Today’s random tangent: aseptic packaging. Aseptic packaging are those boxes that you buy liquid foods in, such as juices, soy milk, tasty chai goodness, soups, etc. Aseptic packaging is actually an entire process, where the food is flash pasteurized and packaged in an aseptic or sterile environment. This is opposed to traditional canning practices, where food is heated in the final container, or heated and then canned so that the heated food sterilizes the container during processing. While the infrastructure for aseptic packaging is more expensive, it does have many benefits:
- Delicate foods that would be damaged by retort or hot-fill canning canning can be pasteurized more delicately and shipped in unrefrigerated conditions
- In addition, this change in pasteurization also helps preserve nutrients and flavor of the product
- Shipping costs are lowered, as the containers (boxes) can be shipped to the processing plant in a flattened state, as opposed to cans; also there is no need to ship products in a refrigerated state
- Flash pasteurization is more energy and time efficient compared to other methodologies
So why all this interest? Well, it all stemmed from wondering if these packages are recyclable (factoid of the moment: most lids/tops of plastic containers are different types of plastic than the containers themselves, and may or may not be recyclable). I called Salt Lake City’s Recycling Program, and while they could read from their brochure that juice boxes were OK to put out on the curb with your other recyclables, they had no idea what aseptic packaging was or that they can be hard to recycle (those boxes are a complex layering of plastic, paper and aluminum). They directed me to Allied Waste Management, which is the company who actually picks up your recycling for the city. They had no idea how to answer my question, and redirected me to Rocky Mountain Recycling, which is the company that actually recycles the material.
Or sort of. After talking to a few people at Rocky Mountain, I finally got in touch with J.R. there who told me all about their recycling process. It turns out that they only recycle solid plastics, glass, tin and aluminum. Once they pull all the stuff they directly recycle out of the mix, they sort out all obvious trash which heads to a landfill, and everything else, including aseptic boxes, are compressed and sold on the open market to other recyclers who deal in such mixed leftovers.
So, does that box that once contained a tasty chai concentrate get recycled when I put it in my curbside container? Likely. It might get sent all over the country first, but it probably will wind up getting recycled at some point (J.R. said that the actual company that they wind up selling to can change frequently). So, feel free to toss aseptic packaging in your blue bin. Also, keep in mind that recycling is only one part in the “greenness” of a packaging product; due to the energy savings in processing and shipping mentioned above, aseptic packaging might be more environmentally friendly than your traditional can even if the boxes wind up in a landfill.
ps- Oh, and speaking of packaging, happy belated Earth Day!