Milk Jugs – Glass, Plastic and Paperboard – have different environmental impacts

A recent article in Slate, the online magazine, and reprinted by The Washington Post, discusses the varying environmental impacts of different packaging choices for milk.  (Read the full article @ The three alternatives considered are the HDPE plastic milk jug, the paperboard gable-top carton and the glass bottle. Without restating the entire article here, the author points out the pro’s and con’s of each packaging form.  

The paperboard gable top carton gets high marks for being produced from largely renewable resources (paperboard), however, it’s positives are overshadowed by resource intensity to produce and mixed materials (coated paperboard, plastic spouts and caps) which hampers recyclability. 

The author ranks the glass bottle first, despite the fact that it takes more energy to produce and even though it is much heavier than the paper and plastic alternatives.  Ranking the glass bottle first is due to his primary assertion that it is reusable / refillable.  While in theory, that is true, I don’t think that we’re going back to the days of having the milkman pick up your empties, plus the energy involved in any return scheme has not been factored into his assessment of environmental impact.

The author ranks the plastic jug second due to its light weight and recyclability.  However, he goes on to state that, “While plastic bottles can be melted down and made into new bottles, none of the milk containers in the United States are actually made from recycled material.  That’s because of safety concerns over bacterial and chemical contamination, and strict FDA guidelines for the manufacture of food packaging from such secondhand sources.”

The author goes on to say, “When it is reclaimed, plastic from milk bottles is usually turned into toothbrushes, flowerpots, and children’s toys, among other things.”  While it is true that recycled milk bottles go into all of these applications, the primary use for recycled milk bottles, by far, is to be put back into consumer products packaging.  Virtually all national brands of liquid laundry products, household cleaners, shampoos, conditioners and skin care products use recycled milk bottles in their packaging because it is relatively easy to achieve the proper color packaging using colorless, recycled milk bottle plastic resin.

We are, also, pleased to say that we are addressing the author’s comment that “…none of the milk containers in the United States are actually made from recycled materials”.  Envision Plastics’ EcoPrime™ food grade recycled HDPE resin will be incorporated into dairy products and milk bottle packaging this year.  EcoPrime™ is the only post consumer recycled HDPE resin that has received FDA clearance to be used in packaging that is in direct contact with foods and beverages.  This means that EcoPrime™ is free of chemical, bacterial, or any other type of contaminants and that it meets the “strict FDA’s guidelines for the manufacture of food packaging from such secondhand sources”.  Look for it in milk, liquid dairy products, beverages, nutritional products and personal care products.  You can be assured that EcoPrime™ is the cleanest, purest recycled HDPE resin available anywhere in the world.

Need more information? Visit, or contact Envision Plastics Vice President, Tamsin Ettefagh.  She will be happy to discuss your comments or concerns in greater depth. Contact her at 336/342-4749 Ext 225.

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