'Drink Boxes' Again Find Place at Lunchroom Table in Maine

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Maine children are about to reintroduce a banished friend to their school lunches, for the "drink box'' is making a comeback.

Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. this month signed a bill lifting the state's four-year ban on the boxes, which environmental groups had deemed a symbol of the "throwaway society.''

Maine was the only state to ban the containers, which have been used around the world for decades but were only introduced to U.S. consumers in 1983.

Local environmentalists supporting the ban claimed the juice and milk packages--which found a niche in the lunch-box market--are nearly impossible to recycle.

More recently, however, national environmental groups, which praised the state's 1990 law, have changed their minds about the pocket-sized boxes.

"We looked at their construction and realized that they weren't as bad as they had been portrayed by environmentalists, the media, and the state of Maine,'' said Kristin Ebbert, a staff associate with Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, an offshoot of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Armed with the new findings--and a promise that they would back more recycling programs--the packaging and paper industries lobbied successfully to overturn the ban.

Industry officials say the package is not only recyclable but also is "source reduced,'' in that minimal amounts of material and energy are used in its production.

To Use and Reuse

The boxes "have less of an environmental impact in production and disposal than cans or bottles,'' claimed Jim Finn, a spokesman for the Aseptic Packaging Council, which represents drink-box makers.

"The environmental groups just missed the big picture,'' he added.

The packages, which consist of layers of paper, polyurethane, and aluminum, are popular in school lunches because they are light, compact, and nonbreakable, Mr. Finn said.

They also preserve their contents for up to a year without special additives or refrigeration.

While acknowledging that the boxes can be "green,'' environmental groups say more needs to be done toward recycling them.

Recycling the packages is difficult and costly. Moreover, they are a small part of municipal waste compared to cans and bottles, so there is only a limited demand for recycling programs in most states, Ms. Ebbert noted.

Mothers and Others is collaborating with the packaging council on a new school-based recycling project, and the Lincoln County, Me., schools are expected to become the first in the state to recycle the packages.

Industry officials estimate that drink-box recycling is currently available to about three million households and 1,800 schools in the United States.

Vol. 13, Issue 30

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