On World Environment Day last Wednesday, Mother Dairy exhorted consumers in the national capital region to walk to their milk booth and buy unpackaged milk from the bulk vending machine. Titled “A walk to our booth is a walk for our planet”, the advertisement pointed out that for every litre of unpackaged milk you buy, you reduce your plastic footprint by approximate 4.2 grams.
Given the havoc caused by plastic in the environment and the contribution of milk sachets to it, switching over to unpacked milk is a very good option and I would certainly encourage consumers to go for it. However, I must also point out certain practical difficulties that consumers would face.
For example, at the vending machine, you don’t have a choice of low fat milk or cow milk or for that matter, full cream milk, available in packed milk. Besides, Mother Dairy booths are not always at a walking distance and given the absence of safe pedestrian walkways on our roads, walking to the booth is not easy in many locations.
And the delivery boys who bridge the distance and deliver packets at your doorstep are not willing to bring the unpackaged milk because it reduces their carrying capacity and, thereby, their earnings.
So, if Mother Dairy is really serious about increasing the sale of unpacked milk, thereby reducing the use of plastic packaging, then it must enhance the number of milk vending machines — particularly in the NCR region — so that they are easy to reach and the queues in front of them are not daunting. The machines can also give a choice of milk. Or the Dairy can build a network of reliable ‘delivery boys’ who will deliver the milk to the doorstep of the consumer or even tie up with a food ordering and delivery platform for the purpose. In short, the effort should be to eliminate the ubiquitous synthetic polymer and in fact all dairies in the country should join in this effort.
And till then , dairies have to take responsibility for the plastic waste that they generate and organise collection of all empty milk packets for recycling. That should not be difficult— the delivery boys who collect the milk from the distribution centres and deliver it to the consumer, can also collect the empty packages from consumers the next day and return them. Those who buy packed milk at the dairy counters can also be requested to give back the empty sachet the next day- of course there has to be an incentive or a buy-back scheme for this, so that all milk packets are sent back for recycling . In fact the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018, put a responsibility on the brand owners/producers to establish a system for collecting back the plastic waste generated due to their products.
Dairies should also come up with natural packaging materials for all the milk products that they sell, such as paneer, butter, buttermilk, ice cream and curds. Yogurt (plain or flavoured) for example, can be sold in earthenware. Last year, Chintan, an environment research and action group had found that 36 per cent of the total branded plastics found in household trash in Delhi constituted low recyclable value cups and tetrapacks used by dairies.
Today, a number of small dairies that have come up in urban areas are posing a challenge to the large diaries in the way they package and distribute milk and also in respect of quality. So as consumers begin to think green and start taking responsibility for what they consume, their choices will also gravitate towards those companies that care for the environment make every effort to reduce their plastic footprint.
Some of the large dairies in the country that are refusing to take responsibility for the plastic trash that they produce, need to remember this.