>> Friday, May 21, 2010
Image by barely_legal via FlickrRecently 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