The life cycle of cardboard packaging


One of the most important inventions of the last century is the cardboard packaging system. With this innovative technique it is possible to store food products far, about a year without refrigeration. How does the system work? In this report we aim to answer how the packaging system works and how environmentally friendly the product is. The advertising said, that cardboard packaging is especially ecologically and environmentally sustainable (=nachhaltig). We have researched how far this is true. In order to find out how far our society is informed about cardboard packaging, we have made a survey.


Evaluation of our survey

We did an online survey on Surveymonkey to find out how much the surveyed people know about cardboard packaging. 100 people participated in our online survey. We are happy that many people took their time to answer our survey. Here are the results of our survey. Just click on the graphs.

Where is it from?
In the 1940`s the Swedish scientist Dr. Ruben Rausing invented the octagonal (=achteckig) cardboard packaging called Tetraeder. In the 50s he started to fill milk from a dairy (=Molkerei) in these cartons. They got famous and he rich. In the 60s he developed the Tetra Brik® packaging, which is the most famous one in Switzerland. The Company Tetra Pak was founded in 1951 by Dr Rausing. He lead his company to the top. Today they are a market leader. Since the companies foundation, they have expanded in various countries all around the world and opened production location, worldwide. In 2008 the level reached 141 billion pieces annually.

Swedish scientist Dr. Ruben Rausing (Wikipedia)

Where is it used?
Cardboard packaging is mostly used to store beverages (=Getränke) like milk, ice-tea, wines, fruit juice but also food products like soups, tomato juice and apple purée. The packaging is designed to keep fresh products fresh without the loss of vitamins and flavours (=Aromen).

Various cardboard packaging (Wikimedia)

How is it produced?
Cardboard packaging is built-up of different layers (=Schichten), one of it is from carton. Because of this, the packaging is very robust. This carton is produced from certificated wood, which is gained on the most sustainable way. On the inside and outside is a small layer of plastic, to make the packaging water- and airproof. This plastic is produced from sugar cane (=Rohren). This is a very ecological way, because no cruel oil is used.To protect the goods from sunlight and bacteria, there is a layer of aluminium. This layer is thinner than a human hair. However, it is also important so that no aluminium ends up in the goods. This aluminium layer is in the middle of all the layers and is not in contact with the food.
Innovative energy production is important for Tetra Pak, so they make sure that their factories work with renewable energy, mostly solar power. Therefore the product is more environmentally friendly.
Tetra Pak produces the packaging in one of their factories, after that, they are delivered to the factories of the food producers. In a bottling plant, also produced by Tetra Pak, the goods are filled in the cardboard packaging. This is important to make sure that the antiseptic (=Keimtötung) is added that means; in the milk for example is just a minimum or less of bacteria.
Check this video to see, how this works:

Here you see the different layers:

Various layers of cardboard packaging (Wikipedia)

How to recycle it?
Recycling is an becoming important theme every day, and so it is related to cardboard packaging like Tetra Pak. You can give cardboard back on different places: In Switzerland, in different supermarkets like Aldi and Migros. They get pressed together and sent to a collecting company.
In the main recycling process, the carton is separated from the plastic and aluminium in a water quench (=Wasserabkühlung). From the carton, you can make recycled paper. Plastic can be used in different areas and also the aluminium. They can make new cardboard packaging from it.
Unfortunately, a lot of packaging is burned which means the resources are lost.

Disposal of cardboard packaging (Wikimedia)

It is fascinating, how environmentally friendly cardboard packaging is produced, distributed and recycled. Not only is the wood sustainable but also the plastic is produced without crude oil. The Swiss population uses the possibilities to recycle cardboard packaging, even there are not many locations to do so.
The company TetraPak is actively engaged in sustainable production and is trying to optimize its environmental benefits. They do this by heart.
With his innovative invention, Dr. Ruben Rausing improved people`s lifes greatly. With over 180 billion pieces annually, Tetra Pak reaches people all around the world.

Check these Videos
In these two videos you can find some very interesting information about Tetra Pak.

A short video that demonstrates how Tetra Pak® protects what’s good. All over the world Tetra Pak strives (=strebt) to protect the safety of food and the environment.

Informations: Tetra Pak
Header picture: made by Isabella Gafner

Authors: Patrick Keigel, Marie Luise Zehetleitner, Isabella Gafner
reviewed by Sonia Jade Hemmerle & Elaine Suter

☷ See the project teams here »
☵ Some words about the contributions »

6 thoughts on “The life cycle of cardboard packaging

  1. Very nice overview, thanks for that.
    But I miss some independent research about the real environmental impact. Because a large percentage of these packages are not sold in developed countries with a sophisticated recycling system in place, but in developing countries, where these materials end up in landfill or are burned in open fires.
    And then Mr. Tetrapak is suddenly not so green anymore!

  2. Vielen Dank – sieht gut aus! Wir haben den Text angeschaut und ich habe es auch gleich noch mit Tetra Pak angeschaut. Here some further information and clarifications:

    2015: 184 billion tetra packs were produced (2008 141 billion)

    The plastic on the in- and outside is there for to make the package waterproof. Aluminium makes the package light- and airproof. Light and air can destroy taste and nutrients of a product.

    In the filling machine (not bottling plant) the packaging material is sterilized before the UHT treated food is filled. The filling process happens in a sterile environment free of harmful bacteria.
    Once the product is packed and sealed in the air- and lightproof package the product can be stored without refrigeration for more than 6 months (depending on the product) without need for preservatives.

    Simone Alabor, Monika Schenker
    Verein Getränkekarton-Recycling Schweiz, geträ
    Tetra Pak,

  3. Hi Isabella, Marie Luise and Patrick!

    You described the invention, the production and the recycling of beverage cartons. And you did a survey about use and opinions about beverage cartons. The report has a good structure, is nicely illustrated, it’s easy to read and to understand. It gives a good overview. Well done!

    What I miss is a more independent view and an in-depth discussion on beverage cartons. A reason may be that your only source is TetraPak (the producer!) and wikipedia. Are there some negative issues about beverage cartons as well? What is really happening with waste, e.g. a beverage carton, at an incineration plant (Kehrichtverbrennungsanlage) in Switzerland? Is plastic produced from sugar cane ecological? Has your investigation changed your consumption and handling of beverage cartons in any way? These are the questions I’m still interested in.

    Best Regards

    Brigitte Fischer – Abfall ist unser Thema!

  4. Dear cardboard packaging Team,

    Your post is very interesting. Theres a lot of importand and teachfull informations. Now I know a lot more about the life cycle of cardboard packaging.

    Your videos were well chosen.

    Greetings, Michael (Airplane-Team)

  5. Hey Guys
    I really like your post it\’s short and informativ. Your themes and videos are really good chosen and the post is also very good formatted especially the first sentence!

    I think you could put more pictures in it and maybe go a little bit deeper into your themes, but this is only a little proposal.
    !!But Good Job!!

    Greets Nada

  6. Hey guys
    I really like your post it\’s short and informativ and it\’s really good formatted especially your first sentence. Your videos are really good chosen and I like them.

    I think you could put more pictures in it and maybe go a little bit deeper into the different themes, but this is only a little input.
    Good job!
    kindly regards

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