And while these have proven to be a significant upgrade from what came before, an Australian company, Lactote, believes it has developed the next evolution in packaging.
The company told DairyReporter that with the need for a lower cost, safer, and more sustainably-focused crate replacement in mind, Lactote has created a patented shrink film packaging solution that achieves this.
The Lactote system is the result of design and testing since 2006, and is a 'one-way' system, meaning nothing needs to be returned to the dairy - the used packaging can be directly recycled.
Employing two different weights of shrink film, the Lactote packaging system maintains durability whilst being easy to open, easy to carry - with no cutting blades necessary.
Up to 30% less material is used in the production process, offering the lowest cost shrink solution on the market, a spokesperson told DairyReporter.
Lactote's patented system has been introduced to a group of dairy manufacturers and packaging companies and will be rolled out in the coming months.
“A strong message that has come back to us is that companies recognize the improved health and safety opportunities which accompany the Lactote process,” the spokesperson said.
“We have worked hard to be ahead of the game as the big players started to reassess their investment and processes in packaging technology.”
The system can be applied across various markets: dairy, carbonated beverages, juice, alcohol, liquid detergents and canned goods.
The spokesperson said that the first step was working out a way of taking the product out of the packaging without having to be cut, a package that needed neither perforation nor a knife to access the product.
After working on carrying methods, the company realized that less plastic was being used in achieving the results.
“The milk volume around the world equates to a lot of one and two liter bottles,” the spokesperson said, adding that the system works with all kinds of products.
“Potentially, there is the opportunity through this system of taking billions of dollars of cost out of the equation.”
Another part of the equation was storing and shipping product, which the Lactote system also addresses.
“We’ve also come up with a system of packing these packs onto pallets in a cube, so you've basically got a cube of milk, it's got excellent top-load performance,” he said.
“With a plastic bottle, if it's standing upright, and you put too much pressure on the top, you can crush the neck.”
A normal milk bottle will take about 13kg, he said, however, with the Lactote packaging, “you can get up to 200kg on the bottle without it bursting or leaking, and it stacks very nicely.”
The product also removes the need for secondary packaging, the spokesperson said.
“We have a tray at the bottom, and a narrower piece at the top. You can hook the tops so that they can't come out. Then just flip the top, and out it comes.”
The idea was to create a ‘cradle to the grave’ product, where everything was recyclable.
“After the bottle is empty, you wash it out – now not everybody is going to do this – but you've got the empty bottle, which you can just put back into the pack for the entire contents and packaging to be recycled.”
Lactote is aware of more than one company in Australia that makes railway sleepers from the recycled milk bottle packaging.
The sleepers have a large milk bottle component with lids and labels thrown in. The sleepers themselves are recyclable.
Savings for companies
The potential world market for shrink film at the moment is about 600,000 tons, according to Lactote.
“By introducing this system, it can drop this back by 120,000 tons, so $3.2bn at the moment can be cut back by $500m, just by adopting this system because you use less plastic.
“The market for milk bottles around the world is about 5.4m tons of plastic. [By being able to further lightweight the current bottles] We can take 650,000 tons of plastic out of the market place by going to a system of this type.”
The spokesperson commented on an article in DairyReporter where Swiss company Emmi committed to reducing waste by 20% by 2020.
“We can show them how to do that tomorrow just by adopting a packaging system of this type,” the spokesperson said.
Replacing existing systems
The spokesperson conceded that companies do have existing equipment they may not want to replace, but noted that with the current system, equipment per line costs about A$1.5m (US$1.1m).
“The equivalent in equipment to do ours is around A$600,000 (US$450,000).
“It's simpler equipment, it doesn't need secondary packaging, it has 15 minute changeovers. With these, there's more flexibility, and versatility.”