Alcoa, Tetra Pak, Others Partner for World's First Carton Packaging Recycling Plant

Alcoa, Tetra Pak, Others Partner for World's First Carton Packaging Recycling Plant

Alcoa's Brazilian affiliate, Alcoa Aluminio, has joined Tetra Pak, Klabin, and TSL Ambiental to inaugurate the world's first carton packaging recycling facility.

The plant uses a new plasma technology that enables the total separation of aluminum and plastic components from the cartons. Until now, recycling processes for carton packaging separated paper but kept plastic and aluminum together. The plasma process provides another option for recycling, allowing for the return of all three components of the package to the productive chain as raw material.

Alcoa, which supplies thin-gauge aluminum foil to Tetra Pak for aseptic packaging, uses the recycled aluminum to manufacture new foils.

The application of plasma technology for the recycling of carton packaging employs electrical energy to produce a jet of plasma at 15 thousand degrees Celsius to heat the plastic and aluminum mixture. With this process, plastic is transformed into paraffin and the aluminum is recovered in the form of high-purity ingot. Alcoa will then use the recycled aluminum to manufacture new foil. Paraffin is sold to the Brazilian petrochemical industry. The paper, extracted during the first phase of the recycling process is transformed into cardboard by Klabin. TSL Ambiental, responsible for the technology development of thermal plasma, is responsible for operating this new facility.

The new plasma facility has the capacity to process eight thousand tons per year of plastic and aluminum, corresponding to recycling approximately 32 thousand tons of aseptic packaging. The emission of pollutants during the recovery of the materials is minimal, according to the companies. Recovery is handled in the absence of oxygen, without combustion, yielding an energy efficiency rate close to 90%.

"This project synthesizes the best that sustainability can offer, in the form of partnering, technological innovation, environmental enhancement and social development. Alcoa is proud to participate in the roll-out of this pioneering technology," stated Franklin Feder, president of Alcoa Latin America. "Brazil already possesses an exemplary record of recycling aluminum and, consequently, the country now has the potential to become a global paradigm as well in the recovery and reuse of aseptic carton packages," Feder said.

The plasma project began in Brazil seven years ago when the former Plasma Group of the IPT (Institute of Technological Research of the University of Sao Paulo -USP) began exploring the development of processes and technologies that could handle industrial residues enabling the reuse of the valuable metals and materials. The use of plasma technology for the processing of plastic and aluminum in the carton packages was successful and formed the basis of the partnership between the four companies for the creation of the recycling plant.