We drink milk from all kinds of vessels: breasts, plastic bags, cartons and glass. Now, from an enviro perspective, breast milk is lowest in terms of stress on Mother Nature, but if you're reading this, chances are that's not an option.
So which one's number two? Glass.
"Milk belongs in a glass bottle," says Robert Kuenzlen, director of marketing at Harmony Organics. For seven years, the Hagersville, Ontario, dairy brand has been using a 1-litre glass bottle for its milk (500 ml for cream), and Kuenzlen gives plenty of good reasons why.
"It's consistent with our philosophy - the way we farm, the way we treat our animals and being aware of the impact we have," he says.
"If you're a producer and you can use a disposable product, you don't worry about it after it leaves the plant. It's somebody else's issue, whereas we have a life cycle we're committed to," says Kuenzlen.
That's something worth worrying about. Glass can work in a closed cycle. Even when bottles break, mashing them up, melting and using the cullet for new bottles doesn't degrade the raw materials. Even in the worst-case scenario - glass in landfill - the container, being inert, isn't leaching chems into the ground.
Don't forget permeability. With glass, there isn't any. Ever wonder why your plastic-bagged milk takes on a broccoli taste if you store it next to the veggies? Yeah, nasty.
At Harmony, the cycle commitment includes a deposit system for milk bottles of $2 each. The consumer gets the toonie back when the bottle's returned.
Empties are collected by retailers (a commitment on the shop owner's part as well) and sterilized with hydrogen peroxide, which is easier on the earth than chlorine.
"The bottle is then refilled," says Kuenzlen, who adds that this can be repeated 15 to 20 times per bottle.
He acknowledges that a segment of the population "wants to toss the 4-litre bag in the back of the car and not worry about breaking or returning it," but he says Harmony's goal has never been capturing 100 per cent of the market.
"One challenge is the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations controlling sanitary standards in grocery stores,'' he says. "Some retailers would look at the empty bottle and say, ‘We can't take this bottle back - it has residue in the bottom.'"
Obviously, if Harmony can pull it off, it's not impossible for big milk outfits to use the glass system, but that will require a coordinated retailer, consumer and distributor push.