Environmental Sustainability of Fluid Milk Delivery Systems in the United States

16 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2018

See all articles by Jasmina Burek

Jasmina Burek

Independent

Daesoo Kim

Independent

Darin Nutter

Independent

Susan Selke

Michigan State University - School of Packaging

Rafael Auras

Michigan State University - School of Packaging

Sarah A. Cashman

Eastern Research Group, Inc.

Beverly Sauer

Independent

Greg Thoma

University of Arkansas - Department of Chemical Engineering

Date Written: February 2018

Abstract

Beverage producers in the United States choose packaging based on cost and consumer preference. Monolayer high‐density polyethylene (HDPE) and gable‐top carton containers have long dominated the U.S. fluid milk market, but pressure for more sustainable packaging is increasing. We present a broad discussion on environmental sustainability of 18 fluid milk containers through life cycle assessment. Because different container types require unique milk processing, distribution, and disposal and incur or avoid milk losses, fluid milk delivery systems (FMDSs) are evaluated, rather than containers in isolation. By assessing FMDSs, a complete measure of containers’ environmental sustainability was obtained. Despite conservative assumptions about milk losses, differences in container size, milk processing, distribution, and container recycling, pair‐wise cradle‐to‐grave comparisons of FMDSs show there are no superior FMDSs. But, 500‐ to 1,000‐milliliter FMDSs are potentially superior to ≥half gallon if they prevent milk losses. Thus, the future of FMDSs in the United States depends on the industry's ability to prevent distribution (12%) and consumption milk losses (20% to 35%). Farm‐gate‐to‐grave comparisons showed that chilled HDPE FMDSs are superior to other plastic and chilled paperboard FMDSs for climate‐change impact, but the result is inconclusive for chilled HDPE to ambient (unrefrigerated) paperboard or plastic pouch FMDS comparisons. Plastic pouch FMDSs show potential to reduce nonrenewable fossil energy, but need to be recyclable. Ambient FMDSs are superior to chilled FMDSs for water depletion. Eight‐ounce paperboard FMDSs are superior to 8‐ounce plastic FMDSs. Thus, alternative FMDSs may improve environmental sustainability of the U.S. postfarm fluid milk supply chain.

Keywords: fluid milk container, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment (LCA), in‐home consumption, on‐the‐go consumption one after another, packaging

Suggested Citation

Burek, Jasmina and Kim, Daesoo and Nutter, Darin and Selke, Susan and Auras, Rafael and Cashman, Sarah A. and Sauer, Beverly and Thoma, Greg, Environmental Sustainability of Fluid Milk Delivery Systems in the United States (February 2018). Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 180-195, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3121808 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12531

Daesoo Kim

Independent

Darin Nutter

Independent

Susan Selke

Michigan State University - School of Packaging ( email )

East Lansing, MI
United States

Rafael Auras

Michigan State University - School of Packaging

East Lansing, MI
United States

Sarah A. Cashman

Eastern Research Group, Inc. ( email )

110 Hartwell Avenue
Lexington, MA 02421
United States

Beverly Sauer

Independent

Greg Thoma

University of Arkansas - Department of Chemical Engineering ( email )

Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

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