As an addendum to yesterday’s entry, I just wanted to say a few words about Tetra Pak. Actually, it will be more than a few . . .
On the carton of Coop apple juice, there is a Tetra Pak logo, which now incorporates the new buzz phrase “Protects What’s Good.” In case you are in any doubt as to what’s going on here, there is a brief explanation alongside the logo. It says, “Buying this carton helps you care for the world’s forests.” Uh? I couldn’t quite see how buying a carton made of a cardboard/aluminium/polyethylene composite was going to help me care for the world’s forests. In fact, it is because I care for the world’s forests that I am careful never to buy anything in a Tetra Pak container. I am always open to education and enlightenment, however, so I thought I’d take a look at the Tetra Pak site for further elucidation.
It turns out that ‘protects what’s good’ refers not to the world’s forests after all, but merely to the cheap industrial contents of the pack itself. Industrial? Well, yes. I would certainly dispute the fact that apple juice from non-organic concentrate of no known provenance could ever be described as ‘good.’ I also know from the research Sally and I have done that the polyethylene lining of these cartons is potentially harmful. Research reveals that flexible plastics contain phthalates, which leach into the foods they come into contact with. I could expand on this theme to discuss the health implications, but I’ll leave that for another time. For the moment, I am happy to put myself in the hands of the Tetra Pak PR team to be proved wrong and to be told about caring for the world’s forests. So let’s see what their story is. To quote directly from their site: “In order to maintain food’s freshness, nutrition value and taste, processing and packaging is of utmost importance. The motto under the Tetra Pak logotype – Protects what’s good – emphasises that Tetra Pak is a reliable and experienced partner in both areas.”
Nothing in there about why buying the carton helps to protect the world’s forests . . . Oh, hang on, there’s something here: “But protecting what’s good is not only a matter of preserving what is inside the package, it is also a matter of protecting what is outside, the environment and the community.” So that’s all right then – except for the fact that the stuff inside is not worth protecting, and that Tetra Pak operates in more than 165 countries, employing nearly 22,000 people, making many billions of these composite drinks containers (50 billion alone from their four factories in China) every year in huge factories across the world. On top of that, they also supply, to many other businesses, packaging machinery and equipment that they have manufactured, to say nothing of pasteurisers, homogenisers and other nefarious tools designed to debase natural foods into standardised industry products. However, there’s a lot of stuff on the website about corporate responsibility, etc, encapsulated in their mission statement: “We believe in responsible industry leadership, creating profitable growth in harmony with environmental sustainability and good corporate citizenship.” Corporate citizenship? What exactly is that?
Leaving that dubious phrase and moving on to something even more disingenuous, I have to say there is something that bothers me about the concept of ‘creating profitable growth in harmony with environmental sustainability.’ Basically, this is a contradiction in terms – more corporate greenwash. Even the company’s protestations about recycling cut no ice with me. We are looking at a pack that is made up of cardboard, aluminium and polyethylene, theoretically recyclable into its basic constituents, but only in a limited number of recycling plants. In 2008, Tetra Pak resolved to ensure that 25% of its cartons would be recycled worldwide (what about the other 75%???), but on their website offer the apologetic caveat that most of their recent growth in business has been in countries where recycling is either very limited or totally non-existent. Yet the company quite brazenly uses the terms ‘profitable growth’ and ‘environmental sustainability’ in the same sentence. Any industrial manufacturing on this scale of products that mostly end up in a landfill somewhere is simply not ‘environmentally sustainable.’ As for the recycling process itself, when it happens, this too is environmentally unsustainable, using as it does millions of gallons of water, a precious resource that is disappearing so quickly from the face of this planet as to make ‘peak oil’ look like a temporary irritation.
What we see here is one tiny, almost imperceptible tip of another gigantic corporate iceberg, another tiny jigsaw piece of the global industrial food system. For true environmental sustainability we need no more Tetra Paks. We need no more processed liquids carried in these packs. We need no more factories manufacturing the packs or processing the liquids that they carry. We need none of it. All we need is real food and a reclamation of the right of access of every individual in the world to that food. Is this the impossible dream? Quite probably. Is it worth pursuing as an ideal? Of course. Without seeking change that will bring us all back to our senses, the insatiable growth of the thousands of profit-hungry businesses on the planet will simply consume all the remaining resources we have, probably before the end of this century.
Oh, and I nearly forgot . . . the answer as to how we can protect the world’s forests by buying Tetra Pak cartons? Well, to be honest, the answer is not there as such. But there is quite a lot of information about responsible sourcing from FSC-managed forests. So you can now be secure in the knowledge that at least 2% of Tetra Paks come from such sources. Phew! What a relief!