General Question

jdegrazia's avatar

Is it more environmentally responsible to buy orange juice in paper cartons or plastic jugs?

Asked by jdegrazia (266points) April 23rd, 2009

I read this in an email from

“Plastic half-gallon milk jugs have lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than glass or paper containers, due to the fact that they use much less material to do the same job.”

Should I believe it?

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9 Answers

BookReader's avatar

…toe may toe… toe ma toe…

…poe tay toe… poe ta toe…

…an orange works great for this person…

MrItty's avatar

It’s more enviromentally friendly to plant your own orange tree and squeeze your own OJ.

This is no different than the “paper vs plastic” question at the checkout counter. People now say that the “right” answer is “neither, buy a reusable canvas bag.” The actual right answer, of course, is “neither – buy only what you can carry, without a bag.”

Even if you take that email you snipped as verbatim, it ignores the fact that the plastic jug will last longer in the city dump than the paper carton will. So they each have an environmentally friendly and unfriendly point. Which do you care more about?

dynamicduo's avatar

Well, the burden is on THEM to provide the proof to corroborate their claims, so you should ask them, or look for a reference in their email. If they aren’t willing to provide you with where they got their claim, I would consider it extremely suspect and would not believe it.

I tried to find some actual statistics but was unable to.

My intuition says a paper container is better because plastic takes a lot of effort to create and process, much more than producing wood does. Furthermore, plastic is generally not biodegradable, whereas paper is, thus in the long term I would consider paper to be better than plastic. However, it’s easier to reuse a plastic container (such as making it into a vase, or using it as a watering container) than it is to reuse a paper container.

I think the #1 best “low emission” mass milk delivery system is the one we have here in Canada. Our milk comes in 1.33L bags (3 bags come in the traditional ‘bag of milk’), stored in the fridge and put into a dispensing container when the previous bag is emptied. I think the amount of plastic is less than that used in a milk jug (for the same amount of milk), and the bags can be reused for many different things. Of course, reusable glass containers would be even better than this.

bea2345's avatar

The best thing is the orange itself. It comes in a neat yellow package, ready for travel; will store well in a cool atmosphere for quite a while; and the skin and seeds are biodegradable. Besides, the juice in the carton never tastes the same as a freshly squeezed orange.

mattbrowne's avatar

What really matters is life cycle assessment which considers all factors, see

Tetra Pak (a special paper carton) is pretty good and definitely better than glass bottles, see

There’s a lot of research for sustainable packaging and we don’t have all the answers yet. The good thing: there’s widespread awareness and more consumers are demanding better solutions. Here’s an interesting list of ongoing research projects:

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

The best thing to do is to get a juicer, buy oranges by the cardboard carton, make your own juice, use the pulp as mulch or compost, and then let the cardboard carton degrade in the garden as weed preventing soil cover.

nicobanks's avatar

@MrItty “The actual right answer, of course, is ‘buy only what you can carry, without a bag.’ ” That’s ridiculous. Who can go to the store every single day? This kind of advice is so impractical, you might as well say the actual right answer is to kill yourself because then you’ll surely never buy a bag again.

There’s so many factors to consider with things like this, and you really have to look into your own region – what’s available in terms of products and services. I mean, if I offer a million reasons why it’s better to buy the paper cartons, only your region doesn’t recycle waxed or treated paper, then what good do my million reasons do you or the environment?

MrItty's avatar

@nicobanks pretty much everyone in the world who doesn’t live in the United States? We’re the freaks with “supermarkets” who feel the need to stock up for weeks at a time. The vast majority of the rest of the planet goes to the market each day, buys what they want to cook for dinner, and goes home.

Regardless, the point was not that such a thing is the best choice. The point was that no matter how “environmental” your answer is, there will always be a more environmental but less practical answer.

nicobanks's avatar

@MrItty Well, I don’t know about the shopping habits of the people of the world (but what you’re saying sounds like one heck of an exaggeration to me, and awfully simplistic – do you have sources?), but I can say that if you work full-time, travel to work, and a grocery store or market is not conveniently located for you (which sounds to me like a reasonable scenario for a great many people in developed and developing countries around the world), you most likely will have neither the time nor energy to go shopping every day. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone being able to shop every day unless they’re a homemaker or actually live or work in a market.

Personally, I haven’t stepped inside a “supermarket” in years and years. My kitchen doesn’t have anywhere near enough cupboard/fridge space for me to “stock up for weeks at a time.” I live within 8 minutes of a great food market. I have a special need for fresh food because of my pet rabbit. I’m blessed with the financial means to work less than full time. And still, with all those factors that allow me and require me to shop more frequently than others, I still couldn’t possibly shop every day. Two, three times a week is what I can manage. And I purchase enough on at least two of those occasions to require a bag.

“The point was that no matter how ‘environmental’ your answer is, there will always be a more environmental but less practical answer.” Yes, like killing yourself. What’s the point of such a point?

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