Benna’s new milk carton screw cap has fired up the online debate on plastics

Whose side are you on? Convenience meets conscientiousness as a milk carton cap pits anti-littering group against the rebrand of Malta’s dairy staple

A revolution is in the air, and it has come in the form of a one-inch plastic screw top cap that is sealing the rebranded milk cartons of Malta’s Benna.

It’s a good fight: on one end, there is the people power of Malta Clean Up, a Facebook group set up by Swedish resident Camilla Appelgren, who mobilised hundreds to carry out clean-up activities across the island.

On the other end, Malta Dairy Products Ltd, whose Benna milk is a national staple, its wax paper carton – 100% recyclable – now sealed by the convenience of plastic.

It’s a move that provoked much discussion on Malta Clean Up, where the general consensus seems to be against reducing plastic in the first place, and where Appelgren herself also uploads shots of the ubiquitous plastic cap litter from all over the island.

The debate has now evolved with an answer from Benna’s brand manager Jonathan Zammit who has replied to the Facebook group’s concerns.

“The new cartons came with a number of environmental advantages, including the fact that they are 100% recyclable, made from unbleached board and using materials from responsibly managed forests (FSC approved),” he said according to the answer posted on the Facebook group by Appelgren.

FSC means the carton material hails from a 50% recycled product and 50% from wood, paper, and other forest products from well-managed forests.

But Appelgren takes issue with using recycling as a crutch for the production of plastic.

“People seem to think that 100% of what we recycle, will actually be used. That is not the case. At the moment, a big amount of it is stored and will be reused at a later point.

“There is also lack of knowledge amongst people, [due to] incorrectly disposed items in recycling bags as well as contaminated items. This can lead to full batches of recycled material – thousands of kilos – sent to a landfill. So we can keep on recycling as much as we want, but as long as we add more plastic to 
this world we will continue ruining it. Plastic lasts forever, it never disappears.”

One viral video of a man, George Ebejer, explaining in plain Maltese the benefits of the plastic cap from the comfort of his home, spelt out the wisdom of the new container. No difficulty in ripping it open, no spillage from a dropped carton – few consumers whose gripes with the old Benna carton might be willing to wave goodbye to the plastic cap.

Posted by George Ebejer on Monday, 9 October 2017

“The cap itself is the lightest plastic on the market,” Benna’s Zammit said. “Screw caps made it easier for the cartons to be opened by the elderly and people with mobility difficulties.”

Appelgren would like to believe that the elderly would rather leave a legacy of a clean earth for their children, rather than choose ease of opening their milk cartons. She points out that the caps are made with high-density polyethylene, a strong material that takes longer than normal plastic to degrade. “It travels around the world oceans… How can it travel around the world? Read the first sentence of Benna’s quote… ’It’s the lightest plastic on the market’. Congratulations!”

A study she quotes from the North Sea Foundation, which analysed 10,000 individual caps found on the Dutch coastline in 2016, testifies to the ubiquity of this littering culprit: plastic caps are among the top five most commonly found items of litter on beaches worldwide.

Not everybody on Malta Clean Up agrees with the #scrapthecap campaign.

One poster, self-described ‘recycle-Nazi’ Chris Grillo pointed out the benefit of screw caps for arthritis sufferers and how the cartons can be transported easily outside one’s home. “It is easier to open, easier to store in any position, and to transport to work if you have a couple of inches left to use.”

“In all honesty, I think that this protest is dumb, idiotic, and should not even be discussed (Why don’t women protest about the myriad of creams, moisturizers and shampoos in homes?).”

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