If you’ve ever had visitors from out of the country or even province, you may have had questions about why in the world our milk comes in plastic bags. Here are a few reasons that help break down the mystery.
Milk bags were introduced in the 1960s. About a decade later, Canada began converting to the metric system, which meant dairy producers had to replace and resize existing milk containers, which were then measured in imperial quarts.
Retooling assembly lines, replacing heavy glass bottles or reconfiguring plastic jugs was an expensive prospect for the milk industry, and milk bags, which were already being experimented with, proved much easier and affordable to resize.
Changing a one-quart bag to a 1.3-litre bag was relatively seamless, so the three-quart bags of milk quickly became four-litre bags across parts of Canada once the metric system was fully implemented.
In order to sell milk in four-litre hard plastic jugs, a retailer or producer had to include a deposit or recycling system for those products, and some stores did just that. Customers could purchase jugs of milk at those shops if they paid a deposit for the jug at the store.
Bags, however, did not have this restriction, so many larger food retailers and dairy producers chose to use primarily bags. This explains why Ontario grocers almost exclusively provided large quantities of milk in bags.
It’s estimated that 75 to 85 percent of Ontario residents purchase their milk in a pouch. It would surprise many to know that Canadians aren’t the only ones with bagged milk. Dairy lovers in India, China, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Columbia, Uruguay, Argentina, Hungary, South Africa, and even in some parts of the U.S. drink milk from bags, which some argue is a more economical and environmentally friendly packaging style.
Glass bottles may have been functional and reusable, but they were also heavy, breakable, and costly to clean. The thin, flexible packaging also means that bagged milk takes up less space in the garbage — that is, when the packaging isn’t recycled.
Bagged milk is slightly more sustainable to produce. It’s argued that pouches use 75 percent less plastic than the average plastic milk jug, and are much lighter thus requiring less energy to ship. The flip side, though, is unfortunately milk bags aren’t as easy to recycle as plastic milk jugs and can result in a lot of plastic waste.
Many folks find plenty of ways to reuse milk bags, however, making buying sealable plastic bags redundant. Once washed out, milk bags can be used to pack lunches, portion meat for the freezer, used as an icing bag, waterproof storage for electronics while camping, picking up dog poop, packing produce at the grocery store, a grow bag for small hanging plants and more!
The milk bag is a vessel that takes up a fraction of the space and is, undeniably, more environmentally sound. It can be a strange sight for the unfamiliar, and yet it makes so much sense.
Dairy Central is of course home to many brands of milk in bags, check them out here.