Recycling glass and plastic isn’t working – time to go back to the milk can?

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KENDALL HUTT/STUFF

Our modern world is all about convenience and single-use packaging is so convenient.

OPINION: I have a 1-quart milk can. It has been used by my family for over 50 years to carry milk and cream.

My grandparents Natalie and Harald Herud started their little dairy farm in what was formerly known as Rhodesia in 1953.

They purchased a number of milk cans when they started and they used a quart can to carry milk and cream from the cowshed to the house.

The milk can was used for 28 years by my father’s family. In 1978 it was copper-plated and given to me on my birthday by my grandparents.

My family moved to New Zealand in the early 1980s and my milk can came with us, along with a larger 1-gallon can.

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From 1984 to 2004 we used milk cans to carry milk from the cowshed to the house, just as my granny and grandpa had been doing for the previous decades.

We stopped using the milk cans in 2004 when I moved off the farm.

The tragedy of today's world, is there are very few places for consumers to fill up a container with milk or any other food.

EWAN SARGENT/STUFF

The tragedy of today’s world, is there are very few places for consumers to fill up a container with milk or any other food.

It’s remarkable that my little milk can has had 50 years of continuous use and we never thought anything of it. It’s just what we have always done.

There will be a few other farming families with similar stories, but this should be everybody’s story.

Our packaging should be an inter-generational item. Packaging is not subject to fashion trends which come and go. Packaging serves a functional purpose.

We were lucky that we could use the can, simply because from 1953 to 2004, my family has always milked cows and we had somewhere to fill the cans.

The tragedy of today’s world, is there are very few places for consumers to fill up a container with milk or any other food.

There are so many people who would love to use their own reusable packaging but simply don’t have a convenient option.

Convenient is the important word here. Our modern world is all about convenience and single-use packaging is so convenient.

Our packaging should be an inter-generational item, says Glen Herud.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Our packaging should be an inter-generational item, says Glen Herud.

It’s also very convenient for food companies to use single-use packaging. It’s sterile, cheap and companies can avoid responsibility by simply saying “it’s fully recyclable”.

But the very inconvenient fact is that while all this packaging is technically recyclable, in reality very little is recycled at all.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation only 8 per cent of global plastic is recycled into lower grade uses, and just 2 per cent is actually closed-loop recycling.

A massive 40 per cent goes to landfill, 32 per cent goes into the ocean or the environment, 14 per cent is incinerated and 4 per cent is lost in the recycling process.

The economics of the recycling system for glass and plastic just doesn’t appear to stack up.

The average New Zealander drinks 90 litres of milk per year. If we assume they buy their milk in 2-litre bottles, that equates to approximately 591,000 milk bottles per day or 410 bottles per minute.

If the global figures above apply to New Zealand, then its a very grim situation indeed.

But we can only worry about what we can control. Those at home can control how they purchase their food.

For me, I’m in the milk production business. I can control how we produce and sell our milk.

In March, The Happy Cow Milk Co will start the field testing stage of our low-cost milk dispenser. Our hope is that everybody will have a convenient place to fill up their own milk can.

My little can has got a few dints in it where it’s been dropped and dinged, over the many years but it’s still going strong.

After a 15 year break, my 1-quart milk can will soon recommence milk carrying duties for my family.

I expect our family will use my milk can for another 20 years – the question is, which grandchild do I give it to?

Glen Herud is the founder of Happy Cow Milk Co.



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