Environmental analysis breaks down milk packaging options

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Recycling

Life cycle analysis of different milk packaging options has revealed that minimising weight and recycling offer the biggest environmental benefits.

Requests from brand owners and retailers prompted the Waste and Recourses Action Programme (WRAP) to commission Environmental Resource Management (ERM) to carry out the detailed research on milk packaging back in 2007.

The outcome of this research is two life cycle assessments on milk containers used for retail and doorstep deliveries. Both these reports can be viewed by clicking here.

In the report on milk packaging for retail, lightweighting and recycling were judged to offer environmental savings across all formats used in the UK including HDPE, PET, pouches, and cartons.


Overall, WRAP concluded that: “Reducing use of materials provides the greatest potential savings, followed by recycling, energy recovery and landfill.”

Reducing package weight by 10 per cent was found to have the biggest beneficial effect on the environment across all packaging options but there were variations between formats.

For example, regarding the impact of different waste management options, recycling one tonne of HDPE bottles back into bottles was found to offer a potential saving of about 1 tonne of CO2 equivalents compared to landfill.

For PET, the saving rose to 1.7 tonnes CO2 equivalent per tonne recycled back into milk containers, and for glass, the saving is around 0.3 tonnes CO2 equivalent, in line with earlier studies.


On the waste management side of the environmental equation, recycling was the best option for almost all formats across nearly all green criteria.

But there were some exceptions. For cartons, energy from waste came up trumps on the criteria of climate change and abiotic resource depletion. And energy from waste also triumphed in the pouch category with regards to abiotic resource depletion and photo-oxidant formation.

In its conclusions, the report recommended a combination of recycling and lightweighting, even though these were considered separately in the analysis. It said: “Through process optimization and technological developments, lightweighting and increasing recycling content may be combined for a number of containers.”

WRAP said the life cycle analysis carried out should not be used to make comparisons between different pack options due to certain limitations in the data. Instead, the report is designed to inform industry about the impact of different environmental strategies on different pack formats.

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