What's eco-friendliest: milk cartons or jugs? | Recycling | What you can do | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: What's eco-friendliest: milk cartons or jugs?

Glass bottles are the best option because they can be sterilized easily and reused. (Credit: Muffet via Flickr)

Possibly none of the above.

Walk the dairy aisle of your grocery store and you'll see milk packaged in waxed cartons, plastic jugs and glass bottles. To help you choose the most environmentally friendly option, we delve into the packaging.

Glass bottles are the best option because they can be sterilized easily and reused. Their high deposit fee — about a dollar — also increases the likelihood that they will make it back to the store. When consumers return their bottles, the energy required to sterilize and refill them is far less than what's required to make a new paper milk carton. If you can find milk in glass, this is your best option.

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Plastic milk jugs are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), or plastic numbered 2. It's safer for food than many other plastics and not quite as toxic to produce. Although widely recyclable in most municipal curbside programs, recovery and recycling rates vary. In provinces with milk-jug recovery programs, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association estimates a recovery rate of about 50 per cent. Recycled milk jugs are downcycled, ending their life as plant trays or non-food packaging items — often not easily recycled.

The paper milk carton, or polycoated gable-top cartons, are made from virgin paperboard. But buyer beware: they are not always accepted in municipal curbside recycling programs. Check the accepted items for your city or look into drop-off depots to ensure cartons get recycled and pulped into new paper products like tissues.

Put simply, "reuse" comes before "recycle", making glass the top choice. Torn between plastic and paper? Consider this: if you go through a lot of milk, choose one four-litre plastic jug to buying two two-litre paper cartons — "reduce" is the first "r" after all. And be sure to keep both plastic and paper milk containers out of the landfill. Always recycle!

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