ATLANTA — Cartons aren’t the only way to deliver nutritious milk to growing students.
Milk dispensers—like soda machines but for milk—have the potential to decrease school milk waste.
Milk cartons make up about 50% of school trash volume, and students waste 30% of all milk in cartons, according to milk dispenser supplier Hubert. Schools that use a milk dispenser and washable cups can decrease packaging waste associated with school milk.
But that’s not the only benefit to milk dispensers.
“Replacing cartons with milk dispensers helps students drink more milk, filling critical nutrition gaps while also putting the school on a more environmentally sustainable path,” said Roseann Liberatore, registered dietitian and manager of youth wellness in Virginia for The Dairy Alliance. “Students expect choices and products that taste great. Milk dispensers allow students to serve themselves and keep the milk colder than cartons, improving milk’s taste.”
In Virginia, The Dairy Alliance and the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association have supported the use of milk dispensers in schools through grant programs that help cover the cost of equipment.
“The milk dispenser grant program is a great opportunity to promote increased milk consumption and reduce food and packaging waste at the same time,” noted Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Dairy farmers are eager for schools to consistently serve milk at its proper temperature, as it’s been shown to improve consumption.”
After Bluestone Elementary School in Harrisonburg introduced milk dispensers, it experienced a 91% reduction in packaging waste and a 52% increase in milk consumption, according to an internal study conducted at the school. It also eliminated the 39,000 milk cartons it had been providing students yearly.
Before schools had to shut down during the pandemic, Liberatore said Prince Edward County schools, an elementary school in Harrisonburg and four elementary schools in Lynchburg were using the milk dispensers. Prince Edward has since started using its milk dispensers again, and the schools in Harrisonburg and Lynchburg are hoping to restart in the new school year.
King George and Louisa County high schools are slated to have milk dispensers in use this school year, and Northumberland County has them installed in its high school, with plans to expand to middle school this year.
According to Liberatore, milk is the leading source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D that children ages 2-18 are often lacking.
–Virginia Farm Bureau