Switching to plastic free milk
I opened my fridge over the weekend and was pondering the amount of plastic in many of the everyday items. Whilst looking through the contents, I noticed my husband’s carton of lactose-free milk. He’s been intolerant since a business trip to India which literally ended in a shitstorm (sorry)! Next to it sat my regular supermarket plastic milk bottle.
I have been buying regular milk, partly because I don’t want to use up his lactose-free stuff when our small local shop doesn’t have that as an option. But it got me thinking, in terms of packaging, what is the best option for this this household staple?
Plastic vs cartons
My first thought was that maybe I would just switch to drinking the lactose-free stuff in cartons. Surely these are more environmentally friendly than the plastic bottles?
I knew that these cartons weren’t made from 100% cardboard so that they are strong and leak-proof enough to transport liquid. But I also knew they were on the list for recycling in my local area, which is great.
So I did some digging to find out how these are recycled. It turns out, it’s not that easy. And the various bits that make up the carton are not recycled into new cartons but downcycled into other products. The cardboard element is extracted and made into recycled paper, fine. After its next life it may need to go to landfill, but paper breaks down into harmless matter so I can live with that.
However, the other layer of is made from polyethylene (plastic). This can be separated from the cardboard to be used to create things like garden furniture or building materials. But these cannot be recycled again and so ultimately end up in landfill. Not ideal.
And some cartons also include aluminium. This cannot be separated from the plastic. The waste material is therefore mainly used for concrete, one of the most CO2 intensive industries.
What’s more, they aren’t recycled kerbside in all UK regions, so check your local recycling guidelines.
My conclusion? The cartons are better than the plastic but they are not the green alternative the industry would have you believe. These cartons are also widely used for milk alternatives.
Glass milk bottles
You may be wondering why I hadn’t thought about this before, but because of our rural location I didn’t think there would be an old-fashioned milk delivery service. Turns out I was wrong!
McQueens Dairies have recently started delivering milk in glass bottles in the Scottish Borders. This is excellent news! And thanks to the focus on reducing plastic, these services are growing all over the country. And they aren’t just selling plastic free milk. Companies like Milk & More, built on a passion for helping people live more sustainably, deliver over 200 products to doorsteps before 7am.
So why is glass more sustainable than plastic? Because it is made from sand rather than oil. And because it can be recycled infinitely. We don’t therefore have to keep making more and more of it. Plus, the milkmen (and women) can just collect your glass bottles, wash and reuse them so they don’t even need heavy processing to be recycled.
There are some negatives in part due to the weight of glass vs plastic – the extra CO2 cost of transporting it. But for me that is an acceptable payoff for reducing the plastic that we are creating. And if they are simply reused there isn’t the CO2 cost of recycling.
Making the switch to plastic free milk
So if you can find one in your area it would definitely be a switch worth considering. One thing to bear in mind is that you might need to wait until all this is over as many have stopped taking new customers during the COVID-19 outbreak due to high demand. McQueens Daries can’t get enough glass bottles for new customers at the moment either. But when you do sign up you might be able to get some other easy wins with it like glass bottled juice and yoghurts or plastic free veg.
P.S. If you’d like to reduce the impact of your everyday life on the environment then look out for our new series on Simple Sustainable Swaps which will start in a few weeks. I’ll be recommending environmentally friendly replacements for everyday items that I’ve tried and tested (and bought myself!). Each one will be an easy change to make involving minimal time and effort. I’ll also attach a PDF with everything you need to know on its environmental credentials so you can make an informed decision. Remember, if you want to opt out of any of our emails you can do at any time.