The Malta Independent 22 January 2021, Friday

Cap controversy: Benna’s new milk carton ignites debate on plastic and recycling

Joanna Demarco Friday, 13 October 2017, 10:08 Last update: about 4 years ago

Last week, Benna unveiled a new look for their well-loved local milk products, which included bright colours, polka dots … and a controversial plastic cap.

The public was quick to take to social media to react to the plastic addition, which was ironically launched just hours before the international ‘Our Oceans’ summit in St Julians, headed by the Prince of Wales.


In fact, plastic was a topic under the spotlight at the event, where the British royal told those present that plastic is increasingly found in fish caught for consumption. “Plastic is indeed now on the menu,” he stated.  It was also said that researchers claim that the sea will shockingly contain more plastics than fish, by weight, by 2050. 

Moving along the same wave of thought, ignited by the product rebranding, Maltese environmental activists quickly took to Facebook and produced the hashtag ‘scrapthecap’.

Benna, however, argues that its product is 100 per cent recyclable, and with new environmentally-friendly materials, the carton is the most environmentally-friendly it has ever had.


How much plastic will the caps generate?

That is the big question, and there is no clear answer. Calculating the amount of caps that will be generated is not easy since as exact figures of milk sales are not available.

The ‘#scrapthecap’ group says that although the caps may be small individually, they add up, alleging that the company sells approximately 80,000 cartons of milk a day.

Benna says this figure is grossly overinflated but could not provide numbers, citing commercial sensitivity.

According to media reports in 2007, Maltese consumed approximately 80 liters of milk each annually. Taking into consideration that one carton of milk is one litre, and that the Maltese population is circa 430,000, the result would be 94,000 litres of milk consumed every day.

But one has to take into consideration that there are other products in the market, apart from Benna’s.

One must also consider other factors, including that the data comes from 2007, and that, apart from the Maltese population, one has to add foreign workers and tourists.

It is also worth keeping in mind that recycling is still not popular in Malta. In the 2018 budget the government stated that “the percentage of people who recycle remains low.” In fact, it has pledged a “waste to energy” project, which would create energy from waste.


The protest

The ‘#scrapthecap’ group quickly set up an activity to protest against the cap, where it is attempting to collect 80,000 caps in a week, to send them back to Benna, with the hope of showing the amount of plastic generated in a day. The protest is happening this afternoon at Luxol Grounds.

“We are collecting as many Benna plastic caps as we can in order to demonstrate how many caps will be put into circulation; an extra 27t of plastic caps a year,” the event description reads, adding that “the final result will be displayed for the press and sent to Benna.”

The organisers of the protest hope that their action will either “reduce”. by going back to being capless or, that, if not, at least the caps collected will be recycled.

Benna Brand Manager Jonathon Zammit told The Malta Independent that he welcomes the protest and will definitely recycle the caps for a charitable cause. 


Waste reduction should ‘always be encouraged’ –Minister

Contacted by this newspaper, Environment Minister Jose Herrera stated his belief that prevention and reduction should be encouraged when it comes to generating waste, and then noted that the Benna milk carton can be disposed as a recyclable material “in its entirety”.

The Malta Independent asked the Minister what his comment on the move is, seeing that using less plastic is being encouraged worldwide and a milk carton is a staple product made use of by a majority of Maltese families.

“From a holistic perspective, prevention and reduction are always to be encouraged in terms of waste generation,” was his reply, continuing that, “over and above this, it is important that all recyclable waste is disposed of responsibly by placing such material in the grey or green bags.”

Specifically addressing the Benna milk carton, Herrera said:   “it can be disposed of, in its entirety, as a recyclable material.”


Opportunity should be taken to educate people about recycling - Benna

Benna Brand Manager Jonathan Zammit told The Malta Independent that he wants to take the criticism and controversy in the company’s stride and use it to educate people about the need to recycle.

He argued that when observing the product as a whole, the great majority of the packaging is environmentally friendly, and that the cap makes up only 5% of the packaging. He explained that the carton is made from unbleached board and is 100% recyclable, the material used to make the carton is unbleached board and used from FSC approved responsibly managed forests. He also mentioned that other bottles of products such as soft drinks and detergents are using greater amounts of plastic for their products.

Listing advancements of the product, he said that the new cap is easier to use for people with motor skill problems, keeps the milk fresher for longer and decreases food wastage. “We want to move forward in technology.. if there is a protest we support them and we will use the caps they collect to recycle and for a charitable act, we will not be negative,” he said. “Let’s be more advanced, but at the same time, let’s educate people,” he added.

When reminded that many Maltese do not recycle, Zammit said that we should not stop “advancements” because Maltese do not recycle, but rather “take the opportunity to educate regarding recycling.”

Commenting on the counter-argument against the caps, Zammit said “the concept that it will affect the whales is coming from the USA, we have relatively clean waters in the Mediterranean.” Another point he mentioned was that he “never saw someone take cartons of milk to the beach, they are only used in places were recycling is accessible, like in houses or businesses. What we are saying is let’s educate, let’s take the initiative,” he concluded.


Malta Clean Up founder explains cap frustration

Camilla Appelgren, the founder of Malta Clean Up, took to Facebook in an open letter to reply to Benna’s argument supporting the new cartons. She starts by saying that recycling, although better than landfilling, has its flaws and sometimes the material ends up being sent to landfill if the bags are contaminated or incorrectly disposed. She adds that plastic does not disintegrate but just becomes smaller and smaller and ends up in our food.

“Plastic lasts forever, it never disappears. It can break down into micro plastics, which will be eaten by plankton and fish. And guess who is eating the fish? You and me,” she said.

She applauded Benna’s use of FSCMIX but went on to explain that screw caps often get lost in transportation. “The smaller they are, the greater the risk,” she said, adding that the caps, which Benna exclaim to be made out of “the lightest plastic on the market,” increase the risk, and High Density Polyethylene, the plastic that the caps are made out of, “takes longer to degrade.”

Amongst arguing other factors, she also replied to people arguing that the activists should be protesting about bigger world companies, where Appelgren says that we are in this country and need to start local.

“Each country has its fighters for environment. Every little battle won in a smaller country makes the way to the top easier,” she said. “We need to start with the smaller leagues to take on a battle in the bigger leagues.”


What they’re saying on the social media

As always happens, pro and against arguments are raging on Facebook and other social media platforms. Many argue that such uproar should not just be directed at Benna only, but at all companies, in Malta and internationally.

Someone posted a message to this effect on the protest Facebook event page: “This is not ONLY against Benna, but all companies around the world who are using a plastic cap and plastic overall. So not even against the company itself, but the CAP.”

Others have said that it is unfair to simply pick on a local product when so many companies internationally are still using plastic caps.

Other commenters said the cap was easier to use yet the debate should be on an alternative material to use - one that is friendlier to the environment.

Another posted a photo of their fridge in Munich, with four cartoons of milk all with plastic caps, commenting: “Of all the environmental transgressions to protest in Malta we picked this...PS this is a picture of the milk cartons in my fridge here in Munich, I think I better go protest then…”


2018 budget aims at being more plastic-aware

It was announced in the 2018 budget that the government will begin discussions with the private sector to operate a depositing system on plastic bottles, where consumers will receive refunds for returning their bottles. The price of soft drinks will go up as part of the scheme, where the money will be given back as a deposit.  

Last week, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat pledged the government’s commitment to be in a position, by 2019, to recover 70 per cent of all plastic bottles produced locally.


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