How green is wine in a box?
Experts are now finding out exactly how eco-friendly Tetra-Paks are - regardless of the warm and fuzzy feelings.
While shoppers at Ontario's liquor stores may soon be toting their own reusable bags, they still have an eco-dilemma: is it greener to buy wine in a glass bottle or in a Tetra Pak carton?
The latter, according to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which introduced wine in the cartons – generically known as aseptic containers – in 2005. It was part of LCBO's environmental strategy, which includes yesterday's announcement nixing plastic shopping bags when the current inventory runs out.
The wine and coolers in aseptic cartons are significantly lighter to ship, saving on greenhouse gas emissions and take up less space in landfills, says Lyle Clarke, LCBO manager of corporate policy and environmental initiatives.
Not so fast, counter environmentalists, saying the Tetra Pak cartons are made with virgin pulp, plastic and aluminum, and are difficult to recycle.
"To say Tetra Paks are recyclable is to use a loose, broad definition of recycling," says Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
So Tetra Pak carton or glass bottle? It's a loaded question, says Joanne St. Godard, executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario.
In terms of shipping and fuel efficiency, especially over long distances, the lighter cartons are more environmentally friendly. "End of life management is where it has its struggles," she says.
In Ontario, the cartons have a dismal blue box recovery rate, about 15 per cent.
That's because much of the packaging is used for on-the-go items, such as juice boxes, which just get dropped in the garbage, explains Jaan Koel, communications and environment manager with Tetra Pak Canada Inc.
And about half of Ontario municipalities don't include aseptic cartons in their blue box programs.
In the LCBO's deposit and return program, about 44 per cent of the liquor cartons are brought back, he says.
Returned Tetra Pak cartons are sent by container ship to mills in China and Korea.
(A Michigan mill recently closed, and the Tetra Pak company is looking for recycling options in Canada, says Koel.)
At the mill, about 65 to 70 per cent of a carton is recycled, most of the paper fibre separated out and reused in tissue products, such as napkins and paper towels.
About 30 to 35 per cent of a carton is by-product, says Koel. That may end up in landfills or, in some countries, incinerated for energy.
Some companies are starting to use the residuals for plastic resin products, he adds.
"Environmentalists have been critical of our recycling performance," says Koel. "We've taken it to heart and are working hard to improve."
The best eco-solution, say environmentalists, is a glass refillable bottle, such as those for domestic beers.s
For the confused imbiber who wants to be green, St. Godard has some advice: buy local brands. "If you're looking for environmental impact, local will probably always win out."