Milk without the Plastic. Hopefully?

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Milk. Our family goes through eight litres of the stuff every week.

Milk bottles

Although I love that my family gets plenty of milk, I hate the milk bottles. Each week, my recycling bag is bigger than my rubbish bag and it’s milk bottles that take up most the space. There are only so many bailers, diggers, paint pots and childrens craft tractors that you can make out of milk bottles, and the rest need to be sent off for recycling. Perfectly good plastic bottles that have only been used once.

Bottle craft

There’s a limit to the number of bird feeders I need…

So I got thinking. How can I get my milk without all the bottles (without getting my own cow)?

A few years back, we hosted a Rural Youth exchangee from a Swiss dairy farm. They sell their milk through a vending machine at the end of their driveway – people from the village refill their own containers after paying for their required amount. Brilliant! Wouldn’t one of these be great in the local supermarket!? So, some research and emails with the vending company (www.brunimat.ch) and I was excited at the technology, but disappointed that it wasn’t going to be viable in Katanning.  There are currently none in Australia from this company (although New Zealand has two), and distance to the milk supply is a key issue. The vending machine needs to be supplied with fresh milk up to twice daily – Katanning is just too far from any dairies to make this work. Although could it be a winner in other South West towns perhaps?

A British example of a milk vending machine.

A British example of a milk vending machine.

So I got onto Dairy Australia, and had a great conversation with a very knowledgeable and friendly officer there. Here’s some of the gems I gleaned:

  • Plastic milk bottles make up about 70% of sales in Australia, paper cartons the other 30%.
  • Australians buy milk mainly in 2L volumes, followed by 1L with 3L bottles being least popular. The US and Middle East favour 3L and 4L volumes.
  • 13 – 14c of the price of 2L of milk is the cost of the plastic bottle.
  • The industry has tried using thinner plastic, but it can’t support the weight of the milk well enough.
  • Plastic pouches (like the ones Bannister Downs Dairy use here in WA) are an option for reducing packaging, and are popular particularly in poorer countries because they’re cheaper to make.
  • The industry is currently not looking to change the plastic milk bottle as the main form of milk packaging in the near future, as it is the best current option.

So – although I am a lot more educated on milk packaging, I still have 8L worth of cartons in my recycling each week and can’t work out how to change it without giving up fresh milk.

There's got to be a better option than contributing to this.

There’s got to be a better option than contributing to this.

Does anyone else have any ideas for buying milk without a new bottle every time??

Profile photo of Ella Maesepp

Author: Ella Maesepp

Since 2003, Ella has been Ella is a keen advocate of the important role of individuals in tackling climate change and environmental degradation. She runs Katanning Eco-House, a domestic sustainability business based around her own family home and is also a Climate Media Centre Spokesperson, where she provides professional insight into a wide range of environmental topics.


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