Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Glass vs. Plastic

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was reading Zero Waste Home, a book about minimizing your lifestyle and the waste it produces. I've finished the book and decided that it is time to a make a few changes. I don't think I'll ever be at the level of this book (not going to re-use toilet paper yet), but there are definitely areas of my life where I can reduce my production of waste. One is in the form of replacing plastic products with glass ones.

For example, it never occurred to me that you can still buy milk in glass bottles. This was the stuff of black and white TV and stories from my parents' childhood - a milkman that brings bottles of milk to your door. If only I had paid attention at Whole Foods before now - I would have seen milk in bottles long ago! Last weekend I paid attention and found this:

This jug of milk cost $3.99, only $1 more than the normal plastic jug I usually purchase. One thing I noticed about this brand of milk is that it seemed brand-less. It is just milk. I love the simplicity of that. No brand wars here, just plain old milk. I was also used to the various milks being in different color packaging: blue for skim, red for 1%, green for 2%, for example. Not with this milk. At first I thought there was a reason each bottle had a different color lid, but when I examined them I couldn't see any difference. The bottles were different but the product was the same. Now that I know this, shopping in the milk aisle will be easy.

Because the jug is glass and not plastic, I paid a $2 bottle fee. When I go back to the grocery store, I return the bottle and get the $2 back - see the "Please Rinse and Return for Deposit" language on the bottle.

So why switch to milk that comes in a glass container? It is part of my overall switch to glass over plastic when appropriate. I've been slowly gathering mason jars to replace plastic containers that wear out, and when I think about what I recycle, the majority is plastic anyway. By re-using glass jars at home and returning the milk jug to the store, I'm reusing items instead of buying brand new. This reduces my waste, thus reducing what goes in the landfill.

Now, I had originally thought that glass was better than plastic in all areas. Glass doesn't emit chemicals, glass cleans easier, glass recycles easier. After a bit of research (see here and here), it looks like glass can be more detrimental to the environment when produced in mass quantities. But, in terms of reusability, glass still makes more sense than plastic. In the case of this particular milk jug, when I return it to Whole Foods, they'll return it to the manufacturer, who will put more milk in it. That's a pretty good use of one jug. The plastic jugs never go back to the milk producer, they go right in the landfill or, if you are lucky, a recycling plant. I have a few plastic milk jugs at home that I reuse (one for watering plants, for example), but at the rate I consume milk, I've thrown more jugs away than I have reused. Not so great for Mother Earth!

Do you reuse glass containers in your home? What are some of your favorite uses for them?


  1. Up here in Canada, we dont buy milk in jugs! Our two options are tetra-packs (cartons like orange juice) or bags! Yup, our milk comes in thin plastic bags and people put them in a special pitcher for it and cut the corner of the bag to pour out of. It is a lot less plastic than a jug of milk (but still probably not as good as your glass jug). Ive never seen glass jugs, but Im not close enough to a Whole Foods to shop there

    1. I didn't know that about Canada! I've sadly never spent enough time there to need to buy my own milk :(

      Cartons are more common in other parts of the world, I know. I don't know why plastic jugs are such a thing here in the US!

      I tasted my new milk this morning and it was grand!