It's the age when cartoons appeal more than cartons, but in a country where recycling awareness is abysmally low, Tetra Pak hopes youngsters can make the difference. As part of an initiative with The Energy Research Institute (TERI), it has been recycling empty Tetra Pak cartons into school furniture for underprivileged children. Students and volunteers were involved in collecting, recycling, and creating awareness throughout the year.

Last year, 80 firms in India used more than 4 billion Tetra Pak cartons for packaging their products. Around 30% were recycled and converted into paper products such as diaries, boxes, and business cards. But paper comprises only 75% of each Tetra Pak carton; the rest is plastic and aluminium. So, say, for 40,000 tonnes of packets, 10,000 tonnes is often plastic and aluminium. The byproduct is called PolyAl—a solid sheet compound of POLYstyrene and ALuminium.

Given Tetra Pak’s global production of 170 billion packets annually, the PolyAl pileup was huge. But in 1995, its Brazil unit found a way to use it. It involved hot-pressing the compound into flat boards that could be cut or moulded to make tables, benches, and even corrugated roofing sheets. The plastic coating on the sheets prevents them from corroding easily, and the aluminium increases its strength. If used as roofing material, they lower the temperature of the structure by 1°C to 2°C.

The board-making technology arrived here only in 2008-09, and Tetra Pak has since tied up with recyclers to make PolyAl sheets. However, nearly 70% of packets in India are not recycled. That’s why the Tetra Pak-TERI initiative holds much promise.

Tetra Pak is also tying up with retail chains like Reliance Sahakari Bhandar to install collection points and educating students about the benefits of recycling. And it’s picking up, it seems.

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