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Actually, in terms of other uses, the plastic milk bags can be rinsed out and afterwards make excellent freezer bags.

Livio beat me to it.

Hey, let's not over-generalize here! To find milk in bags, I must, first, leave civilization. Once I am on the mainland, I must travel several thousand kilometres through lands where people drink milk the proper way: from cartons. Only upon reaching the distant and strange land of "Ontario" would I find the odd custom of drinking milk from... bags?

Chris - I'm pretty sure milk was sold in bags in BC in the 70s/80s - it definitely wasn't new to me when I moved to Ontario. When did that change.

Livio, Stephen - I wonder how many people actually do that? My grandmother used to rinse out and reuse plastic bags.

This comment has been reposted here as it was relevant to the macroeconomics of middle earth post - FW.

Peter - I've moved your comment. Interesting observations.

As an American, I found this entire post bizarre. Bags? Huh? Is there something in the water up north?

It is NOT easier to use! I find it extremely difficult to pour from a jug without spilling when it is full, because the milk runs down the side of the jug if it's not held at a steep enough angle.

I've never had that problem with bags.

PS I am American

Peter N's comments have been reposted here on the macroeconomics of middle earth post.

Alex - come up to Ontario and, yes, you'll see milk sold in bags. You're not the only one to say bags? huh?

Milk is also sold here in Ontario in waxed cardboard cartons, as it is in many other places. It is also available in plastic jugs in many stores. There is plenty of choice.

I just think that bags are a superior tech, and use them. I agree with JVM that a gallon jug is difficult to pour from, even for many adults.

Not only are the bags cheaper, they take less space in the fridge.

You can compare this (with reactions similar to Alex's) to the various ways of storing retail wine. Bottles with corks? Screwcaps? 4-L boxes? Tetra-paks? There are similar cost/convenience issues for consumers, though there are more prestige issues that arise with selling wine in non-bottle packaging. In Europe, Tetra-Pak wine for domestic use has been around for a while, but in NA it's only recently come around and is still viewed with distaste by many.

The first time I saw bagged milk I was an adult and thought it was gross, and of course assumed it must be some kind of serious disease vector. So it goes with the cost of path dependence.

Frances, I was just teasing you for implicitly equation "Canadians" and "Ontarians." But I'm not sure we have a reasonable explanation yet:

- If it's something to do with marketing boards, why did some provinces' boards choose to switch to cartons and not others? This observation also casts doubt on path dependence and related explanations.

- If it's cost, what explains the inter-provincial and international (across countries with similar income distributions) differences?

- If it's that some people prefer cartons and others bags, why isn't there a choice everywhere?

PS: I don't remember milk in bags as a kid growing up in BC, but apparently that's what we had, as you say. According to my mother milk in bags disappeared circa 1980.

I vaguely remember bagged milk from my youngest years in the early '80s in Alberta. I had completely forgotten them before spending a couple of months in Ontario in 2002. I'm not convinced there's a good economic argument for why Ontario still has these, and almost nowhere else does. I think it would be pretty hard to demonstrate that plastic jugs are somehow better than plastic bags, since there's clearly believers in both.


as a contribution from a market economy, Germany : - )

Milk comes here in 1 liter tetra paks at a price of 0.55 Euros / liter (retail, around the corner), that would be 0.73 Canadian.Italy, last summer, was like 15% more?

Are those prices real?
Please comment

Most stuff looks 2x more than in Europe.

These bags were seen a few times a few years ago, and people looked at it like "From Mars?"

The numbers are fairly accurate in that website. But prices mean nothing without reference to wages.

Milk is expensive,. Alcohol, Tobacco and Gasoline have extensive "sin" or excise taxes over and above normal sales taxes.

I'm fine with you moving my comments. I wanted you to see them, because of the middle earth post and also because public policy concerning tail risk catastrophes would seem to be an issue in your area of interest.

And, of course a Canada connection - "Another Cascade Arc volcano with similar hazards is Mount Meager in southwestern British Columbia."

Milk in bags? I'm old enough to remember delivered milk in glass with a cream bulb at the top. The empty crates were very handy. Why when I was a lad.... (cue the Scotsmen).

thanks Determinant !

in terms of "fair value" exchange rates, the Euro would be actually 5 - 10% overvalued relative to the US Dollar, the Yen just at model, and relative to the Swiss franc 9% undervalued (to make their peg fit this picture here). How Canadian buying power is relative to the US, you are the better judge, but maybe 0.97 US for 1 Canadian ?

So making the comparison even slighty (5%) worse for canada, from the view of poor people, who buy relatively more food than iPads.

gas is 60% more here, housing pretty similar http://www.numbeo.com/property-investment/rankings_by_country.jsp

In terms of cost, the packaging is clearly negligible.

In terms of usability I would clearly say (and I did have those (quart) gallons for years in the US):

Tetra best, mugs 2nd, bags .....eeewh.

Mean Canadian after-tax monthly salary: C$ 3,000.00, ranging from $2,500.00 to $4,000.00

Mean German after-tax monthly salary: €2,120.00, ranging from €1,750.00 to €2,675.00.

CAD/USD exchange rates have fluctuated drastically in the past 15 years, from a low of 1 CAD buying 60 cents US to par currently. We have reached a new paradigm in the last few years.

I'd trust an American friend at University who said that purchasing power is equal once you factor in health-care costs in the US, which are paid privately while a Canadian has more taxpayer-provided services.

Currently the exchange rate is in Canadian's favour which means cross-border shopping is attractive. The volume of cross-border shopping is a good approximation of how much excess purchasing power the CAD has, since it makes such trips attractive.

Steve: we have special container in which to put the bag. And special cutters to cut the corner of the bags... Anyway,bags,bottles,jugs,cartons? Nobody use UHT in TetraPak


straight from the shelf? It always freak out my visiting 'merican friends when I ask them to pick a L of milk from an unrefrigerated shelf...

The process that's used to make milk shelf stable (for tetra packs at ambient temps) seems to change the taste and texture of milk. I don't think I care for it. Tetra packs are available in Ontario, but not commonly used.

For those who don't understand how bags work:


You buy a 4L large bag containing three of these clear bags. They slide into one of the hard plastic holders that are ubiquitous in Ontario and you cut the tip off the corner. It's actually much easier to pour than one of those huge gallon jug containers. Much easier for children to handle without dropping the whole thing on the floor/spilling all over the table or counter.

Chris - these are all excellent questions. I tried to find out more about the history of milk bags on the internet and only found this interesting article about recycling milk bags into plastic mats http://www.dpcdsb.org/NR/rdonlyres/33B02CAD-7E16-45A2-A240-FAB7754C811F/90021/milkbagprogram.pdf . So I can't answer them. A couple of observations. First, once milk bag packaging technology is installed it will be costly to retool a factory to put milk into jugs, so if consumers don't complain and the market isn't particularly competitive, firms won't. Second, one difference between the non-milk-bag and milk-bag provinces is that out West one of the main supermarkets, Safeway, is US-owned. Perhaps supermarket stocking practices contribute to the interprovincial differences?

Determinant, genauer - retail sales taxes are another factor influencing x-border shopping - see, e.g. work by Steve Ferris, and a number of Canadian trade economists e.g. Loretta Fung, Keith Head.

Andrew F, yes, it's worth re-emphasizing that Canadian-type bags are completely different from tetrapak milk.

Jacques Rene - the question is - which is the optimal direction to cut the bag - horizontally or vertically?

genauer - for years eating out was much cheaper in Canada than in Europe; it's still comparable. Gasoline is a lot cheaper. Clothes vary, it depends upon what/when/where. Generally hotel rooms are less in Canada, though again it depends where in Canada/where in Europe. Canada/Europe air tickets are often less than Europe/Canada air tickets. I don't know about the price of cars.

Only a bunch of Canadians could think that producers sell milk in plastic bags (!) because that's what consumers really want! And I mean that in the nicest way.

As a natural-born cynic, I'd guess that it has to do with distribution, like most packaging decisions. Does milk have to travel on planes in Canada?

"Does milk have to travel on planes in Canada?"

Mostly it travels by dog sled. Because of the thin plastic packaging, the milk freezes almost instantly during transportation for ten months of the year which helps preserve it, so you are right that it's a distribution issue.  Also, contrary to popular belief, the high cost of milk in Canada is *not* due to production quotas. It is because it's tough to restrain a moose during milking. 

@oblivia, as others have noted, in Ontario, milk is sold in bags, cartons and jugs. In the same store. So the bags are not some sort of unnatural constraint on consumer choice. I expect that you are right about the main advantage of bags being the economics of distribution, though. The bags of milk are transported in reusable, stackable plastic crates which pack easily and densely on a truck. The costs savings might be greater if these crates were not so often stolen.

@K, I dimly recall a childhood geography class film which depicted the citizens of Verkhoyansk purchasing milk in unusual packaging: paper wrap. At least in winter, your milk was chopped off a convenient frozen slab.

"The process that's used to make milk shelf stable (for tetra packs at ambient temps) seems to change the taste and texture of milk>"

Yes, I remember that from living in France when I was younger. For anyone used to real milk, it is undrinkable. (Sorry Genauer, it's true) Happily, we had a dairy farm near our town and could buy real milk every now and then.

The only clear advantage I've ever seen with jugs is that, because they're re-sealable, you don't have to worry about funky smells in the fridge tainting the milk (same issue with cardboard cartons). In practice, I have kids (and a clean fridge) so an opened bag of milk doesn't last long enough to pick up any smells. But when I was single... That's mitigated to some extent by the smaller size of the bags.

I have a vague recollection of people freezing milk when I was a kid (presumably because it was on sale or something), I could see bags being better for freezing than jugs.

Chris: "- If it's cost, what explains the inter-provincial and international (across countries with similar income distributions) differences?"

Is there some sort of disconnect between the BC dairy market and the Ontario dairy market? I only ask because my recollection is that dairy products (notably cheese) was significantly more expensive in BC than in Ontario. I don't have any hard data to back that impression up, and it may just be a function of shopping at different stores. But if there's some sort of intra-provincial disconnect in the dairy market more generally, that might be related to the different packing technologies.

Milk in bags also doesn't spoil as fast, since you've cut your 4L purchase into 3, 1.33L sealed units. So, if you don't go through a lot of milk, you're often better off buying 4L in bags instead of a 2L carton -- you'll waste less to spoilage.
The bags also freeze well (many people freeze milk for long-term storage, although I'm not a fan) since the flexible, softer plastic of the bags accommodate the expansion of the ice better than cartons or jugs, and are less likely to burst.

And, as others have said, it is far easier to pour from a full 1.33L bag than a full 4L jug.

Finally, vertical cuts are better. You want the edge of the spout to be a sharp-edged weir to prevent dripping, and a vertical cut results in a more stable, sharper edge to the plastic (a horizontal cut is more likely to fold over and dribble).

The internet says tetrapak milk is UHT Milk, that abomination unto the name of Milk that purports to be Milk but in fact is merely a liquid impostor. I claim it in fact comes from plastic cows.

Indeed bags freeze weel. Useful if you buy the ultra-filtered kind, not subject to price controls ( in QC) and so periodically on sale ( plus Air Miles ).
UHT doesn't taste that good but anyone who had relatives or friends in the Dark Triangle during the 98 Ice Storm understand the value of emergency provisions and rolling them off.

Yes, I was being diplomatic. It is awful. Europe is a wealthy place, with plenty of dairy cows and a sophisticated cold chain. Do they really drink that awful stuff?

I've used the tetrapak milk while camping before. You can get it in drinking box sized containers, which are handy.

"UHT doesn't taste that good but anyone who had relatives or friends in the Dark Triangle during the 98 Ice Storm understand the value of emergency provisions and rolling them off"

My recollection of the ice storm was that keeping milk cold was the least of my problems (getting it warm, on the other hand...), but your general point is well taken.

On UHT milk - the link to Indian milk sachets someone posted earlier mentioned that the milk there is flavoured with cardamon - presumably to disguise the test.

michael, interesting analysis on the vertical v. horizontal cuts.

Phil, oblivia - I suspect the distribution issue is both important (as you say Phil) and complex. I'm thinking about the ease or difficulty of putting milk out on the shelf for people to purchase. With jugs, the jugs can be just thrown on the shelf - no need for a specially designed shelf or crate. Milk bags, on the other hand, can puncture if mistreated, or flop about, or people can search through the bags to find the one with the later sell-by date.

I'm also wondering if milk bags - to the extent that some people might consider them awkward to use - facilitate price discrimination. This might matter in S. Africa.

Many stores don't even decant milk crates. They are placed on gravity-fed rollers in a cooler room behind the display. Customers grab the bag straight from the crate.

Also, crates are commonly used in the US to trasport gallon jugs. 4x1 gallon jugs fit in a milk crate just as 4x4L bags do. Crates are common in the industry because milk is heavy, and needs robust packaging for transport. Cardboard is expensive for single-use cases, whereas plastic crates can be used many times and per-use cost is lower than corrugate. Milk is especially suitable for plastic crates, as it is usually produced locally, making for easier return logistics.

@Frances Woolley: The packet/sachet milk that I have bought in several Indian states from several milk producers including farmer owned co-ops has never been flavoured. It comes in different fat levels, like in Canada. I've never heard anyone ask for flavoured milk (e.g. elakkai) at a milk stand, fwiw.

Now I understand.

Most of you apparently associate "tetra pak" with UHT milk, you can store for 4.0 (checked) month at ambient temperature. And in the old version you needed scissors to open them, and could not completely reseal.

This UHT milk ("H-Milch" in German), just as low fat, in deed leaves much to be desired, most people dont want to drink it, but as an emergency reserve I have one. A Müsli, or coffee, with it is still better than no müsli / coffee.

Then we had, until about 2 years the traditional "fresh milk", somewhat homgenized and pasteurized, not "raw milk", to be kept in the cooling chain / fridge, and with a lifetime from store of about 3 - 4 days. That was identical to what I had in the US, in the gallon jugs, just that we dont do the Vitamin A & D "fortification". With a BIO label , you pay 2x the price, for 3x you get it in a nice glass bottle : - )
There was typically a clear transition within on day from good to bad, you saw as flocking in your morning coffee : - (

What we have now is "Extented Shelf Life" in "Pure Pak". Just turning the plastic screw outlet and reseal it, easily, like from age 2 on. No need for a holding jar nor scissors. It has to be kept cool as well, but holds for 14 days. Tasting maybe some 5 % in the direction of UHT, but in the transition period, I would definitely not pay more than 10% more for the old version.
It changes from perfect to less so in more like 2-3 days, you know in time to buy new one, without loosing out on a morning coffee : - )

I have a feeling some of the Canadian respondents have a nationalistic bias that's reflected in their preference for clearly inferior bagged milk. Why would you store liquid in a vessel that can neither be resealed nor support its own weight? The only justification I can see is that it's a little cheaper.

In Africa they store lots of liquids in bags. A friend told me they sell water in bags in Ghana, so I'm not surprised about the bags of milk in South Africa. In poor countries where container costs make up a higher percentage of total costs they aren't willing to pay a premium for the convenience of a bottle. Here in Canada, only milk comes in bags, because we are held hostage by Big Dairy and their evil cabal of protectionists, who charge a massive premium for the convenience of a bottle. In this way, they can price discriminate against those of us who would rather not store our milk in a water balloon.

Here in Canada, only milk comes in bags, because we are held hostage by Big Dairy and their evil cabal of protectionists, who charge a massive premium for the convenience of a bottle."

Except in BC and Alberta, apparently. That's where the market structure argument breaks down. (It also doesn't help that most stores don't stock bottles, at all, which kind of undermines the "shake down consumers" theory - shake downs only make sense if you're actually shaking down consumers).

My recollection is that you have to pay a $0.25 deposit when you buy a jug of milk at Macks, which you don't pay for a gallon bag of milk. Are there similar charges in BC/AB (I think yes in BC, at least at one point, but stand to be corrected)? Could that be the competitive edge for bags in Ontario. Certainly, provincial packaging regulation might be a starting point.

When I was in El Salvador cola was sold in a bag with a straw; the vendor kept the bottle.

I think Frances' suggestion that once the packaging equipment was in place it didn't (doesn't) make sense to change it without significant consumer pressure. Customers in the west of Canada presumably elected to stop purchasing bagged milk but Ontarian's continue to buy the bags and therefore the bags are still provided. I guess the real question is why bags in the first place? What is the price difference between a 4L jug and a plastic bag?

Maybe Alberta can convert its massive surplus of dirt-cheap crude into low cost milk jugs for the cost conscious Canadians...

We in the UK solved this problem in a simple pragmatic way - sell milk in containers of varying volumes and materials including bags (these must be a recent additiion to the UK as they didn't have them when I left for Canada 4 years ago). It seems to work quite well :)

And since this is a grocery oddity and moan thread - does there exist in Alberta or any other province a grocery store chain that actually has a website where I can see what product lines they stock without having to go into the store?

So, the volume seller for milk in Ontario are the various fat levels of normally pasteurized milk in 4L bags. Product life from the store is typically at least 7 - 10 days. At a slight premium you can get microfiltered milk, which tastes a bit better and has a 21 day shelf life from production, and typically 14-19 days from retail. My understanding is that Western Canada doesn't have this long shelf life milk.

The 'premium' milks, creams etc. usually come in cardboard cartons with plastic resealable screwtops. These have even longer shelf life (cream is usually good for months).

I have no idea why milk would spoil after 3 days. It seems to me that that is very risky for a retailer to carry, as consumers would need inducement to buy milk that has even slightly less than the usual life left. I imagine there must be some difference in pasteurization.

And now comes the economics part of it.

I would say about 95 % of us, who live in DAILY contact to some grocery, were content with the old 4 day version, for the last 40 years, and that is usually a killer argument for alternatives to the one mainstream version.

But in the moment you look at it in a WEEKLY way ……


In the moment I do live in a high density area (16k / km^2). I enjoy short walking distances, > 100 restaurants within 15 min walking distance, I don’t need a car, ordering at 5 pm a book, and delivered at noon next day, university library, …. you get the picture.

I understand rural flight very well : - )

But I am also thinking 20 – 50 years into the future / retirement, beyond my death, and whether we could get a rural renewal. More global equality of chances, when a poor black girl in a the south west African desert can attend a similar quantum physics lecture (AND EXAM !) to some rich WASP brat at Harvard : - )
Not to mention Carleton, Canada : - )

@ Andrew F

On these curves, taste vs life time, cost, risk, the 14+ day version, which came up in the last few years, looks like a very significant progress.

Some more detail, somewhat unfinished (!):

I don’t know how much of a problem it is in Canada, but in Europe we think a lot about the rural flight, the slow death of the small villages of 50 to 500 people.

The mail office is long gone, churches operate for parishes of about 2000, a doctor for 1000, a discounter for 3000.

a) Switch your mindset to a kind of WEEKLY contact to the global supply chain
b) What cut down in “supply chain” contact frequency is really impacting your quality of life, especially for the older (> age 50) holdouts, or 2 week vacationers, …..
The WEEK is the traditional rhythm, the folks come down Sunday morning from the Alm to attend Mass, the male’s mass: the local tavern with beer and playing cards : - )
But let us have a look at it more from a younger look, wanting to stay away from noisy neighbors, but keeping as much as possible of the amenities, at a good price : - )

When I take a look at the typical supply/ groceries list :

milk, meat/ sausage, bread, fruit, vegetables, …..

- most fruit and vegetables hold for a month or longer, or are available in suitable canned form

- bread can be produced locally, from suitable mixtures, long term stable

- potable water, is not a problem in most, even very remote areas here around

- some power supply, photovoltaics, as long as you can clear the roof from snow in 1 week, not a real problem

- some internet connection, satellite downstream, marginal mobile, upstream, available all over Europe

- meat / sausage, enough variety which is durable over several weeks
And then comes milk

Maybe, in this unfinished way, some food for thought : - )

The folks above who prefer bags to cartons seem to be comparing 4L cartons to 1.33L bags. Is there anyone who prefers bags to cartons _of the same volume_?

I couldn't find anything relevant in the literature explaining inter-provincial differences. I have written to the B.C. Milk Marketing Board asking them if they know. I will report back here if they offer any interesting answers.

There's an article from the The Star here that touches on the subject, as well as on a number of comments that have been made.

The article makes a few points:

1) It was cheaper to use bags
2) The conversion from imperial to metric spurred the change in the 70's (I'm not entirely sure why)
3) It was more environmentally friendly than jugs, which Ontarians were having problems returning in good shape.

From my own experience in Alberta, we had milk in bags in the 90's, but they disappeared sometime in that decade. We also didn't have an easy recycling program for plastic milk jugs until fairly recently (you had to wash the jug thoroughly, remove the label, crush it, and then return it to a special bin at the grocery store - a total pain). Now it's just rinse and crush, bring it in with the other bottles for recycling, and you get your 25 cents back. Nothing like a deposit and convenience to spur change!

As for Ontario, I'm sure one day they'll make the sensible change to drinking their milk from jugs, because if you think about it, that is how mother nature intended it. (Or if you're offended by that joke, what I mean is that it's udderly impossible not to make the switch.)

"As for Ontario, I'm sure one day they'll make the sensible change to drinking their milk from jugs, because if you think about it, that is how mother nature intended it."

I don;t know, milk bags have apparently taken off in the UK since having been introduced in 2008 and are used in other places (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_jugs). No doubt, one day, BC and Alberta (to say nothing of our cousins to the south) will catch-up to the rest of us. :)

"The folks above who prefer bags to cartons seem to be comparing 4L cartons to 1.33L bags. Is there anyone who prefers bags to cartons _of the same volume_?"

I'd think a single gallon bag of milk would be awfully awkward, replicating all of the disadvantages of both bags and jugs -maybe if you put in a box, like a box of wine (no doubt, you were thinking of smaller cartons). That said, apparently some US stores sell half-gallon bags, so I suppose it must be workable. Curiously, in large parts of the rest of the world, milk is distributed in 1 liter bags (the 1 1/3 liter bag, I suppose, being a concession to our history).

Bob - "I think yes in BC" In BC there are deposits on all containers even tetrapacks for juice - which is a subject for another blog post.

Steve - lots of grocery stores have web sites but it's hard to get a good sense of product lines or prices. I've never seen milk bags in the UK but will look next time I'm there.

Chris "Is there anyone who prefers bags to cartons _of the same volume_?" I've never seen 1 or 1.33 l bags sold separately in Canada, like the one pictured in the photo above. So either the answer is no, because if people preferred bags then milk would be sold in bags, or the answer is don't know, because the experiment hasn't been tried. Good work on contacting the BC milk marketing board!

To me, deposit/return systems are annoying. Why would having to crush and return a plastic bottle to the grocery store be superior to a plastic bag that you can either reuse or crush down to essentially nothing and put in garbage or your normal recycling bin (where available).

Alcohol bottle deposit/return is annoying enough. I return the bottles less because of the deposit and more because I feel obligated to not just put them in the recycle bin.

I don't know to what extent it matters, but restaurants, particularly quick serve restaurants, have for years used bagged milk. The milk comes in a large bag -- about 5 gallons, I think -- and has an attached flexible spigot hose that is fully sealed. You put the bag in a refrigerated dispenser with cabinet that has a hole in the bottom; you thread the spigot hose through the hole, past a weighted cut off value, and down to the serving point. The weighted value cuts off the flow by pinching the hose. Once you have done all that, you simply cut the tip of the hose off.

The key advantage for restaurants is that the milk is served directly from the shipping container. There is almost no way for the restaurant equipment to contaminate the milk. (The serving container might not be clean, but that's a problem for any beverage you order.)

At least in this way, bagged milk is quite common, and I suspect used across almost all of North America. If you drink milk at all, then you probably have had bagged milk in a restaurant or possibly in a milkshake.

The key different then seems to be that people using bagged milk at home are using a more industrial-style process, with attendant gains in pricing and efficiency. You do need specialized equipment - the bag holder jug, and scissors - but after that, it works just fine.

Andrew: Most milk out west, anyways, comes in cardboard cartons which can be easily flattened and put in recycling. Less commonly it comes in plastic jugs, which can also be put in recycling. There is no deposit for cardboard or plastic containers. One brand of premium organic milk comes in glass bottles, which have a one dollar deposit. I guess people buying that brand just really, really prefer their milk in glass bottles.

Our household goes through almost 30 liters of milk per week. Our principal consideration in milk packaging is recycling volume (cereal boxes are enemy #1). Milk bags beat cartons hands down.

I don’t know how much of a problem it is in Canada, but in Europe we think a lot about the rural flight, the slow death of the small villages of 50 to 500 people.

The mail office is long gone, churches operate for parishes of about 2000, a doctor for 1000, a discounter for 3000.

In Ontario a village is 2000, more like 4000 with the countryside people who drive in. It is that way it is, always was and will be in the future. Rural depopulation isn't seen as such a problem here, the farmers who stay just add to their farm acreage.

I had an uncle who farmed and in his last years he rented his fields to the man who eventually bought them from his estate when he died.

As for churches, you need a catchment area of at least 5000 to make a church viable in Canada. There are no church taxes here, everything comes from voluntary donations. The United Church has lots of small rural churches in this part of Ontario between Cobourg and Kingston due to the evangelism activity of the Methodists 150 years ago. This area has been over-churched for decades and we are steadily consolidating them. I can show you lots of ares which are over-churched and need to consolidate and healthy churches that have a good catchment area and so are nearly always viable.

Some comments on things I forgot:

- tetra / pure-pak containers can be folded pretty efficiently, if needed, but most of the times I don’t need to. I throw them first, with other dry/clean stuff in a bin, and then take them out, on top with the other trash bag, like twice a week, before things get smelly. These US gallon jugs don’t compress like that on a daily convenience level.

- My understanding is, that we can burn the paks safely and cleanly with the usual remaining trash (we separate here 3 types of glass(white,green, brown), metals, paper(-like), the rest, and folks with a garden the organic stuff), and that this way it is LONG TERM SUSTAINABLE.

- When I read stuff on droughts / floods, Ogallala_Aquifer, I see typically time scales of 10, 30, 50 years. Here I see more time scales of 100 years (serious floods in Dresden), 500 years (Luther/Guttenberg), 2000 years. Hermann did tell Varus that the reach of the Roman Empire ends here, killing each and everyone of half the Roman army. The Gauls (Vercingetorix, French) did succumb, Britons (Boudica, Anglos), Belgii, Graeculi, Spain, Egypt …. We not.

- When we look abroad, where we can learn from: Finland (highest PISA scores, school sizes 50+), Sweden, Denmark, Dutch, …., Switzerland, Canada

@ Bob Smith

Since you mentioned it, I am now becoming aware of that in former times we had 0.5 liter milk package offerings, which are now practically gone.

@ Determinant

You are right, the sustainable village size here is about 2000 people as well ( I ll took a short sample median of 3300, hard cutoff seems to be 1000).

And the most critical economic criteria appears to be a school within walking distance.

But a village core, with some kind of a grocery, tavern, butcher, and “fresh milk” as one of the most critical items on the supply frequency / cost curve shows up larger on the psychological map of the much larger older part of the population.

As a long term infidel, I do not really care that much about the churches point of view, it just came up for me here, thinking the landscape, settlement patterns, and history, rhythm, traditions. We use the word “Gemeinde” (parish) for the lowest political unit here.

Our German farms now also have sizes more competitive to global markets, after reducing the agro employment from 10 % to 1%, after WWII. And just for folks who might be interested in that kind of information, german farmland goes at present for about 1.3x prime in Iowa (1 $/m^2), average wheat yields are 2.2x more.

To finish this of, the next economics nobel prize should go to the folks who invented tetra/pure-pak and long shelf life fresh milk.

One readability enhancement on my last post: “When I read stuff on droughts” should be “When I read anglo author stuff on droughts”

So I checked with the best source of wisdom, my mother, and she purchased the bags (in a pack of 3) because us kids could manage it. We were less likely to spill and if we happened to leave it out in the sun or on the porch or "accidentally" let the dog have a drink it was only 1.33 litres lost rather than 4.
Conclusion: Price - but not purchase price, the "price" of having milk that we could get ourselves from the fridge was lower than that of a larger container.

@Chris Auld
In Ontario, milk in bags is sold in 4L units. You buy a bag (outer packaging) that contains three smaller bags each 1.33L. The obvious comparision is alternative forms of packaging 4L. In other places, I've only ever seen 4L (or 1 US Gal = 3.7L) plastic jugs as an alternative, never cartons that large. (Which is not to say they don't exist.) Back to Ontario, milk in smaller units (2L, 1L, & smaller) is normally sold in cartons (although plastic bottles for single-servings of less than 300mL are becoming common).

Milk sold in 4L units is cheaper per unit volume than that sold in 2L units, which is cheaper than 1L units, etc. It would be unfair to compare the 1.33L milk packages to 2L or 1L cartons -- they are significantly cheaper!

It is interesting to read this thread and realise that the people in different parts of the world can't quite picture as daily banality of each others' lives as milk packaging... its funny what needs explaining! (Now, I need to go google UHT milk...)

There are other provinces in Canada beside Ontario, BC, and Alberta, you know! :)

They still sell bagged milk here in Nova Scotia, but most of the display space is taken up with jugs and cartons. It is more convenient to haul 4 L of bagged milk in the "cargo bay" of a stroller, compared to a jug, because it is nice and flat, rather than nearly cubic.

When we lived in Newfoundland (2000-2005), you couldn't buy 4L jugs. My guess was that the price of milk, about twice what it was anywhere on the mainland, would have seemed astronomical for a 4L jug, so they only carried 2L cartons, so the sticker price would seem more reasonable. Not sure if any of that - relative price, or packaging - still holds, though.

Also funny, when we moved to Ontario, we couldn't find the plastic holders for the milk bags at first - they were well-hidden in the store near the doors to the warehouse area. An employee looked perplexed when we asked where to get them, partly because we didn't know what they were CALLED. I guess everyone who has grown up in Ontario already owns one of those and doesn't need to buy them.

For the record, I grew up in Manitoba, and I have photographic evidence of milk bags from about 1980 (in a holder with the Safeway logo on it), but they were long gone by the time I was buying my own milk.

Bean - actually Steve Saideman's original blog post was motivated by his experience in Quebec, and Jacques Rene Guigere and Stephen Gordon add Quebec voices above.

Thanks for adding the Nova Scotia perspective.

michael - one of my favourite things to do when I travel is visit a supermarket - it tells so much about a place.

I remember shopping with my mother when I was a child and my mother explaining the bag+pitcher system to a perplexed European visitor. I think that was the first time it occurred to me that people in other places else did it differently.

frances - So true! I like to do the same.

When I buy bags I cut the tip of the milk bag at a 45 degree angle to form a spout hole slightly smaller than a dime.

I agree with my good friend Determinant on that one. It is optimal and respect Coanda effect
, a basic fact of hydrodynamics usually overlooked by designer of kitchenware...


I actually think it is not the Coanda effect (mainly gases), but surface tension (mainly fluids). One way to discern would be the impact of velocity.

Jet stream effects are stronger with higher velocity, spilling the milk with dripping along the container works better at low velocity : - )

I am gratified to read that someone, somewhere, appreciates UHT milk products in cartons. I live in Arizona, and have lived in Manhattan and Tallahassee (Florida), and happily consumed 1.5 L cartons of skim, 1%, 2% and 4% (fully fatted?) Parmalat brand boxed UHT milk. I enjoyed the way it tasted chilled, and my fussy elderly father would even drink it at room temperature. Why is there such animosity expressed toward fine, hygienic, delicious and convenient UHT milk, do you think?

In Arizona, Manhattan and Tallahassee, we have milk in cardboard cartons of various dimensions, clear gallon jugs which are difficult to pour when full, and plastic bottles that are shaped like glass milk bottles were in the past. Institutional and restaurant settings use large 5 or 10 gallon milk in bags, just as Chris S. described. They are inverted and dispensed via tubing that resembles an udder.

Milk is still frozen! Someone mentioned that earlier. Said individual was correct: It is done in order to prevent spoilage e.g. for a month or so, in the situation where there is a milk sale. Milk defrosts well, as far as taste. It would be very nice to be able to freeze bags of milk rather than plastic bottles/ jugs. Milk bags sound like a sensible idea. I wish we had them in these parts.

@ Frances, determinant

I nearly forgot to come back on the price / income question.
According to https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2004.html Canada has an effective average purchasing power of 40.5 k$/year. Germany 38.1 or 6 % less. Then you have to consider, that the 20% in the East have still 20 % less productivity (means also non-government wages), and the West is within 2% of Canada : - )
We pay less for milk, but about 2x for gasoline (1.56 Euro/liter or 7.8 US $/gal)
and most people consume probably more gasoline than milk.

Even when you look at the US with their 48.3 average, or 19% more. Of this some 7 - 10% go more to the upper 5%, especially the upper 1%. For the remaining 10% they work allegedly 20 % more
http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/@publ/documents/publication/wcms_104895.pdf (page 25)
of which probably only half is really true "working", estimated from the years I was working in the US : - )
Now, which way are you better off? In depends on your money vs leisure preference.

The closer you look, the more it looks the same, at least in most western countries for the folks between the 15th and the 95th income percentile.

As a high income(at least in the past), single, "capitalist", I should have been better off in the US, acording to conventional wisdom. But if you take a closer look, if one enjoys an urban life style (I dont need no gasoline for no car : -), and until recently no capital gains tax, I was actually some 10 -15% better off here. And if you take a "risk management" look at it, what happens, if something bad happens, like disability, this advantage even increases somewhat, but not dramatic, here.

Curious Ellie,

you made me look it up in more systematic detail.
I hope the following table is somewhat readable.

milk life time storage heating time vitamin
type (days) temperature deg C seconds loss comment
raw 1 ? 0 0 0% dangerous
fresh 5 - 7 fridge 75 30 <10% traditional
ESL 12 - 21 fridge 120 3 10 - 20 % new Europe standard
UHT 90 - 180 ambient 143 ~5 10 - 50% tasting less good to most people, "H-Milch"

Bottomline: you loose some more vitamins with the UHT, and for most of us, including me, fresh / ESL and full fat (3.5%) tastes significantly better.
If this is not the case for you, stick with the more convenient UHT.


Since I brought up rural flight earlier, the research institute is located in my little birth town (25 000 inhabitants). Distributing those institutes not just in larger cities we see as a way to stabilize a more homogenous settlement structure.

Frozen milk, interesting. My freezer is 17 liter. I use it practically only for half eaten packages.
I can shop here fresh food 7 days a week, within 5 min walking distance. So it is not unusual, to stand there on sunday noon, and wonder, what do I want to eat now.

The 45-degree angle method works well as the pressure of the liquid when you pour pushes against the bag and billows it out, thus stabilizing the spout hole. It works very much like a icing bag. You get a nice, tight, contained stream which doesn't spill and is very controllable.

3.5% milk is called Homogenized or Homo Milk in Canada, much to the giggles and puzzlement of visiting Americans.

I received the following detailed and interesting response from Dan Wong at the B.C. Dairy Council:

-- begin quote

You asked why milk is distributed primarily in bags in Ontario vs. cartons in other provinces. The answer is a combination of economics, market dynamics and regulation. Plastic milk bags first made their appearance in Canada in the mid-1970s and were introduced concurrently with the nation-wide adoption of the metric system. This led to some resistance in the marketplace (consumers felt it was being forced upon them) and strengthened the role of paperboard cartons as glass bottles (for the most part) disappeared from store shelves.

In the late 1980s, British Columbia in particular was confronted with a massive wave of cross-border shopping (not unlike today). The rigid plastic jug was already established in the United States, and began to show up in BC as a result of cross-border shopping. Its popularity led dairy processors in BC and Alberta to start selling milk in rigid plastic jugs. Consumer acceptance of the jugs was very high -- in addition to being safe, convenient and easy to handle, they were positioned as the 'price fighter' in a suddenly competitive retail marketplace (retail price controls having disappeared in most provinces by the early 1990s). In a relatively short time, jugs supplanted plastic bags as the container of choice, along with cartons which continued to dominate the smaller (two litres and under) formats.

However, Ontario was still subject to a 'legacy' regulation which stipulated that companies distributing milk in rigid containers greater than two litres in size were required to charge a refundable deposit at point of sale. The regulation dates back to the 1960s and has had the effect of maintaining the market for flexible plastic containers (i.e., bags) in the province which manufactures them. Over time, dairy processors, who much like other businesses went through a protracted period of consolidation, standardized production in rigid plastic jugs (primarily four litres) and paperboard cartons (primarily two litres and under) throughout most of the country -- except in Ontario where the regulation ensured that plastic bags continued to dominate the large formats.

Consumer acceptance of plastic bags is high in Ontario largely because that province has had limited exposure to plastic jugs. Cartons remain popular in all provinces primarily in the smaller formats. More recently we are seeing some 'de-standardization' as processors use packaging to differentiate their products -- thus we are now seeing more small-format rigid plastic bottles and, in niche markets, glass bottles.

All the cool kids in America get their milk delivered now.


Chris, thanks so much for posting that! Frances

Pretty much as I expected,

after drinking ESL milk for 2 years, the slight taste preference for "traditional" milk is gone.
Tried 2 times now, in careful comparison, makes absolutely no difference anymore.

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