We posted a couple weeks ago about some innovative eco-friendly milk jug alternatives that reduce consumer waste. They are available in the UK, but just like the newest cell phones and ridiculous fashion, Americans will have to wait for these options. What we have on this side of the pond is a jug that aims to reduce the waste on the distribution end. They have been on sale in select Sam's Clubs since November, and these new jugs are touted as eco-friendly right on the label, but are they?
The public is always a little wary of the claims of the big box retailers, so let’s take a look... The new jugs from Superior Dairy in Ohio were designed to save space and make milk packaging, transport, and storage more efficient primarily by making them rectangular and stackable. The old jugs were not stackable so they required milk crates for transportation. The reusable milk crates took up a considerable amount of space and added extraneous weight to the delivery trucks (3.6 lbs for the old milk crate I keep my shoes in) which is a big deal in the days of high priced gas. These new jugs can be stacked without crates using cardboard inserts between layers and shrink wrap to secure the whole pallet. This new convention, combined with their shape, allows 4.5 gallons of milk to be stored in the amount of space it once took to store 3 gallons. This means the stores can hold more and the trucks have to make fewer trips. This means less gasoline and less labor.
While the old crates were reusable the cardboard and plastic used now are recyclable which allows them to conserve another resource… water. Milk crates get filthy, particularly from birds roosting on or above them, and the companies were required to wash them. They estimate they use 60-70% less water without the crates.
Many people are complaining about the new jugs saying they are hard to pour and easy to spill. Others complain about extraneous packaging used in Costco to bundle two gallons together. A little ironic for a jug that is designed to reduce packaging, although this is a Costco convention, not native to the new milk jug design. Others are simply wary of the new look which many feel is more fitting of a gasoline can. All this crying over spilt milk does not amount to much in the way of sustainability. Just the amount of gas and water that is conserved by this new design is reason enough for me to dismiss these concerns. That being said, as much of an improvement as this is, there are still better options out there for those who are going Green. The best way is buying local and filling your own refillable jug or bottle.
Another intriguing option that we covered earlier is the Milk bags that the Brits are using. I don't have any data on how efficiently these design fit into the distribution chain, but they are definitely effective in reducing the amount of material heading to the landfill or transfer station. Instead of buying jugs of milk you buy bags which are much less material. In some designs you then put the bag into a reusable jug or in others the bag is the whole container. In any case you end up sending a tiny bag off to be recycled rather than a whole jug. If this method of packaging can be transported as efficiently as the new jugs, this would be a no brainer alternative for the mass distributed milk.