After making the commitment to really try and minimise our use of plastic products (starting with bottles and coffee cups) Kelly and I have been looking at ways to cull plastic packaging from our lives.
It is not easy. In fact, it is frustratingly difficult.
Sure, there are plenty of easy adjustments like reusable shopping bags, and keep-cups and little reusable bags to put your fruit in
But a simple stroll down the isles of our local supermarket and it quickly becomes apparent that the vast majority of products that we usually buy each week are wrapped in plastic. With little option for substitution packaging.
So let’s look at milk.
One of the things we looked at was our consumption of plastic milk bottles
(and I’m putting any ethical concerns around animal welfare in milk production aside for another post).
We drink a lot of coffee and ergo a lot of milk, so replacing plastic milk containers was high on our list of habits to change. Seems a no brainer.
But wait… there was not a single non-plastic fresh milk container on offer in our local supermarket.
OK then, I walked over to the organic health food store just across the way. Problem solved.
Plastic milk bottles.
Drink. Return. Refill. Repeat.
A quick search online found almost nobody producing milk in glass bottles in Australia. This is despite the fact that glass milk bottles can be cleaned, sterilized and reused ad infinitum.
The main ingredients of a glass milk bottle, sand, soda, ash and limestone are plentiful. It does require a fair amount of energy to transform this into glass, but it is still far less energy than is required to produce a brand new plastic bottle and packaging. And if it is reused, that is one less container that needs to be created in the future.
And when that glass bottle finally does break (or fails to be returned for cleaning) it can be recycled, melted down, and repurposed into a wide range of other glass products.
But doesn’t glass effect the milk?
Well, sort of.
Ultraviolet light penetrating clear glass bottles does degrade vitamin A, D and riboflavin, (for some reason this seems to not be much of an issue with plastic containers). However, this is a simple issue to solve with proper handling, storage and a little education.
So why is it so hard to get milk in glass?
Profit margins. I imagine it all comes down to the production and transport cost. And perhaps to a lesser extent the loss of product due to breakages.
Glass is estimated to make up around one-third the total weight of a shipment of milk compared to 5% for plastic.
It is heavy, requireing more fuel and manpower to transport it, and a heavier product for the consumer to lug home from the supermarket.
The biggest reason, of course, that our supermarket fridges are not stocking glass milk bottles as an alternative option is that you and I are not making them do so.
There are some exceptions that show milk in glass can be done.
One Victorian organic dairy producer (Schulz Organic Dairy) has been struggling to keep up with demand for its glass milk bottles. Not only selling their milk in glass bottles (via various local retailers and farmers market stalls), but giving customers the option to return the bottles, which are then cleaned and refilled creating a tangable and satisfying recycling loop.
There was a time not that long ago when all our milk was delivered in glass bottles. They used to clink together pleasantly and in a decidedly milk-bottle way.
And it worked.
And millions of tonnes of plastic bottles had not yet found their way into our landfill and oceans slowly breaking down into smaller bits of plastic where some of it would enter the food chain with an ominous and most un-clinking consequence.
Next time you are visiting your supermarket, tell them you would like to see glass milk bottles offered as an option.
I think it could work agian.