Tetra Pak carton recycling initiative begins in Vietnam benefitting hundreds of informal waste pickers

Often deemed hard to recycle, beverage cartons are the focus of a new initiative run by Circular Action, a BVRio group company, in partnership with Tetra Pak and Packaging Recycling Organisation Vietnam (PRO Vietnam), which will not only provide a recycling solution, but which will also deliver additional income to potentially hundreds of informal waste pickers.

The pilot project will take place in Ho Chi Minh City until March 2023, and for the first time, the recycling activities are being run with the cooperation of beverage and food manufacturers in the PRO Vietnam alliance, and a digital solution from Circular Action, the KOLEKT App, is being used to manage carton collection.

“Promoting the collection of used beverage cartons for recycling has always been at the core of Tetra Pak’s sustainable development. By doing this, we aim to realise our promise to protect what’s good, including protecting food, protecting people and protecting the planet,” said Mr. Eliseo Barcas, Managing Director of Tetra Pak Vietnam.

The project follows on from a feasibility study BVRio conducted for Tetra Pak in 2020 looking at strategies for the collection and recycling of used beverage cartons in both Vietnam and India. The study found that informal waste pickers are crucial to carton collection programmes, and that a project design that neglects informal collectors could potentially destroy their jobs. With Circular Action’s mobile app, developed with waste pickers in Indonesia, Circular Action designed this pilot Circular Action Programme (CAP) to manage the recovery and recycling of 3,000 tonnes of used beverage cartons in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In order to deliver social, as well as environmental, benefit, PRO Vietnam is providing additional incentives to aggregators and recyclers to process the cartons, a benefit passed onto waste pickers through higher prices paid for collected materials. In fact beverage cartons, like those made by Tetra Pak, were not automatically collected by informal waste pickers, until now.

Mr. Pham Phu Ngoc Trai, Chairman of PRO Vietnam, said: “We appreciate the initiative, the model and the effectiveness of the collection for recycling of Used Beverage Carton projects from Tetra Pak – one of our core members. Hence, we would like to collaborate to execute this pilot project with the expectation to open a new model in collection for recycling of UBC – a material that faced a lot of challenges in collection, supporting the informal sector playing in this value chain, and promoting the circular economy in Viet Nam.”

A Circular Action Programme (CAP) is a customised service based on engaging all actors in the waste supply chain and providing incentives for collection, sorting and recycling of waste materials. The system is managed using supply chain traceability and monitoring tools (the KOLEKT app and reporting platforms) for the program to register all actors participating in waste management supply chains to enable the traceability of waste along the supply chain.

The programme will start by paying larger waste collection centres an incentive fee for all tonnes of Tetra Pak Cartons sold to paper recycler Dong Tien Paper, to be recycled into brown paper and into chipboard or corrugated roofing. The large collection centres (or waste aggregators) receiving a performance based payment per Kg sold, will pass on the bonus to waste pickers in order to secure supply. Tetra Pak cartons are usually not collected at all, and so this new recycling opportunity is providing vital additional income for the waste pickers.

The project is being overseen by the new Circular Action team in Vietnam by Project Manager, John Murphy, and Project Coordinator, Tran Ngoc Tran, and by Circular Action Director, Thierry Sanders, based in the Netherlands.

“This project has the potential to be transformational for all involved. This project brings a triple-dividend of firstly preventing waste going to landfills or nature; then it increases the incomes of waste pickers and finally creates cooperation throughout the supply chain. Tetra Pak is the perfect partner willing to pilot this innovative way of working, involving mobile technology. PRO Vietnam now has the method to grow waste collection across Vietnam for the decades to come.” Thierry Sanders, Circular Action, Director.