Sunday, 1 April 2012

Green Milk

Today's been a day in the kitchen. We've been turning all those lovely Riverford organic ingredients into delicious meals for the next few weeks. A huge vat of bolognese sauce, a Thai chicken curry and a slow cooker full of beef and bean stew. They're all ready to be put into the freezer and then we can eat them whenever we like! I wonder if we'll even use the cooker this week.

We had to buy a few extra ingredients and while we were at the shops I was reminded of a green quandary that I've been mulling over for months. What's the most eco-friendly container for milk?

I think the obvious (and probably right!) answer is glass bottles, unless you can get it straight from the dairy to your cup which is tricky for most of us. Glass can be recycled efficiently and isn't a petroleum based product like plastic. In fact glass milk bottles are very often superheated to clean them and reused the next day, which is even better than recycling. But glass bottles aren't often sold in shops as they're heavy to transport and not easy to stack. The only place I ever see them are on milk vans, and unfortunately at the moment finances don't allow the luxury of a milk man to our house; although I often see one when I leave very early for work.

Plastic bottles are probably the most common container and it's what we always get. They're convenient for pouring, can be recycled and stand up nicely in the fridge. But they are made from hydrocarbons and so rely on fossil fuels for production. The less fossil fuels we use the better and so the less plastic packaging we use the better. This is the thinking behind selling milk in thin plastic bags instead of bottles and having a jug in your fridge into which you empty the bag once you get home from shopping.

Having had a look on the internet there seem to be some very complicated ways of using milk bags. See this video from the BBC news website. I think the easiest way to use them is to just make a small hole in the bag and squeeze or pour the milk into the jug.

When I've seen these bags in the past I've always thought they looked great, but never quite got round to buying them. But the plastic the bags use doesn't look very recyclable. It looks like the thin film you get on food products that can't be recycled. So I wonder if it is actually more green than plastic bottles. It must need less energy to transport than bottles but if you can't do anything but throw the plastic away at the end is that worth the gains in fuel? Several online sources say that the plastic is recyclable but I'm not certain. Does anyone know whether it can be, or does anyone use the bags? I'd love to find out more. Another example of where being green isn't an easy clear path!


  1. They're all ready to be put into the freezer and then we can eat them whenever we like! I wonder if we'll even use the cooker this're gonna eat all that like ice lollies? ;-)

    Don't forget organic milk too - might not be any better for us but it's certainly better for the wider environment on the farm the cows live on.



  2. Good comment about organic milk, but I decided that what type of milk is actually in the containers was a big enough topic for another blog! You get all the normal choices of organic vs local and also the added thoughts on whether spending energy separating fat out of the milk to get semi-skinned makes it less green too.

    Not using the cooker - let the food defrost at room temperature, then use the microwave to reheat and cook pasta/rice/potatoes with it. Microwaves use less energy than a gas hob or an oven so it's better for the environment, and often quicker too! So hopefully no cooker use this week! That said, other things like lighting and heating have a much bigger effect on a households greenness.