Milk in a Pouch – Innovative and Sustainable

The milk container market, one of the most important and traditional of all the food and beverage packaging segments is ripe for sustainable developments and design novelties. From the glass milk bottle to the existing plastic or cardboard containers over more than 60 years little changed in that market. Up till recently.

Last year UK’s Food and Farming Minister, Lord Rooker, called for the dairy industry to become more sustainable, targeting 50% reduction of plastics used in milk packaging as a key goal for 2020. (photo right courtesy Waitrose)

Although for the majority of industries sustainability is solely a moral issue at best, pressure of the environment conscious consumer in turning it around into an economic issue is evident. As a consequence marketing departments and designers have to see it as a creative challenge. The challenge is to come up with aesthetically attractive designs that are environmentally responsible, grant the basics of protecting and presenting the product, stimulate consumer behaviour to purchase and repurchase. Although not a consumer requirement, an innovative packaging might be a sales-booster.
Here starts the contradiction. Some companies have introduced highly disruptive designs creating a huge impact on the shelves in the supermarkets. Some have even managed to create revolutions in a specific category of packaging by using different structures or materials. However, consumers, hate change of the traditional and trusted day-to-day products, and there is always a degree of resistance to anything that affects the tradition. One of these “traditional” categories is the milk packaging.

The US consumer is much more conservative in regard to changes in packages of basic day-to-day products, in contrast to the UK consumer who is more open to changes in ‘traditional’ packaging as long as ‘greenness’ and sustainability is served, and convenience not frustrated.

In the UK and the USA in particular, the dairy industry is marketing its milk products in plastic milk bottles, mostly made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), causing a tremendous pressure on landfill and nature.

Widely used in the European and sparsely in the UK and US milk industry, the Tetra laminated cardboard packs are common in the juice sector. Although reasonable green, the discarded empty packs can’t be put in the main cardboard recycling stream as they are made with plastic coated lamination and contain aluminium elements and other materials which prevent their disposal into the general recycling schemes. They require special recycling facilities.
As far as I know, there are none Tetra recycling facilities in the UK (and the USA) at the moment, only in Brazil, where Tetra Pak has a recycling plant for their packs.

These two packages, the plastic bottle and the Tetra pack, are the two main pillars on which the distribution chain of milk is based.

Let’s have a look at three recently developed ‘green’ milk packages in the UK:

• Suffolk’s Marybelle dairy began in late 2008 to sell its milk in ASDA stores located in eastern England in the new GreenBottles (see photo above). The GreenBottle is made from cardboard pulp with a plastic inner bag. As a matter of fact you could call it a bag-in-box. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for GreenBottle completed by PIRA found that the carbon footprint of GreenBottle was 48% lower than the HDPE milk bottle.
Daylesford, an organic UK dairy producer managed to innovate both structure and materials, resulting in a sensational milk packaging, which I baptized bag-pack. Made from calcium carbonate, the biodegradable, bag-like plastic pack is cut into a striking jug shape. It is innovative, stylish and sustainable.
• Sainsbury’s debuted the milk bag with Jugit from Dairy Crest that comprises of a plastic pouch of milk used in conjunction with a specialized reusable jug. The jug’s two-piece lid features a hollow spike attachment that perforates the pouch when closed. The top of the attachment flips open to provide a handy, recloseable spout.

The GreenBottle – A Bag-in-Box
When you take a look at the bottle with its mat white appearance, it looks like a plastic milk container. However it is a double folded tray made from cardboard pulp, a system identical to the well-known pulp packages for eggs. The outer shell is made from recycled paper (90.7% waste paper) which can be recycled again, or if left it will just decompose within a matter of weeks. The plastic inner liner, which takes up less than 0.5% of the space of a plastic bottle if dumped in a landfill, prevents liquid from contaminating the paper case. The bag can be made from conventional Low Density Polypropylene or a Corn Starch alternative.
The GreenBottle consumes about a third of the energy required to make a plastic bottle and has a Carbon Footprint that is 48% lower than plastic.

To get this result some handling has to be done: First a loose inner bag is inserted into a paper spout. The bag is then folded and with the spout, placed into the outer shell. The bottle rim is glued, folded over and closed. Finally the bottle is filled, the spout is closed and sealed, and the label is applied.

Resistance of the consumer is probably minimal as the final result looks and handles like a plastic milk container. A clever idea, which has some similarities with the 360-Paper-Water-Bottle, I wrote about some time ago.

Bio-degradable bag-pack
Over twenty years ago, Daylesford began to turn their family land in the Cotswolds and Staffordshire over to sustainable, organic farming. It was the start of a passion: to grow crops naturally, and rear healthy animals. The rich organic milk from their herd of Friesians – a different taste entirely from more industrially produced milk – seemed to entreat Daylesford to expand in a creamery and other related activities.

Skilled artisan cooks work alongside organic gardeners; cheese-making is practised next door to willow basket-weaving, dry stone walling and other traditional, precious country crafts; people working together, sharing a vision.
From this traditional, if you like ‘old-fashioned’ environment, almost gone everywhere else in the world, comes an amazing development: The bio-degradable milk bag-pack.

As Daylesford does not reveal details, we have to make an assumption as the ‘Daylesford’ bag-pack (photo left) looks very similar to the recently by Sweden-based manufacturer Ecolean (photo under) unveiled new lightweight aseptic packaging system for liquid food products.

This package is made up from a flexible multi-layered polymer film, baptized Calymer, consisting of 60% polyethylene and polypropylene and 40% calcium carbonate.
According to the manufacturer, the package weighs just 14 grams, which is a 40-50% reduction on a conventional liquid food carton or bottle.
Although flexible material, the bag-pack stands up steadily, thanks to the flat-bottom design that does the job. The air-filled handle makes it easy to get a grip and the spout makes it easy to pour.

The Calymer material should not be confused with bio-degradable plastics on the market as they follow a different life-cycle. According to Ecolean’s site, a disposed Calymer package can either be recycled as a traditional plastic or “recovered as energy by incineration.” And here is the difference with Daylesford, as they claim that the bag-pack is bio-degradable.

The system requires a proprietary production line with filling machines and packing stations. The filling machine opens, fills and re-seals the packages in 2.4 seconds. Although their Ecolean packaging is available with the system, the Calymer material itself is not for sale separately.

Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound with the chemical formula CaCO3. It is a common substance found in rock, and is the main component of shells of marine organisms, and eggs..

The Jugit
In the past milk-in-a-bag has been introduced in several markets, among others in the Netherlands, with none or little success. Apparently the UK consumer is more open to this type of ‘dressed-down’ milk packaging and I must say the jug necessary to be used with this milk bag has undergone a tremendous innovation.

Developed by Dairy Crest in association with the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain, Jugit offers consumers a pouch-based format that uses substantially less packaging material than conventional plastic milk containers, allied to the convenience of an easy-to-pour, reusable jug.

The basic consumer resistance to adopting liquid pouches is the means of opening and pouring. Typical consumer fears about pouches include the suspicion that bags will burst, their lack of recloseability and concerns that they can only be opened using scissors. Design agency Vibrandt 1hq developed the Jugit to specifically overcome these factors.

The secret to Jugit’s success is an innovative two-part lid featuring a hollow spike attachment, which perforates the pouch as a natural consequence of assembly. After the pouch is dropped into the jug and the main body of the lid closed, trapping the top of the bag using secure clips, the spike is inserted to perforate the pouch. The top of the attachment then flips open to provide a handy, recloseable pouring spout.

The lid, spike and handle are injection moulded in white PP, while clear material is used for the two pint jug all manufactured by RPC Market Rasen. The pouches are manufactured by Glopak.

This new packaging system for milk for Dairy Crest, has been so successful that it is now been extended to over 200 Sainsbury’s and Waitrose stores across the UK.

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20 responses to “Milk in a Pouch – Innovative and Sustainable

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  3. Daylesford,

    I’m curious about the Daylesford bag – how are they claiming that the bags are biodegradable? Do they meet any of the international standards for compostable plastics – ASTM D-6400, ASTM D-6868, or EN 13432? or is the bag certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute?

    It looks like a very solid package and I love the fact that the bag can stand upright, but let’s be sure that they meet the appropriate standards before allowing them to use the terms biodegradable or compostable,


      • Anton – That was precisely my concern. I read the bit about 60% PE / PP and 40% calcium carbonate and I know that products made from these substances are definitely not compostable.

        I was actually just reading a study about commercial composting facilities that said <10% accept food packaging that's lined with PE. PE typically ends up contaminating compost piles which is why these folks don't accept it. (and if they don't accept it, then I think folks are going to be very challenged to get the item to break down in their backyard compost).

        Definitely frustrating from a greenwashing perspective.

    • @ Dinesh

      Your are correct. If they claim that the packing is biodegradable, the packing should comply with ASTM 6400 or EN 13432.

      Do you have any idea on packing of milk pouches by using biodegradable plastics???

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  11. This article is so mis-guided. Bio degradable packaging will and is causing so much more damage to the environment and other recyclable plastics. Innovation is a bad idea when coming to packaging designs. Design packaging for recycling not landfill!! HDPE milk bottles are one of the most recycled items on the planet. We need more HDPE to flow into the recycling system. Not film and biodegradable packing instead.

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