When buying milk, there are three forms of available packaging: plastic containers, TetraPak, and glass bottles. None of these forms of packaging are optimal - plastic containers are single-use, TetraPaks are difficult to recycle, and glass bottles are heavy and require the use of strong chemicals to clean. Furthermore, glass bottles seem to have mostly disappeared from use, requiring the travel of further distances to obtain.

I would like to know how these drawbacks compare with regards to overall sustainability, and which measure is appropriate in this context.


2 Answers 2


Depends a lot on where you live, but if you have the possibility to refill your own glass bottle, then I would call that the most sustainable option. In this part of Europe (Hungary/Romania) there are machines like this one, locals call them "iron cows". The milk comes from local farmers, but it is collected and tested by a company. The price of a liter is around 2/3 of a liter in the stores.

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You forgot about a fourth option: The tube. Originally it looked like this: enter image description here

It was a bit flimsy and is easier punctured than the TetraPaks, so it isn't produced anymore (at least not in Germany, at least not widely).

Still, over the past years it got a redesign. Now it can stand up on its own, is a bit more resilient to puncturing and it also comes in a version made of 40 % chalk:

enter image description here

So, out of 16 g material about 6.5 g are not made from plastics - and the plastics used are supposed to be recyclable.

The website of the dairy quotes a study on packaging-sustainability by the producer of the tubes: https://www.brodowin.de/der-betrieb/unsere-produkte/mehr-zur-einwegverpackung/ (in German, but Google Translate should help you there).

In my opinion there is a draw between the bottles and the tubes when it comes to overall sustainability - and it depends on distance between dairy and consumer: Somewhere between 150 and 300 km tubes become more sustainable, since the bottles are heavier and need to be returned to the dairy.

  • The article you link to suggest that this has less environmental impact than carton or plastic bottle. Too bad they don't compare with glass and don't link to the original report. BTW where did you find that there is a break-even point at 150-300 km?
    – THelper
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 7:57
  • That's an estimation by the dairy I linked. Also, they don't compare with glass, since they a) provide glass bottles and b) glass is reusable, but the comparison focuses on waste.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 8:10
  • The original all-plastic milk bags (what you call "tubes") are still sometimes used in Canada, Israel, India, South America, and other places. (Source.) Commented May 24, 2022 at 21:20

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