Did you know that there is a trend shift going on involving the technology of packaging milk? I know, it sounds crazy, but on more than one occasion now I’ve entered a Google+ hangout and heard people talking about bagged milk. Having been born and raised in Texas, I’ve never been exposed to bagged milk. Powdered, dehydrated, raw, curdled, and even chocolate milk sure, but never bagged.

When Amanda Blain, a Canadian Google+ user, brought her pitcher up to the camera complete with a bag of fresh milk, I found myself almost at a loss for words. To think that this practice is so common among our northern neighbors and that I had never even heard of such a thing was a surprise. What intrigued me further was just how long the conversation (on two separate occasions) carried on about bagged milk. Roughly half of the international room purchased their milk this way while the other half had never even heard of such a thing.

If you’re reading this because you sit in that second category, let me break this down for you.

What is Bagged Milk?

Bagged milk is simply milk that has been packaged in a transparent plastic bag. There is little difference between the two in terms of flavor or longevity, though this certainly changes after the seal is broken on the containers. Some would argue that milk bags leave a plastic aftertaste while others attribute that to the age of the milk, plant that produces the product, or perception based on expectations.

Bagged milk is available in Canada, the UK, and in many other countries around the world. You can find it in parts of the U.S. including Wisconsin, though the general idea hasn’t quite caught on to the main stream. Simply put, this could be attributed to the fact that many Americans (including myself until recently) don’t even know this type of product exists.

Milk bags are typically available in packs of three, each holding 1.33 liters for a total of four liters per package. In some parts of the world, these bags are sold in 1 and 2 liter quantities as well. This allows the milk to last longer as you are not exposing the entire four liters to oxygen once the bag is opened, just the amount an average household might go through in a short period of time.

Like cartons, milk bags come in smaller individual serving sizes as well. In China, a pint bag of sweetened milk is a popular treat for children.

The Pros and Cons of Milk Bags

Bagged milk is a preferred packing method for milk in Canada, India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Poland, Israel, and others. The process is quite a bit cheaper than carton or jug packing methods, and consumes roughly 75% less raw materials to produce. Essentially, a bag of milk is less expensive to make than a carton or jug. This fact alone would have me convinced that milk farms all around the country either have, will, or will closely consider switching to the bag method as the demand for lower prices rages on.

If a reduced overhead price isn’t enough, here are a few more reasons bagged milk might be a good idea.

  • Milk bags are 100% recyclable. Milk cartons coated in wax are not.
  • Less storage space required on your refrigerator shelf.
  • Bags are portioned for maximum shelf life.
  • Easier to ship.
  • Sometimes less expensive to buy than jugs or cartons.

Of course, with every great idea comes at least a few disadvantages. Here are some of the drawbacks to bagged milk.

  • Pouring end can become heavy and topple over causing a spill.
  • Once opened, a bag is not easily resealed.
  • Bags are easily broken or punctured during transit.
  • Bags sit awkwardly in your fridge once opened unless in a pitcher.

The Pros and Cons of Milk Cartons

Milk cartons (and jugs) are both popular packaging methods of milk in the US and in many places around the world. These containers can also be found in countries that go through more bagged milk than not, making the milk carton one of the more recognizable items at grocery stores around the world.

There are some advantages of using a milk carton over a bag. These include:

  • Defined and resealable pouring spout.
  • Durability during transit and use.
  • Easily repurposed for other things such as gardening or storage.
  • Requires no additional equipment to store once opened.
  • It’s Easier to Drink out of a carton.

As with the milk bags, there are some disadvantages to look out for when using a milk carton.

  • Cartons with wax lining aren’t always recyclable.
  • Cartons cost more to produce and require more raw materials.
  • Larger waste footprint, difficult to break down.
  • Not always waterproof from the outside.

Which Do You Prefer?

In the end, the debate between bagged and carton milk comes down to personal preference and regional availability. While I personally prefer jugs to cartons and cartons to bags, my opinion is inclined to change when considering the long-term environmental impact of having landfills full of plastic, cardboard, and wax containers.

During the debates in Google+, I heard some interesting feedback from both sides of the fence about the issue. The folks who live in regions like Canada, where bags are more popular, felt it was just the way things are done. The folks who had either never heard of bagged milk or lived in areas that rarely had such a product available found the bags to be a silly way to package a liquid intended for drinking. After all, you need to have a jug in order to stand the bag up without spilling everywhere once it was opened.

Either way, the question is now in your capable hands. Do you feel that milk is better bagged or out of a carton? Do you live in an area where both options are readily available? If so, what are the price differences (if any) between the two?

Photo by Ilan Costica