What's so "smart" about the TetraPak Brik?

>> Friday, May 21, 2010

tetrapakImage by barely_legal via Flickr
Recently while discussing which kind of milk is good for you - a discussion that actually comes up a lot with me - I wandered off subject while looking for research and my thoughts came to the Tetra Brik, by TetraPak. Why I didn't see it before this, I'm not sure, but... these are essentially plastic bottles that are masquerading themselves as paper. The company specifically claims that the packaging is "consisting mainly of paper made from wood" yet inside and out, there are multiple layers of plastic and aluminum in addition to that paper.

TetraPak has a promotional website that describes how "smart" their packaging is for the planet, for people, for all around use. They've been around a long time. But how much trust should you put in something simply because they say they're trying to do right, and because you have been trusting them for a while?

Smart for the planet? This from the product which the Oxford English Dictionary describes as "A type of plasticised cardboard"? Well, let's find out how much of that carton is actually biodegradable.  TetraPak claims that 73% of the packaging is made from paper (click Raw Materials -> Corporate Data). I have to wonder exactly how much paper actually breaks down on its own in some unknown landfill when enclosed completely in plastic. There are multiple layers of plastic (and sometimes 6 microns-thick aluminum) attached both on the inside and outside of that paper. Without a lot of industrial help, that paper is not going to break down easily. That is not smart for the planet.

And how are they smart for people? Well, looking at the TetraPak campaign, they actually don't talk about the healthiness of using their plastic packaging as food containers at all, except to say they're aseptic, which explains a lot. According to TetraPak, their products are smart for people because they're convenient and as I just mentioned, aseptic. They're "smart for people" because they can package almost anything that's fluid and edible, like "milk, juice, nectar, still drinks, water, wine, oil, yoghurts, probiotics," and more. If you were to go to a grocery store in Europe, you'll find that these packages are much, much more prevalent in use than in America, and seeing their veritable walls of Tetra Briks, I certainly believe they can package everything and anything in them.

I'm not sure how they can claim that these packages are good for people when the packaging is plastic, specifically low-density polyethylene and sometimes aluminum. Greencradle.net sums it up fairly well:
What is low density polyethylene? LDPE is a petroleum plastic derived from gasoline production. It is made up of chemicals that have been forced together, however temporarily, through chemical reactions. Aluminum is, of course, a metal that has a long history of being considered toxic by some, and even sometimes associated in studies with Alzheimers, Kidney disease, and bone disease in children. Aluminum is also the sort of metal that needs a coating to keep it from rusting, which is why SIGG used BPA coatings on their aluminum water bottles until recently. What other plastics might be in the TetraPak lining? The company that owns Tetra-Paks, which is Tetra Laval, creates PET #1 bottles (Polyethylene Terephthalate) through a subsidiary known as SIDEL. PET, like LDPE is also a plastic derived from petroleum leftover from gasoline production. PET, used for most bottled waters sold in stores, has more recently been shown to also leach estrogenic substances into the water contained therein, not unlike BPA from polycarbonate bottles (#7). One study, conducted by a German University found that PET plastics leached synthetic estrogen into the bottled water. Studies involving snails, found that snails that lived in the PET plastic bottles, as opposed to glass bottles, tended to produce twice as many embryos, presumably as a result of increased synthetic estrogenic leaching into the water. Whether the estrogenic activity was caused by phthalates, which are chemicals in certain plastics that mimic the estrogen hormone, or catalysts like antimony (which have been documented to also leach into drinking water) or other substances added to plastics to keep them from oxidizing, the presence of estrogen presents potential health issues ranging from cancer to developmental problems in kids to sexual/reproductive problems. 
 There is so much that is so wrong about using plastics as a food delivery mechanism. If we care about our planet and our bodies, we absolutely must stop our destructive habits, and using disposable containers like the TetraPak is one of them.

Still Using Plastic?

This article is part of Fight Back Friday on FoodRenegade.com
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6 comments:

Ellen@BodyEarth.net,  May 21, 2010 at 10:28 AM  

What terrible news! I thought that I had finally found a fairly "safe" source of canned tomatoes (BPA-free) in Tetra Paks.  I had no idea they leached so much.  From what Tetra Pak told me, the aluminum is completely covered by the polyethylene (LDPE) layer, at least for the tomato products.  But, they (of course) did not mention that the plastic would leach synthetic estrogen.  Okay, jars it is -- and a better garden.  Thanks for your important post!

Psychic Lunch,  May 21, 2010 at 11:32 AM  

Thanks, Ellen! To be honest, I'd really much prefer if someone could tell me and prove that I'm wrong. Our family has bought much of our almond milk in the tetra briks, and I did think it was pretty convenient. I think I'll have to figure out a way to make our "homebrewed" almond milk much more streamlined...

Laureen,  June 20, 2010 at 11:23 AM  

Thanks for the link. And thanks for the blog. We *all* need to step up to the plate and end the insane plastic addiction now now now now. We do not have time to waste, we do not have time to not take it seriously.

Psychic Lunch,  June 21, 2010 at 8:48 AM  

Thank you Laureen! You're so very right! How did we ever let ourselves get to such a wasteful, resource-abusing position?

Anthony,  September 20, 2010 at 8:06 PM  

yes, official information, but I am allergic to any liquids in TetraPaks... and I'm also allergic to any deo that contains aluminum. How come?
If I drink fresh milk, no problems at all, but if I drink tetrapak milk, the next day my whole belly and ampits are burning red...
According to my skin doctor, there are high levels of aluminum in any liquid stored in Tetrapak. No matter what Tetrapak tells you, I know what the consequences of consuming tetrapak liquids are... And if you are lucky and not allergic, you're ingesting high levels of aluminum anyway...

Psychic Lunch,  September 28, 2010 at 10:02 PM  

Thanks for sharing, Anthony! (I take it you mean UNofficial information?)

That's actually pretty scary to think about, and I wonder if there's anywhere one could have liquids tested for contaminant levels? Or perhaps if someone's done any research already... I'll have to google around a bit!

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About Psychic Lunch

Psychic Lunch was founded in 2009 by a nerd and father who wants people to be healthy. The information on this site is researched, but should be considered opinion; that is, you should always do your own research and come to your own conclusions about what is and what is not healthy. Products endorsed on this site are actually believed in and used by the author.

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