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Smart Sustainability with Square Containers for Shipping and More

Updated on November 21, 2015

Sustainability is a problem that perhaps can never be solved. But with proper focus and efficient implementation we can mitigated this problem. Solving or mitigating this problem is similar to the age-old problem in marketing; whether for writing a blog or for selling products or selling food and its containers, we must always view the execution with the user's experience first and foremost.

Beverage containers such as water have been hit hard in the news and yet there is little talk about food containers in general especially milk containers.

Companies will not and cannot jeopardize the demand from the consumer. We as writers, I feel must take a stand to improve the world by educating the consumer to change the demand and, therefore, change the production of containers that hurt our sustainability efforts.

And yet, at the very same time, the producers of packaging must not forsake shipping convenience for the consumer's convenience of use.

Is this a big problem? Yes, but it is hard to see. If we look at the graph below for New York City, it appears beverage containers are not a large source of the problem. If we add in the fuel that is wasted from inefficient use of space in shipping, now we are seeing the problem in the full light.

For you see, what goes into the landfill is one small portion reported, what fuel we use to transport our food is just as important and perhaps in some area even more critical. The smog issues in large industrial cities can readily contest to this environmental concern that now has become an environmental hazard.

Sustainability Demands Focus

sustainability posters with blurred highway and a flower in focus with the words "smart sustainability demands focus"
sustainability posters with blurred highway and a flower in focus with the words "smart sustainability demands focus" | Source

Our Focus Upon Sustainability Needs to be Smart

Sustainability demands a full solution. It is not just what goes into the landfill, it is also the efficiency of delivery. Yes, we are talking about logistics, the very basic of transportation. For you see, our highways are filled with semi-trailers, trailer hauling the packaged goods to our grocery stores and ultimately our kitchen table.

Our focus on sustainability needs to be more than just the numbers of the items sitting in the landfill. We must urge and support efficient packaging, packaging that is stored and shipped efficiently.

Recycling Types for Sustainability

colorful graph of sustainability improvements by recycling types for NYC
colorful graph of sustainability improvements by recycling types for NYC | Source

You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.

— Nelson Mandela

New Square Milk Jug

New square milk carton - More Efficient Use of Space and Uses Less Fuel for Shipping
New square milk carton - More Efficient Use of Space and Uses Less Fuel for Shipping | Source

Beverage Containers Milk Jugs Cartons A Concern for Sustainability

We have talked about the wastefulness of water bottles, we have praised companies for implementing triple bottom line, we have hailed the green enthusiasts such as Rothschild's Plastiki but we have ignored the environmental impact of the milk carton that takes 5 years to decompose! 5 years! Why are we doing something about our plastic milk cartons? What can we do? Are there options?

Join us as we explore some prototypes and inventions - both real and fictional.

The figures don't lie, the plastic milk jug comes in at taking up to 5 years to decompose. The milk carton, on the other hand is one of the most kind to our environment and has been tauted as one of the top five most "compostable" products. I don't if in reality "compostable" is a word but you understand the content of what we are trying to convey.

Yet there are other considerations for the delivery of milk - such as transportation costs.

Check out the possibility of packaging milk in a square jug. The mathematicians tell us this will save storage, save valuable transportation space and therefore gasoline.

So the question becomes simple, why haven't we seen the availability of the square carton in the marketplace? WalMart? Woodman's? Other major food retailers - Target too! Are you listening?

About Square Milk Jugs - Walmart's View:

"They pack tighter in the truck, too, and with no empty, dirty crates to retrieve and wash, the dairy's cut truck trips, fuel costs, labor, and water usage by 60-70%."

Square Milk Container Now Available at Costco

square milk container now available at Costco (available after the writing of this article)
square milk container now available at Costco (available after the writing of this article) | Source

The Real Deal on Square Savings - WalMart Report

"According to the NY Times, Sam's Club can fit 224 gallons of milk in the space that previously held 80. They pack tighter in the truck, too, and with no empty, dirty crates to retrieve and wash, the dairy's cut truck trips, fuel costs, labor, and water usage by 60-70%." source: daddytypes.com

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.

— Peter Drucker

Milk Cartons and Sustainability

Sustainability of Milk Cartons Diagram
Sustainability of Milk Cartons Diagram | Source

A Pallet of Square Milk Containers at WalMart

A Pallet of Square Milk Containers at WalMart as reported by daddytypes.com
A Pallet of Square Milk Containers at WalMart as reported by daddytypes.com | Source

Potential Square Design - Take the Curves off the Milk Carton

This potential design, square in shape, rather than rounded is proposed to add to greater efficiency.

Imagine being able to transport more milk in a smaller space.

This goal has some merit and we should strongly consider this "fictional" alternative to our classic milk jug.

Compostable Items - Sustainability Review

List of compostable items such as coffee grounds, milk carton and pizza boxes
List of compostable items such as coffee grounds, milk carton and pizza boxes | Source

Save Our Environment - How Long Does It Take to Decompose?

Visual of how long it takes to decompose
Visual of how long it takes to decompose | Source

Carton or Plastic Jub

Sadly, I always purchase the plastic jug. It is cheaper and lighter and yet look what I am doing to the environment. The cloth shopping bags, the choice of paper or plastic and yet that one item in my cart every week takes close to 5 years to decompose.

I kicked the habit of plastic water bottles. What is a gal supposed to do for milk?

Let's explore some more options...

Clever Milk Carton Designs for Smart Sustainability

Clever milk carton design that keep milk fresh longer by eliminating air pockets
Clever milk carton design that keep milk fresh longer by eliminating air pockets | Source

Clever Carton Eliminates Air Pockets

The milk carton above is designed specifically to eliminate air pockets and therefore extend the life of milk. I don't know if there is any science behind this but it sounds plausible to me. Airtight containers work better for me in the dark, lonely corners of my refrigerator.

Milk Carton with Handle

Photo of Girl Drinking from Milk Carton with Handle
Photo of Girl Drinking from Milk Carton with Handle | Source

Milk Carton with a Handle

This version of the milk carton is simply pure user indulgence. Perhaps it fits or throw-a-way society better but I must ask what happened to the old fashioned glass of milk?!

Sustainable Milk Container Produced by Straus Creamery

organic milk in square glass containers
organic milk in square glass containers | Source

Straus Family Creamery Introduces the Sustainable Milk Carton

The Straus Family Creamery introduced this "first-of-its-kind milk bottle that is biodegradable, compostable and recyclable."

The new bottle, developed by Ecologic Brands," has not been seen in the Midwestern United States by this author. Have you seen this bottle? Have it tried it? If so, please leave us some thoughts below.

Doesn't it make sense to support environmental stewardship?

Beverage Chain - What We Must Know for Smart Sustainability

beveage chain in the UK
beveage chain in the UK | Source

Dairy Industry Important to Our Bodily Health and Economic Health

The dairy industry is important both to our bodily health and our economic well-being. For example, one dairy cow generates close to $35,000 in economic activity.

Did you know that Wisconsin has one of the best roadway systems in the United States? Also, do you know why? It is because of the dairy industry.

Yet what goes into the landfills is only one piece in the puzzle for efficient and effective use of resources. To usher in sustainability, we must see the whole picture and take into account how important storage solutions are to our environment.

Sustainability and Storage Solutions - Long Term Investment

These sustainability issues are important not just for the environment but also for the bottom line of the packaging/food company. If they can save on shipping and fuel, ultimately this will benefit their bottom line.

Glass Milk Containers

When I feel self-indulgent, I will have to confess, I purchase the organic milk in the glass containers. What an absolute delight.

Yes, our vintage home still have the recessed area for the delivery of milk in the olden days.

While nostalgia yearns for the glass, the practical side of me, yearns for a truly sustainable milk carton, that is lightweight, convenient, doesn't take up much storage space in my refrigerator or the transportation truck and will decompose readily in order to be kind to our environment.

Global Stewards and Smart Sustainability

When will we see a sustainable carton on our grocery shelves? Retailers are you listening? Food producers can you change your operations? But first, consumers, we must become global stewards of our environment and request and support these new packaging options.

Or in a more visual terms, if we review the quote by Stephen Covey's guideline, leadership is about placing the ladder on the right wall. The wall, I propose we are missing in sustainability is the storage and shipping efficiency. Sustainability is more than just the numbers of what is filling our landfills. Our air quality is just as important as our ground water and land use.


Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

— Stephen Covey

Square Container Butter

square container of Land O Lakes Butter - new packaging - more efficient and more contemporary styling
square container of Land O Lakes Butter - new packaging - more efficient and more contemporary styling

New Packaging Since Launch of This Hub

contemporary and efficient packaging in a square container crafted by Dean's for Cottage Cheese
contemporary and efficient packaging in a square container crafted by Dean's for Cottage Cheese | Source

Author's Update - Square Packaging Taking Hold

While I haven't seen square milk packaging arrive as yet (with the exception of the old stand by glass milk jugs by Oberweis who has always been ahead of the curve - both in organic foods and also in packaging), I have seen since the launch of this hub, square containers for cottage cheese and also for butter.

We are making progress and not just thinking and talking about efficiency but we are seeing results. These packages are more efficient to transport and once you have them home in your refrigerator you will see the space savings immediately. They stack better, they are easier to see and yes, they do take up allot less room. The amount of space these square packages save is even noticeable in the small household refrigerator - imagine the space savings for the millions of miles they travel in the semi's from the producer's plant to our grocery store!

Cartons are defined as a type of packaging that food and beverage products come in that you can purchase at the store. Cartons come in two forms – shelf-stable and refrigerated.

— Penn Waste

Calling All Cartons - New Sustainability

all cartons are now available for recycling with Penn Waste
all cartons are now available for recycling with Penn Waste | Source

Cartons Recognized As a Concern for Sustainability

Commendation was given to Penn Waste for taking the initiative to now include all cartons in their waste program. This program defines cartons as "as a type of packaging that food and beverage products come in that you can purchase at the store. Cartons come in two forms – shelf-stable and refrigerated." Sadly, this does not include ice cream.

Cartons are defined as a type of packaging that food and beverage products come in that you can purchase at the store. Cartons come in two forms – shelf-stable and refrigerated.

It's not too late at all. You just don't yet know what you are capable of.

— Mahatma Gandhi

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Is a sustainable milk container important to you?

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© 2012 Kelly Kline Burnett

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    • 4FoodSafety profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      3 years ago from Fontana, WI

      Hi BillyBuc,

      I believe you are correct. And my life's mantra has been moderation. I have to wonder, however if we could just ship the plastic in a more economical manner if we couldn't save space, time and fuel. The new cottage cheese containers that are almost square fit so much better in my refrigerator, I can readily see where that shape could make a difference given the volume of trucking we must do, let along refrigeration space for transportation.

      I am impressed with your urban farm - that is very neat! The only "wild game" I have ever had that I love is quail - amazing. I wonder why restaurants don't serve that? Oh, the urban side of me showing!

      Sustainability is important and I believe we are missing the transportation piece in sustainability, but at least we are talking about it and making it a concern.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm not sure it is possible to eliminate plastic, is it? We're trying, and we've cut back considerably on items that are packaged that way, but my goodness, it's everywhere. We buy milk in glass bottles from the Farmer's Market and yes, it is expensive....but it's a choice we make. We raise our own vegetables on an urban farm here in Olympia...we raise quail, chickens, grow berries, fruits....sustainability is so important. Keep up the great work.

    • 4FoodSafety profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      4 years ago from Fontana, WI

      Hi Chin Chin

      You are absolutely correct. We should be concerned with all things in plastic jugs. Just making the jugs more efficient by being square would help with storage and fuel costs.

      I don't understand why containers are not legos. Why can't milk be delivered in a square jug designed to fit together and eventually craft a wall? Why do we not design our "disposable" containers for a second career?

      Imagine buying ketchup, juice and milk in like size square containers that could fit together and eventually build something useful? Can you tell I need a privacy fence that is economical? Oh, I am being self serving, please forgive me.

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      It's not just milk that are in plastic jugs. There are lots of other products in plastic bottles. It would be good to have them in other compostable packaging. Another option is to really be creative in recycling or employ technology to recycle these things. This requires the cooperation of everybody.

      Good job on this hub. Voted up.

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