If you stop to think about it, the kind of container that your milk came in when you were a child could actually give away your age. For centuries, and up until the 19th century, most people lived in rural areas with at least a couple of cows on their farm. The milk was simply stored in the cow and hauled from the barn in steel canisters.
As towns and cities began to grow, dairy farmers put fresh milk into glass bottles and delivered them to the cityfolk, often by train. By the early 20th century, pasteurization was widely adopted as an essential tool for ensuring that the milk was safe.
For many Baby Boomers, milk was delivered to the home by the local milkman. Mornings began with fetching the milk from the front stoop or milkbox and trying to beat your brother or sister to the cream on top. Baby Boomers also mastered the pinch-pull motion required to open the square-shaped, flat-bottomed cardboard milk carton served at school.
Even though the milkman has pretty much disappeared, there is still an entire army of people dedicated to keeping your milk safe and fresh. For the latest in packaging innovation, we talked to Dr. Gail Barnes, who has worked with dairy farmers and companies on the safety and sustainability of packaging for most of her career.
Why is the gallon jug so ubiquitous? And what happened to glass bottles?
Glass is a beautiful substance, but unfortunately it is as fragile as it is beautiful, and the risk of injury from breakages, combined with the weight of the glass and the need to retrieve and wash the bottles just made it an impractical large scale solution for milk.
Today the vast majority of milk is sold in plastic jugs. Through smart design, milk processing companies have reduced the amount of plastic to the very minimum needed while still keeping the package sound and the product safe.
Can I recycle my milk jugs?
More and more communities are offering recycling. Both milk chugs and half-gallon and gallon jugs can be added to the recycling bin and can then find a new life when used for new bottles (e.g. for detergents), composite decking, garden products, playground equipment, milk crates and even more recycling bins!
What’s new in schools? What kind of innovations in packaging are you seeing?
Studies have shown that kids will choose more milk, more often, when it’s offered in packaging they like, and that kids like drinking milk best when it's served ice-cold, in a variety of flavors, and in single-serve, plastic bottles. The cost can sometimes prevent schools from offering these bottles as an option, so milk companies continue to seek more cost-effective options. There is a new way to make plastic bottles called vertical thermoforming that is winning awards in Europe. That technology is now making its way to the U.S., and these new bottles – which look and feel exactly the same as bottles made with conventional technology, but use less plastic -- could make milk in plastic bottles more affordable for more schools.