Here are some scary, confronting facts about plastic:
In the last 60 years, since mass production of plastic began, 8.3 billion tonnes has been created, most of it as single-use, disposable items
91% of all plastic ever made currently sits in landfill or, worse, in our oceans and major waterways.
Plastic takes 400 years to decompose.
These facts came from a National Geographic article produced in 2018. The findings were so incredible that Great Britain's Royal Statistical Society declared its statistic of the year was the core fact from the story - that only 9% of all plastic that has ever been made has been recycled.
It's not all doom and gloom though.
While plastic waste is a well-documented problem, there is so much that can be done every day by individuals and companies. When it comes to food packaging, the choice of plastic used has a big impact on how it is recycled.
Take our regular 750mL and 1.5L bottles, for example. These are made with PET (1) plastic, arguably the easiest to recycle, since it has a high recycle yield, meaning it can easily become another plastic product. It's also accepted in kerbside collection by all councils, making it easy for individuals to recycle. And since it's a common type of plastic, many of us know it can be added to our recycle bins.
In recent years, consumer awareness of major environmental issues has seemingly peaked, with 58% Gen Zs, 61% of millennials, 55% Gen Xs and 46% of Baby Boomers reporting that they are more likely to pay a premium for an eco-friendly product.
This shift hasn’t gone unnoticed by the business community.
In fact, it’s brought about a resurgence of a traditional way of consuming an everyday product - milk in glass bottles.
More than a few of us can recall a time when milk was delivered to our doorsteps each day in glass bottles, to be left out again each night for collection.
Over time though, with shifting consumer behaviour and changes to buying habits, as well as shifts in production preferences, glass bottles slowly made way for plastic and cardboard packaging.
While glass bottle milk has been available at weekend farmers markets for quite some time, consumer preferences for sustainable packaging are leading to a long-awaited return of glass bottles on supermarket shelves.
So, with this in mind, why should you be buying milk in glass bottles?
Benefits of Buying Milk in Glass Bottles
Glass is better for the environment
Even though glass does take more energy to produce than plastic, it typically stays in the production cycle longer, which keeps trash out of landfill.
Glass is made from non-renewable resources - such as sand or limestone. It’s also very resource-intensive to produce a glass bottle, with incredibly high temperatures required, around 1482 degrees Celsius.
Despite this, it is still the best option for our planet. Not only does our bottle exchange scheme aim to keep our landfills empty, but research suggests that 80% of the glass that does end up in landfills can be recycled.
Further, research has found that glass tends to be recycled more often than plastic, as consumers tend to be more conscious about how they dispose of glass bottles.
Finally, glass products can be recycled into more glass products. Since it is a durable material, a recycled glass bottle becomes a new bottle. With plastic however, it is usually downcycled into something else since plastic loses a lot of its integrity once it is recycled. So a plastic bottle will likely never become another plastic bottle, meaning companies will need to keep making new plastic bottles.
Glass is considered a hygienic material
Glass is non-porous and impermeable, has an almost zero rate of chemical interactions, and is considered one of the best materials for storing food and drink - milk included.
Researchers from the Centre for International Environmental Law note that “at every stage of its lifecycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposures to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals. The majority of people worldwide are exposed to multiple stages of this lifecycle.”
Exposure can affect a huge variety of bodily functions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and reproductive health.
As well as being safer, cardboard and plastic can transfer flavour, whereas glass doesn’t. This means you get better-tasting milk with no aftertaste.
Glass keeps milk colder, longer
Glass can retain its temperature better than plastic and cardboard, which can help keep milk colder for longer. this is especially important during extended periods of milk being out of the fridge, such as breakfast.
Because the milk stays colder, this may have an impact on shelf life, helping reduce the amount of food waste by keeping milk in the fridge for longer.
Glass reduces recycling confusion
It’s estimated that every year a single Kiwi household uses 941 plastic containers, with only 41% of these being eligible for recycling. According to a 2020 report, confusion around what can and can’t be recycled is a leading cause of this issue.
Other reasons why plastic isn’t recycled as much as it should be included:
Not all councils accept all types of plastic
Consumers throwing recyclable plastic into the waste bin
Soft plastic (the labeling) cannot be removed from the recyclable plastic before disposal.
Glass gets around this problem since it can all be recycled.
However, if we all made more conscious decisions when it comes to recycling plastic, many of these problems could be avoided.
Glass bottles have a longer lifespan
Before plastic was a widely used material, almost all beverages came in a glass bottle. According to a report by the Container Recycling Institute, glass bottles were washed and reused 20-50 times before they became too worn and needed to be recycled. Compare this to how long you keep using your plastic water bottle for and you can see the benefit in switching to glass.
Our glass bottle exchange scheme gives plastic new life
When our stockists sign up for our glass bottle exchange scheme, they are not only answering the call of the public, they are helping us achieve our sustainability goals.
When we deliver milk for the refill scheme, we do so in 10L soft plastic bladders. Each bladder not only keeps around 5 bottles out of the production cycle, but they can also be recycled!
The soft plastic recycling scheme takes plastic such as food wrappers, which would normally end up in your household waste bin, and recycles them. If you’ve got plastic that can be scrunched into a ball, it will likely be suitable for the soft plastic recycling scheme.
In New Zealand the plastic is provided to commercial partners and given new life as items such as fence posts and parking bumpers. Across the ditch in Australia they are doing something similar with soft plastic being added to other manufactured items such as park benches.
So, What’s the Deal With Plastic?
If glass is such a good option, and it is becoming increasingly easier to buy milk in glass bottles, why do companies still choose to use plastic bottles?
Plastic is cheap to make and very cheap to transport
While we use 100% recyclable PET bottles for our plastic packaging, most commonly used plastic bottles require very little energy to produce, making it cheaper for farmers to buy.
Since plastic is also lighter than glass, transport costs are reduced. It’s estimated that between 5-7% of a loaded truck’s weight comes from the plastic packaging. Compare this with around 35% for glass bottles and you can begin to see why companies still use plastic.
Supermarkets preferred plastic
Over time, supermarkets attempted to increase the amount of milk sold, and often drive down the prices paid to farmers. As farmers earn less, they need to find ways to reduce their costs, and plastic bottles became a suitable alternative to the traditional glass
Not only this, but plastic transported easier, suffered less damage, and they were able to squeeze more into the dairy fridge.
Consumers prefer convenience
Let’s be honest, most of us prefer to take the easy road, and purchasing a new bottle of plastic milk each time we visit the supermarket is easier than remembering to clean our glass bottle and bring it back
Also, for anyone who has had to clean up after a child knocked over a bottle of milk also knows that cleaning up plastic is far easier than picking up the shattered pieces of a glass bottle.
So, Glass or Plastic?
In reality, both options have their pros and cons. Glass is more sustainable, plastic is more convenient.
Glass is more durable, plastic is cheaper.
However, both can be recycled and reused. Both can have a long lifespan if handled correctly after use.
It's becoming more and more evident that what really matters is how we think about our waste, more so than what that waste is made from.
Glass fits in well with a conscious approach to reducing our waste and reusing packaging but, when disposed of correctly, plastic can also play in role in sustainability.
Will We See a Return of the Glass Milk Bottle?
Despite the initial costs involved in producing glass bottles, and associated higher costs of transport, we firmly believe that glass bottles will continue to grow in popularity.
If consumer preferences continue towards the sustainable option, then it is almost certainly going to be the case that more and more companies shift to reusable packaging like glass milk bottles.
Editors Note: This blog was originally published on 31st March 2021 and has since been updated.