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Size matters! Green potential of more milk pack sizes

By Guy Montague-Jones , 25-Nov-2009
Last updated on 25-Nov-2009 at 13:30 GMT

Providing a variety of milk packaging sizes could be more fruitful environmentally than switching to “greener” materials.

Jane Bickerstaffe, director of the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (ICPE), told DairyReporter.com that the dairy industry should focus on reducing waste rather than improving packaging materials.

Dairy companies in the UK are on target to meet the 2010 goal of incorporating 10 per cent recycled material into HDPE milk bottles, and will then face a more ambitious target of 50 per cent by 2020.

Limited impact

But Bickerstaffe said the environmental impact of such projects is limited. To start with primary packaging only accounts for 8 per cent of the energy consumed to deliver a week of milk to one person, according to data in the ICPE Table for One report. This means that any improvements in the realm of packaging are always likely to be relatively small in relation to the energy used to produce and deliver milk from field to fork.

There are also question marks hanging over the value of green packaging options. Bickerstaffe said the energy needed to recycle HDPE and prepare it for reuse in the dairy industry consumes high levels of energy that stand against any environmental benefits.

Life cycle analysis reveals complex advantages and disadvantages of glass, carton, and different plastics. Bickerstaffe said “no one material is better or worse than another.” This suggests that, as things stand, there is little that can be achieved by adopting “greener” packaging materials.

Waste reduction

Instead, Bickerstaffe said that in the milk packaging sphere the greatest environmental impact can be made by increasing the number of pack sizes. Because the overall amount of energy used in the life cycle of milk is very high the greatest savings can be made by reducing wastage.

By offering consumers packaging options that fit their needs, industry can help reduce wastage and avoid unnecessary energy use. Bickerstaffe concluded that widening the availability of different pack sizes should be an industry priority because it has more potential to benefit the environment than green materials.

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