Milk in a Bag

If you want an entertaining little distraction, take a look at BBC reporter Rory Cellan-Jones trying out the new recyclable bag and jug system for milk that Sainsbury’s has just launched.

What comes over is quite what a faff the whole system is compared to just opening up one of the normal plastic bottles that most milk comes in. The idea is that you buy the reusable jug once, and then the bag is made from recyclable plastic, avoiding the bottles going to landfill. In the case of us, that isn’t a problem, as our local council will take the plastic milk bottles anyway, however I’m well aware that different councils have different policies.

However the big question that comes up is why, if this is a move to encourage recycling, why this is more environmentally friendly than the way milk used to be supplied which was in reusable glass bottles. You’d hand back your empty bottles which would be taken away, cleaned and reused. Surely having a container that is totally reusable like that is more environmentally friendly than a whole load of plastic bags?

3 thoughts on “Milk in a Bag”

  1. In Canada (at least where I live) milk in a bag is the dominant way milk is distributed. It’s been like this every since I can remember (although I’m not ancient) and it just seems very normal to me. Although the milk bags are recyclable, there are some other things we have learned to do with them to prevent them from having to be processed. My wife and I save up the milk bags all year and we use them to freeze corn, strawberries and other things in them. They make great freezer bags as they are thick and strong. Also, they make great bags for packing things in the kids lunches, like cookies or sandwiches.

  2. The news this morning said it was quite common in Europe as well – but certainly it’s a big enough change to have made the national news in the UK.

  3. Indeed “milk in a bag” is an old Canadian custom. It is quite a bit less expensive – but much more of a hassle. The reusable jug system only works somewhat; I find that a half-empty bag tends to fold down into the pitcher and has to be fished out prior to pouring to prevent a mess, or at least a badly aimed milk stream. I typically tend to transfer my milk into reused 2L soda bottles via a funnel.

    As for glass milk bottles – it does seem intuitively obvious that they would be better. After a little thought, I’m not sure. You’re always going to have a percentage lost each use cycle, they cost much more (would you accept increases in milk prices to have glass bottles?) and I think the environmental costs of creating them are quite high, actually; it does require a high-temperature facility. That said, they have almost zero environmental impact for disposable as they’re just melted sand.

    All that said, I’d have to see some serious study as to what the complete environmental/economic impacts of each approach would be before I could say one way or another, and it wouldn’t surprise me if either way was more or less “environmentally friendly”.

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