To drink milk or not to drink milk…is definitely not the question at our house. Our love for an ice-cold glass of milk got me thinking about all of those plastic gallon milk jugs that are being pitched into the recycling bin month after month. We drink approximately two gallons a week, so that is a minimum of 8 plastic jugs a month that we hope are being recycled. I did a little research this month to find out more about the recycling process and if there was a better alternative to plastic.
Before going any further into what I found out about milk and its many containers, I want to catch you up on a little of my families milk history. In 2006, we made the decision to start buying organic milk, with little knowledge other than we wanted our children to drink milk that was free of pesticides. As the years went on, I started learning about the sad methods of industrial/factory farming and made the poor assumption that organic equaled a happy and healthy farm. I regularly purchased Horizon dairy products because they were easily found in most groceries stores, and bore the organic seal, yet were and are rated poorly for ethics by The Cornucopia Institute’s dairy report score card. “The Cornucopia Institute’s national survey of organic products in the dairy case showcases ethical family farm producers and exposes factory farm producers and brands that threaten to take over organic dairying. With this Web-based rating tool, you can see which brands and dairy products found in your region are produced using the best organic farming practices and ethics.” The organic label is important to me, but the ethical farm practices are what now sells my family milk.
So there I was, standing in the grocery store last week, staring at all of the milk choices and feeling confused on this new front of the container. Paper, plastic, or glass?. There they sat… Really Shitty Milk plastic gallon $2.79. Non-organic antibiotic free plastic gallon $4.02. Organic Valley plastic gallon $6.00.Organic Valley paper half gallon pasture-raised $4.79.Organic Valley paper half-gallon 100% grass-fed $5.09. Non-Organic Local Oberweis half gallon glass jars $3.79 plus $1.50 deposit. Holy shit that’s a lot of choices… so which is better- paper, plastic or glass? This is how I would answer and rank the milk container quandary and a second important question…which can I afford?
#1) The winner by a land-slide… the beautiful re-usable glass. This really is a no brainer. You only need to sterilize it, not re-create it. Also, its glass, not petroleum-based. Did I mention it’s beautiful? I am a huge fan of the art of glass. It makes me happy, even when a family member I won’t mention swings it and breaks it on the curb, leaving a half-gallon of liquid gold all over the sidewalk. Ummm, it was Sabrina. In Germany, most glass bottles are re-used, not re-manufactured by LAW. Now, that sounds like a fantastic idea. Go Germany. Last thing about glass. I researched a local dairy company named Oberweis, located in Aurora, Illinois who sells their milk in half gallon glass containers. After a little reading, I was sold on Oberweis as a company, and found that they practice highly ethical and organic methods, but for many legitimate reasons, chose to not become certified organic.
#2) I would put paper cartons in second place. Just because I wash my gallon jugs, make sure they are recycled in my city and actually recycle them does not mean that everybody else does too. Many, many , many people do not recycle. Besides the plastic coating that is placed on the outside of the paper cartons, it is a less-petroleum based product, so it gets my vote over plastic. It also takes less energy to produce paper, and sometimes the production process is fueled with the bi-products of the paper. The issue with paper though is that many cities do not recycle them. After finding out my city does not, we stopped buying them and saved the ones we had for planting seedlings in the spring.
#3) Plastic gallon jugs, for all of the reasons listed above came in last place. A plastic milk jug will never be a milk jug again. Plastic continually is downcycled and eventually will be unusable and end up in a land fill.. When only 50% of the conscious Canadians are recycling their jugs, I hate to imagine the number here in the US of A. I also hate imagining those plastic jugs bouncing around in the oceans bothering all of the sea creatures. I say that jokingly, but it causes me grief everyday, no joke.
I found a really cool website that helped me find out what I could recycle in my city and a bunch of other great stuff. The address is http://earth911.com/recycling/. I am finally accepting the hard truth that just because I put something in the recycling bin does not make it magically so that it will be recycled. It makes me feel better to really know that everything that goes in that blue bin will not immediately end up in the landfill. Less is always more though, so whatever containers or packaging I can avoid is best of all.
Now, back to the second question; which can I afford? I think this is an important question for two reasons. One, it made me think about our consumption. We are on a fixed budget that limits our ability to have whatever we want whenever we want it, so we need to consider our options. Drink unlimited amounts of shitty milk, or mindfully drink local, mostly organic, ethically, happily raised and named cows in environmentally friendly re-usable glass containers. Well, when I put it that way, another no brainer. The second reason it’s an important question is because it pushes me to ask a deeper question, Which can our planet afford? It is not just about my health. It is about the health of all of us. I also began pondering how we could subsidize ethically raised milk so no matter what a person’s income level, they have the opportunity to choose. It equally pisses me off and overwhelms that our socio-economic position prohibits our ability to choose ethically raised and environmentally friendly foods. We all should have this choice. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE THIS CHOICE. If we all decided today we were done with torturing animals and burning up our planet with factory farms, many could stop grieving and all could share the beautiful food raised with heart.