Fresh milk: choose your fat content - and your packaging

By Sebastian day

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dairy crest, Recycling, Recyclable materials

The arrival of fresh milk in pouches as well as polybottles opens up the prospect of alternative packaging formats for consumers with different environmental priorities.

Sainsbury's national launch of Dairy Crest's Jugit system, which combines a two-pint pouch with a reusable jug for opening, pouring and storing the milk, has met with mixed responses. Waitrose, which stocked the same system, walked away from it earlier this year.

Suppliers of high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles are particularly sceptical given the lead that the UK dairy industry has taken in creating a nascent closed recycling loop for the plastic. Incorporating recyclate into bottles is a key target in the Milk Roadmap environmental initiative sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

But Richard Pryor, innovations controller at Dairy Crest, said: "We worked with the Waste & Resources Action Programme and were the first to get a bottle with recycled content into Marks & Spencer. We've taken this content up to 10% and are doing tests for higher amounts. We remain committed to the Milk Roadmap."

He suggested that different consumers may favour either a heavier bottle incorporating recycled content or a 75% lighter film pack. "Weight reduction is important to many consumers, so there's a role for both types of pack in the market," he said.

The debate is topical since the second round of industry's voluntary Courtauld Commitment (to reduce waste and impact via the supply chain) has recently moved away from an exclusive emphasis on materials reduction. Now there is a focus on carbon footprint, energy and food waste reduction as well.

Run on a roll-fed form-fill-seal line, the pouch film is trilayer monomaterial low density polyethylene (LDPE). In theory this is recyclable, although Dairy Crest admits that mixed film recycling in the UK is some way off.

HDPE recycler and supplier to converters Greenstar, WES is not impressed. "From a recycling point of view it's lousy," said md James Donaldson. "We recycle film, too, and with all that milk residue no doubt solidified it's not going to be recyclable film."

Waitrose also appears to have come down on the side of viable recycling. It blames its decision to delist Jugit on "poor demand". A spokeswoman said: "We will continue our work to minimise packaging in other ways. For example, we have increased the recycled content in our standard plastic milk bottles."

Dairy Crest suggests that the retailer's verdict might have been different if it had waited to see the final, more convenient version of the dispensing jug.