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Milk: Plastic or Glass?

Deciphering between packaging for items like milk, a beverage staple in many households, can sometimes be confusing if you are trying to purchase the most eco-friendly choice.

Probably the most prevalent milk container in the U.S. is the plastic variety, usually made from HDPE, or No. 2 plastic. Though this is a recyclable plastic, milk containers are not reprocessed into new ones due to regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about using new packaging for foods for safety reasons.Therefore, recycled plastic milk containers are usually turned into things like toothbrushes and toys.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated that less than 29% of them are actually recycled. Plastic milk jugs are popular with companies, in part because they are easier to transport than glass varieties, which were popular with consumers when milk began to be increasingly mass produced for stores and home deliveries.

Milk containers are also made from plastic or wax coated paperboard. These are fabricated mostly from paper, but are harder to recycle because they are composed of both paper and plastic, which poses a challenge for recycling facilities. Therefore these usually get tossed, and require manufacturing more packaging for new products.

Some grocers may still offer milk in reusable glass bottles. Many that do this offer some incentive, like a coin deposit, if the bottles are returned. The bottles are then sterilized and can be repeatedly reused. Glass is a composite material, made up mostly of sand, and takes a lot of energy to initially produce. Though it also costs more to ship them since they weigh more than plastics, by reusing them it saves in production costs as well as the energy and resources needed to make new containers.

Additionally, since glass milk bottles can be used again with minimal procedure they expend much less energy than recycling. Also, resalvaging glass is a much more environmentally cleaner process than recycling plastics. If a glass container like a milk bottle is accidentally broke, though, it can be recycled. Some glasses are fully reusable, and others are as much as 80% recyclable. Glass may seem like an upfront investment but it can be argued in favor of its disposable plastic counterpart. Glass also does not pose the food safety hazard as with plastic food containers. Like glass milk containers, most home food safe glass can be reheated and sterilized, without releasing toxins or even staining, to be used again.

According to some, another benefit with glass milk varieties as well as other foods stored in glass, is the taste. It is reportedly different, and better, than milk and foods stored in plastic containers. An interesting note effecting stored milk is that ultraviolet light can zap nutrients like vitamins A and D from clear, light penetrable vessels, such as see through glass receptacles as well as some plastics. Also, proteins from the milk may sometimes adhere to the sides of glass, so a gentle shake before using will redistribute them.

So, if you or others in your household are big milk drinkers and you have the option to choose in your area, try out glass bottles for a spin. Decide if it is a better option for your home based on use, taste preferences and return availability.

If glass milk containers are not readily available, continuing to recycle things such as plastic milk containers does make a difference. Also, there are neat ways to reuse all types of containers, like the colorful igloo house that is nested in Canada. Made from an imaginative couple, this illuminating project was constructed of around 500 reused milk cartons.

Claridge, J. August 21, 2012. More Environmentally Friendly to Use Glass Milk Bottles? Retrieved from: RecyclingExpert.co.uk
Palmer, B. February 28, 2011. Milk Jugs – Glass, Plastic and Paperboard – Have Different Environmental Impacts. Retrieved from: WashingtonPost
Thompson, L. February 27, 2009. Are You Afraid of Your Plastic Food Containers? Replace Them With Glass. Retrieved from: CopywritersKitchen

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