Not one of the better examples of this, modern milk cartons have six layers of different materials (75 percent cardboard, 20 percent aluminium, and 5 percent plastic) that must be separated, with different recycling methods for each — a resource-intensive process that essentially eliminates the benefits of recycling.
But a group of Brazilian design students may have come up with a much more efficient solution. On the heels of the 2014 water crisis in Sao Paulo, FAU-USP (Architecture and Urbanism College of University of São Paulo) students Danilo Saito, Maira Kondo, Akira Mizutani, Lau Bellesa and Mariana Mascarenhas created Re-Pack Milk when tasked with redesigning a solution that optimizes the use of water and avoids its waste. The new carton is composed of layers of recyclable cardboard and a flexible cornstarch bioplastic that remain separate at all steps of manufacture and loading, thus eliminating five of the six steps, making it easy to separate and recycle.
It comes with 4 flexible plastic packages (which Saito says use 70 percent less plastic than conventional rigid plastic packages) and 1 cardboard outer sleeve, reducing paper production. The students designed the 700-ml container for rapid consumption, keeping in mind the growing number of urban dwellers in smaller apartments with less storage space, who tend to go to the market more often.
Between Re-Pack Milk and solutions such as Tetra Pak’s Tetra Rex® Bio-based carton — the first package manufactured solely from a combination of plastics derived from plants and paperboard — the future of milk cartons may not always be wasteful: Finnish dairy producer Valio became the first company in the world to trial the Tetra Rex Bio-based carton, rolling it out with its Eila® lactose-free semi-skimmed milk drink in Finland in January.