Friday, 12 August 2011

Where less packaging is more...

Do you take milk?

We do. And we recently came across a new way to buy it and to save the environment. No more plastic bottles or Tetra-Paks...

The system is called Jugit and is produced by Dairy Crest.  The milk comes in a polythene pouch which is placed in a reusable jug and pierced with a specially spiked spout when the lid of the jug is closed over. It was on an introductory offer and it claims to use 75% less packaging than plastic milk bottles so we bought the reusable jug along with two 2pt pouches of milk to try the system out. The weight of packaging for the Jugit system and other packaging systems is presented below.

Reusable Jug
2 pint polybottle weighs 29.47g
2 litre Green-bottle (weight per 2 pints) weighs 70.2g
1 litre Ecolean Stand Up Pouch (weight per 2 pints) weighs 19.3g
2 pint Pillow Pouch milk bag weighs 5.3g
Source: Dairy Crest internal data, weights may vary

We found that the system worked well enough after getting the hang of correctly spiking the plastic bag at the start - my first attempt didn't quite go to plan and I spilled some milk. Nothing to cry over though.

So if the system works, is it a great step forward in reducing our packaging consumption then?

This is a little less certain for a number of reasons. If you look at the basic weight of the pouch compared with a normal plastic bag and you will see that the pouch weighs only 18% of the weight of the bottle, which sounds good, and assuming that you use the system for long enough, the quantity of plastic in the reusable jug becomes negligible. The downside is that the conventional plastic bottle is totally recyclable but the pouch (LDPE) is not in many areas, including where I live. This means more material going into landfill. The manufacturer does suggest that the bags could be washed out and recycled with carrier bags however, I have found that some supermarkets that offer carrier bag recycling are a bit funny about accepting other packaging.

When you consider the weight saving of the package compared with the overall weight of the product and packaging. The saving of 24g of packaging is around 2% of the total weight. Any saving in packaging is therefore very quickly offset if the milk has to travel further to the retailer. The contact address for Jugit (a Dairy Crest company) is in Shropshire and I have the impression that this is where the milk is produced. If this is the case the carbon footprint of hauling it 300 miles across the UK to Glasgow, compared with 10 miles from Wiseman's East Kilbride dairy, will wipe out all the benefits of less packaging and quite a lot more. It is yet another product billed as saving the environment but in reality causing more harm than good.

For now, it is unlikely that we will use the Jugit system principally on environmental grounds but also it is only available in limited stores, such as larger Sainsbury's, that we only visit once a month. I now need to dived the weight of the jug between the two pouches we have used to find that the total packaging was more than if we had stuck with the plastic bottles.

This does not mean that the concept is necessarily wrong and credit has to be given to Dairy Crest for trying, however we really do need a system where the consumer can compare, at point of sale, the veracity of environmental claims of products and be reliably informed about which is best.  This must be tailored to a specific location so retailers would have quite a task in compiling the information and ensuring accuracy but if we are to reduce our environmental impact consumers really do need the information to hand as it is not always obvious which is best.  One may reasonably assume that local produce is better than imported - it usually is - but if heated greenhouses are used versus naturally grown then shipped (not flown) in produce it is harder to assess which has the least impact.

If the Jugit system was produced locally with locally sourced milk, distributed widely to local convenience stores and the local authority accepted the plastic for recycling it could have a future.  Or better still we could go back to having a milkman, now driving round in a solar powered electric float delivering the milk in 100% reusable glass bottles... Or am I showing my age?

Related Posts: Why can't we recycle more?The Age of Plastic

No comments:

Post a Comment