The Packaging Sustainability Rundown
Learn the surprising facts behind how sustainable each type of packaging is for our planet.
We only have one planet, and Snowville Creamery knows how vital it is to preserve it. At our milk processing plant in Pomeroy, Ohio, we do as much recycling as possible. We consider our stewardship of this planet when we make our packaging choices, too.
We’re often asked about various aspects of our packaging, like why we have paperboard cartons without screw top lids or glass bottles. Some of that comes down to the confines of our processing capabilities, but equally we considered the environmental impact when deciding our milk containers.
Life Cycle Assessment
A study by Alice Brock and Ian Williams from the University of Southampton, Faculty of Engineering and the Environment done in 2020, Life Cycle Assessment of Beverage Packaging, studied the impacts of various packaging types. To put them all on even footing, they used a Life Cycle Assessment or LCA. An LCA allows researchers to look at the true costs and benefits of packaging materials.
They did this considering different kinds of drinks since various industries use packaging unique to their beverages’ needs. (You can’t put a fizzy drink in a paperboard carton, for instance.) They looked at different ways the materials impacted our planet. These included:
Acidification Potential - The components that are precursors to acid rain
Climate Change (Global Warming Potential or GWP) - Developed to allow comparisons of global warming impacts of different gasses
Depletion of Abiotic Resources - Depletion of nonliving resources such as fossil fuels, minerals, clay, and peat
Eutrophication - Accumulation of nutrients in bodies of water, often causing algae blooms, clogs in water intake pipes, and other harmful effects
Freshwater Aquatic Ecotoxicity - Pollution of freshwater
Human Toxicity - Toxic effects on humans
Ozone Layer Depletion - The erosion of the ozone layer
Photochemical Oxidization - Also known as smog
Terrestrial Ecotoxicity - Environmental pollution and its effects on land-dependent organisms
Marine Aquatic Ecotoxicity - Pollution's effects on marine life
Milk comes in all kinds of packaging. Glass, recycled glass, paperboard, and plastic bottles. These were all the kinds that studies like Brock’s and Williams compared. Starting from those that had the most impact on our environment and working our way to the friendliest, let’s take a look at each of them!
It’s a common misconception that glass is the most environmentally friendly. But the idea shatters when we look at the reality.
One of the biggest reasons new glass is so hard on our planet is the large amount of energy, often fueled by fossil fuels, to keep those hot manufacturing facilities going. And it takes a lot of energy to get sand and other components hot enough to melt. Worse, there’s a fair amount of gasses that escape during the process, especially carbon dioxide.
Beyond the plants that produce glass bottles is also the growing shortage of sand. Sand seems like it’s everywhere. We have deserts full, right? Unfortunately, it takes a particular kind of sand to make glass as well as soda ash and dolomite. We used these at an alarming rate for more than just glass, including for construction, meaning we’re using it way faster than the earth can make new. And to get it, the mining often causes land degradation, dust, and runoff from mines to water sources. Those involved in mining may find themselves with grains of it in their lungs, a condition called silicosis.
Okay, so freshly made glass has its issues. What about if it’s recycled? It does help, without a doubt, but so few people do it. The benefit of recycled glass is best gotten when the same container is used again and again. While we can turn it into something new through recycling, we’re again taking it back to the hot processing plants that create those gases and soak up energy to stay hot. Often glass may not even go to a recycling facility and may instead end up as layers on a landfill to help with smell, animals, and other factors. If you choose to recycle glass, check with your local recycling facility to see how they handle it.
Plastic gets a bad rap. It comes from non-renewable resources, for one thing. But it’s here to stay because we make all kinds of important things from plastic, and it allows the conveyance of resources into areas where other materials may not be possible. As long as it’s here, we can help by recycling it.
The study by Brock and Williams didn’t look at the impact of post consumer recycled plastic, but even with new plastic, it had a better environmental impact than both forms of glass. This means recycled plastic, like what Snowville Creamery chose for our pint bottles, has even better stats. As they pointed out:
"Not all plastics have the same level of impacts and even packaging choices within plastic bottle options can vary the potential of the packaging"
Check out the infographic below about how choosing post consumer plastic bottles is even better than virgin plastic, which without being recycled still ranked second.
Why would plastic rank so well? Single use plastics are less impactful than glass (even 100% recycled glass) because it’s considerably lighter and requires less energy to manufacture. It takes a lot of packaging to cradle the glass and the weight affects the transportation of it. It all comes down again to the intense process of glassmaking and the energy that goes into heating it.
Give us that good ‘ol paperboard milk cartons! The least impactful on our environment, paperboard has only a very thin layer of plastic to keep the liquidy goodness inside. It doesn’t require mining, nor does it take a lot of energy to manufacture. They’re lightweight and easily transported.
Even among the cartons, there’s still an even better choice: no plastic caps. People often ask Snowville Creamery why we don’t have plastic screw caps on our cartons. It’s another way for us to show our love to our planet. According to Jelse et al., paperboard with plastic caps had about a 30% higher global warming potential than just plain paperboard. It shows that even a small increase in plastic can have a notable impact.
When it comes to what Snowville Creamery trusts to carry our liquid gold from our small facility to you, the consumer, we do our best to choose what will least impact our planet. A happy planet ensures happy cows and people, which is what we’re committed to preserving.