Milk Bags Vs. Cartons

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

43 comments On Milk Bags Vs. Cartons

  • Bag milk rocks ūüôā

  • Bag milk rocks ūüôā

  • Alan DeRossett

    We used to have Bagged Milk 20 years ago when we bought a 2.5 US gallon of Milk it was supported by putting the bag or bladder in a Box for an easy pour spout that could sit right side up in the refrig. Current cartons are easy enough for half gallons and easy to handle. The bags are hard to handle.

  • I’m just thankful that I live in an area where, if I search hard enough, I can still find milk sold in a bottle!!¬†

  • Bag Milk and I like your image choice…. that is my choice of milk – Israeli bagged milk! 7 bags a week in my house.¬†

  • Western Canadian

    Bagged milk isn’t offered west of Ontario in Canada.

  • I live in an area of Canada where both are readily available, but I still prefer cartons. Cartons to jugs, and jugs to bags. I grew up with bags, and on several occasions someone would drop the bag and it would splatter everywhere. Living with a mother who had OCD, this was often a disaster. So I prefer the safest option – a carton. Jugs are too big to fit in our fridge, so our only alternative is a carton. We only buy cartons of milk for coffee though, so we’re stuck with bagged skim milk. (Skim milk, yuck!)

    When I go to college, I’m buying cartons and only cartons of milk.¬†

  • Bridiechristopher

    Breast milk !

  • Bridiechristopher

    Breast milk !

  • if it is a choice Milk cartons

  • ¬†neither really

  • milk on the rocks please =)

  • I haven’t seen bagged milk, I’m in the Eastern US,¬† but it seems like a reasonable idea.

  • In the Jamaican “up country” as they call the non-tourist areas milk is in bags from Grenada or other cattle raising islands. When I first came across one the store owner laughed because I was white and did not know that (as she put it) “Ya find noo pasteurize an’ noo homogenize dere mon” ” dat be real milk not da government cooked stuff”. Because it was air tight no worries about spoiling too fast. Cartons and even jugs leave a small air space due to the packaging method.
    Most US citizens do not realize the milk they get at large restaurants is usually in a 3-5 gallon bag placed in a refrigerated box with a nipple tube sticking out the bottom closed by a weighted lever like softserve at a buffet line.

  • In the Jamaican “up country” as they call the non-tourist areas milk is in bags from Grenada or other cattle raising islands. When I first came across one the store owner laughed because I was white and did not know that (as she put it) “Ya find noo pasteurize an’ noo homogenize dere mon” ” dat be real milk not da government cooked stuff”. Because it was air tight no worries about spoiling too fast. Cartons and even jugs leave a small air space due to the packaging method.
    Most US citizens do not realize the milk they get at large restaurants is usually in a 3-5 gallon bag placed in a refrigerated box with a nipple tube sticking out the bottom closed by a weighted lever like softserve at a buffet line.

  • Never seen a¬† bag of milk, I prefer the jugs (or as i call them containers.) If there’s a carten, i prefer the ones that have a rounded spout on the top with a cap that you can open to pour from. (i’m blind, so i find that easiest.+

  • waynemansfield

    Just straight from the cow for me Chris

  • I’m in Brazil and have never seen a bag of milk since I was 5 years old. All we find here (specially in a big city) are milk cartons.
    I would prefer that the’d sell only milk bags. There’s something about the milk quality being better in bags.
    I understand that storage and transportation of the cartons are easier, that’s probably the reason that milk bags disappeared here.

  • bagged milk far from a new Idea in was the trend in the US in the 70’s when I grew up ¬†how ever it feel out of favor ¬†and vanished from¬†shelves¬†as fast as it showed up..

    frist  the milk came in litre bags  you buy three of these bag the price was the same or slightly more then the gallon yet  was less milk, you had to buy a pitcher to put the bags in to open and serv it so it took up more frige space..

    then as if this wasn’t enough ¬†the USDA started reporting that milk sold in clear plastic ¬† not only lost it¬†nutrient¬†value ¬†faster but the¬†plastics¬†of the time leached cemicals ¬†into the milk ina short period of time many of these ¬†know to be cancer causing ¬†bagged milk fel l out of favor started rotting on store¬†shelves¬†and vanished ..¬†

    bagged mile that is sold today in places like¬†Canada¬†comes in food grade polypropylene¬†high grades and quality milk comes in tinted¬†coloured¬†or fogged plastic bags …

  • In my native Hungary and most of Europe cheap milk is bagged and slightly more expensive long-life milk is in cartons. That’s how it’s been as long as I remember. There’s often a punctured bag or two on the shelves where the bagged milk is sold. I bet store employees hate to clean that up.

  • I first saw the milk in bags in Canada. I had to stop and question it and myself.

    Nice idea though and it cuts down on the cartons that cannot be recycled.

    The tasted was the same

  • I still would like to go back to glass bottles.

  • I still would like to go back to glass bottles.

  • I’ve usually always bought milk in cartons, but lately I’ve been switching to 1L bottles, especially when it comes to long life milk; I do this because I know the bottles are recyclable and I want to reduce my footprint where I can. Best thing about LL milk as well is that I can keep it outside of the fridge, meaning I have more space for other things that need the fridge more, plus it means that I don’t have to buy milk as it runs out, or throw it out because it went off and I forgot to drink it!

    Overall, I feel my change to long life milk will save a lot for me and also reduce my impact on the planet in the long run.

    Heh, who’d have thought that I could write so much about milk?

  • I’ve usually always bought milk in cartons, but lately I’ve been switching to 1L bottles, especially when it comes to long life milk; I do this because I know the bottles are recyclable and I want to reduce my footprint where I can. Best thing about LL milk as well is that I can keep it outside of the fridge, meaning I have more space for other things that need the fridge more, plus it means that I don’t have to buy milk as it runs out, or throw it out because it went off and I forgot to drink it!

    Overall, I feel my change to long life milk will save a lot for me and also reduce my impact on the planet in the long run.

    Heh, who’d have thought that I could write so much about milk?

  • At our local store here in Kansas we have milk in bottles that have a deposit, rinse them out and return later. After being raised on a farm with all the milk I could possibly drink I had been doing the supposedly healthy thing the last few years and have used that anemic 2% milk. The milk in bottles has a little cream on top……stir it in and you remember just how delicious milk used to taste! Plus that takes those plastic jugs off my conscience.

  • I used to have to bring in the bottles (glass) of milk left by the delivery truck in the insulated boxes that the local dairy supplied to home delivery customers before the ice formed and popped the top off because the expanding milk-cicle would grow 3-4″ above the bottle rim in winter. In summer you got to it before it got warm.
    Unfortunately for US milk buyers the FDA has been waging war on milk. In order to squeeze out the local small dairies from the corporate markets the FDA has declared raw milk toxic to humans. 2,000 years we have been poisoning ourselves without a responsible government to protect us from small dairies. In order to sell milk in the US it must be cooked at high temperatures to ultra-pasteurize it for health safety. If a small dairy cannot prove the ability to meet strict standards (cook all the essential amino acids and nutrients out of it), and file hazardous waste disposal plans for any spills to streams and drainage routes because there is natural oil in milk, they are not legal to operate. Not petroleum oil mind you but oil derived from fat molecules.
    The only way around these regulations so far in states like Pennsylvania, where small local (Amish) markets still wish to operate, is to sell shares of the cows to registered leasing clubs that buy into a portion of the business to receive weekly dividends paid in milk. But the dairy lobbyist in Washington are working on closing that loophole so nobody will have access to actual food without it passing through a corporate processing facility for profit to shareholders.
    We should occupy our refrigerators before all the food is gone!

  • Plastic bottle comparison, give that, missing from the equation, is. Plastic. Bottle walls are thinner than plastic bag walls – fact. Plastic bottles are their own pitcher, obliviating the expansion of an otherwise unnecessary milk pitcher market. Plastic bottles stand uprignt, have less footprint on fridge shelves, couldnt possibly cost musch more than bags, but still way less than carton counterpart! Unless, show the numbers because i migt be guessing!

  • One could be selling bag milk in thin walled, reusable (obviously) “bag holders”, with a clip near the top to “suspend” the bag at its opening (i am ssuming that these bags are resealable to prolong freshness, ala coffee bags?)

  • One could be selling bag milk in thin walled, reusable (obviously) “bag holders”, with a clip near the top to “suspend” the bag at its opening (i am ssuming that these bags are resealable to prolong freshness, ala coffee bags?)

  • Also, having grown up in the resturaunt business for early jobs, i have lifted 50lb. Bags of milk shipped to resturaunts. These were kept in the walkin coolers uuntil needed. Once needed, they were placed in a dispenser – resembling the minifridge of today – and placed within with some comic effect as you can imagine their girth and unwieldyness, these huge bags were not wieldy!

  • We had milk delivered in Louisville, KY¬†duirng the 70’s in bags.¬†

  • Milk cartons in Israel cost about 15-20% more then bags.
    you buy the plastic container for the bags in two colors, Blue for me (3% milk) and white fro the wife (1% milk).
    They are easy to store in the freezer, Just shove them in anywhere.

  • We purchased milk packaged this way from a drive-through dairy called Sunshine Dairies in the mid ’60’s ¬†& I loved it. ¬†The waste involved in the current packaging drives me crazy.

  • We purchased milk packaged this way from a drive-through dairy called Sunshine Dairies in the mid ’60’s ¬†& I loved it. ¬†The waste involved in the current packaging drives me crazy.

  • Bagged milk was available at one time in the Vancouver, B.C., area – maybe in the 80s or 90s?¬† But it hasn’t been sold here for quite some time.¬† I lived in Edmonton,¬† Alberta, from 2002 – 2007¬† and never saw it there.

  • The article seems to indicate that bagged milk is available in the UK.

    Interesting! I’ve never seen it, like Matt I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Will have to find some. I like it from a minimizing packaging perspective.

  • I live in Wisconsin and we have been getting bag milk for like six months now we drink a ton of milk and cutting the top off right is a pain especially since I have to do it almost every morning.

  • ¬†I prefer the carton myself.

  • Love the milk bags, memories! Never knew they existed, until i transfered from one school to another. I was shocked.¬†

  • Milk in plastic bag (pouch) may look economical but be aware of following issues.
    1. Recycling – No recycler is willing to pick even when offered free. Pouches are getting clocked in municipal sewage and flood water drains.
    2. Seals give away during handling, value loss and bacterial attraction.
    3. Production machines can’t run fast, they need to allow the sealing to cool otherwise pouch seal gives away at manufacturing site iteself.
    4. Susceptible for tampering – adulteration is a big menace.
    5. Printed surface gets in contact with inner surface during film rolling – possible for lead getting into milk if print gets transferred to inner surface during rolling.

  • You keep mentioning milk cartons. I rarely purchase milk in cartons and buy in gallon or 1/2 gallon sized jugs (made of plastic). Is this not the case for most people in the US?

  • As an American it drives me nuts the way we keep our milk. Once you’ve consumed half or so of your gallon the other half is just sitting tons of oxygen that makes it rot very fast. I waste so much milk because it turns before the date it’s supposed to simply because of the volume of available oxygen.

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