which was an inexpensive way to gain aluminium efficiently, based on the discovery of the French chemist Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville, who invented a technique that allowed for relatively efficient production of aluminium, the aluminium can was born.
In any case, the aluminium can allows for conservable food to be stored in an almost fresh state without having to pickle or ferment it. Nowadays, it is the generally accepted method of conserving food items over a longer period and can be found in any corner-store or supermarket. This however, is possibly about to change.
There is arguably a lesser push to end the use of aluminium cans at the moment, as the negative effects of this packaging method are outweighed by the issues generated through plastic packaging. As the UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis measured, there are about 8 million metric tons of plastic that end up cluttering the oceans.
Although aluminium cans are 100% recyclable and make up the most valuable metal in the recycling bins, they still have their own shortcomings. Aluminium is gained through the processing of a material called bauxite, and even when utilising the efficient Bayer Process, the production still releases about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide or equivalent emissions, annually.
The process is still highly energy intensive and aluminium is a non-renewable resource, aside from the cans often being lined with BPA. BPA is a chemical often associated with health problems like alterations to the brain or the nervous system as well as negative developments of the reproductive system. Admittedly, this all sounds rather bleak, but on the upside, this allows for producers and corporations to come up with immediate alternatives to aluminium packaging that are sustainable, environmentally-friendly as well as cost-efficient. And the solution might just be cartons.
Most consumers are already familiar with Tetra Pak packaging, as items such as milk and fresh fruit juices can be found in this type of packaging. With Tetra Pak’s new product line, Tetra Recart, the company is actively trying to redefine shelf-stable food packaging to essentially make cartons the new can.
Cartons have a multitude of advantages over conventional cans. Firstly, they take up 40% less space than cans and also weigh about 60% less (based on 400g packages). This entails that less energy is wasted during transport. They are also much easier to handle for retailers as well as consumers, as they take up less space, because they can be placed right against one another without the creation of empty spaces.
Aside from the cartons themselves having a modern look and feel, which allows for brand to showcase more information, there will be 80-85% fewer recalls and thus less waste being created. One of the main reasons for recalls, are dents in the cans which render them almost un-buyable. Naturally, the cartons wouldn’t dent in a similar fashion.
According to Anders Lindgren, the Vice President of Tetra Pak, “the weight and energy consumption alone to make aluminium cans is not sustainable” and he calls for “a food industry transformation”. However, he acknowledges that there will likely be a pushback surrounding the recyclability of Tetra Pak, as they cannot be simply tossed in the recycling bin but should either be reused or forwarded to a recycling center capable of separating the inner barriers form the carton itself.
Admittedly, it will take a significant time before the food industry will no longer rely on aluminium, but rather on more sustainable options such as cartons. Denmark’s Coop grocery stores have announced in July 2018 that they would phase out aluminium cans in the upcoming 12 moths. As one of Denmark’s largest retailers this will surely have an effect but other will have to follow. In conclusion, no one knows if cartons will indeed take the place of aluminium cans, the only thing that is clear is that the way we have been going about it is not sustainable and has to be changed.