Monday, June 30, 2008

Green Milk

No, it's not a belated St. Patrick's Day story, but a piece in the NYTimes on new milk containers, touted as more efficient and greener, because there are no milk crates to wash. The 1-gallon milk jugs must be shipped from bottler (jugger?) to grocery store in crates "because the shape of old-fashioned milk jugs prohibits stacking them atop one another. The crates take up a lot of room, they are unwieldy to move, and extra space must be left in delivery trucks to take empty ones back from stores to the dairy." And, in one bottling plant, it takes 100,000 gallons of water to wash the crates.

The article says Wal-mart and Costco are pushing it, but consumers have problems learning how to pour (if I understand, the new container is basically a box). But if I can adapt to coffee cans that are cubical plastic jobbies, consumers for the sake of the earth can learn how to pour milk from these. After all, I can remember lots of different milk containers, lots of improvements.

We used to sell (raw) milk to a couple of neighbors, who'd bring a stainless steel container, which we would fill. Other neighbors had milk delivered, in the glass quart bottles, which made interesting shapes when it was zero and the milk wasn't taken in promptly. That milk was pasteurized and homogenized and took a while for me to get used to the taste. (But my mother had TB, so you won't find me a strong defender of raw milk.) Of course, the glass bottles had a deposit and were returnable, just as the pop (soft drink) bottles were back then. When I went to college, the cafeteria I worked in dispensed milk from a machine, the milk arriving in a plastic bag within a cardboard box. The boxes were good for packing books in at the end of the term when it was time to head back to the farm. The Army may have had a similar system, but fortunately I didn't do enough KP to remember. (Youngsters ask: "KP? What's KP") Then in civilian life and married life we bought milk in the waxed cardboard cartons, then the plastic gallon jugs. (I don't remember when we switched--funny how we don't notice the small changes in our lives.)

But, as I say, there's always a tradeoff. At each step along the way the new system may be more efficient and maybe more safe, but it also requires dairy companies to invest in new equipment (rather like the old days when farmers had to get milk coolers to put their milk cans in--the next step was requiring bulk tanks). So it's also another straw on the camel's back for the dairy company that's just getting by, day-to-day, and which can't afford the new equipment to compete. People, at least those who drink milk, gain; those who work at the companies who can't compete, don't.

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