Milk sold in plastic bags? What’s next for reducing our packaging?

July 12, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Plastics are the most notoriously troublesome items of waste to recycle. 100,000 tonnes of plastic have to be dealt with every year in the UK alone, and local authorities struggle with it more than with any other type of waste. It’s expensive and difficult to manage, and for a number of reasons. The volume is much higher than the weight, making transportation very expensive. The plastics are often unusable due to contamination, meaning many have to taken to landfills. There is such a wide-range of different plastics that separation becomes very time consuming, but still a vital part of the process. Overall there is a much less developed market for plastics recycling in the UK than other areas such as paper and glass.

Over half of all UK packaging waste is plastics. It is reported that only 23% of plastics packaging was recycled in 2001 ( The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Environment Minister Elliot Morley and WRAP announced in 2006 a paper knows as the Courtauld Agreement, which all of the major UK supermarkets signed. The agreement put forward plans to drastically reduce plastic waste by 2010. However with the transportation, cleaning, reprocessing and finally creation of a new product, is it worth it and above all is it actually more environmentally friendly?

Waitrose have certainly begun honouring the agreement and in June this year it launched a new initiative to combat their waste: plastic milk pouches. The UK consumes up to 180 million pints of milk per day but only 25% of the plastic bottles are recycled. The trusty milkman and his glass bottles are a thing of the past, and Waitrose felt that something needed to be done to stop the vast amount of plastic waste piling up from milk packaging. The pouches have already proven successful and popular in Canada, parts of South America and in a small area in Wales. BBC News reported that a 90% reduction in landfill volumes occurred after the product was introduced. Waitrose has initially launched the pouches across only 17. The pouches contain 75% less plastic and they fit inside a special jug (priced at £1.99) which is used to hold the pouch each time. The energy used to produce and dispose of the bags is a great deal less than current methods.

There is no doubt that the UK uses far too much packaging. Vegetables are sold on trays and then wrapped in more plastic rather than being loose. Some people have more faith in the product’s hygiene this way, some just can’t be bothered to pick out ripe ones. Whatever the general consensus is, there is no hiding from the feeling that we could all do more. Plastic bag usage has changed a great deal in the last five years and DEFRA have pledged full support of the Bags for Life and Penny Back schemes from the supermarkets. Jane Hills, a dairy-buyer for Waitrose said, “Customers are increasingly looking for environmentally friendly solutions and the new milk packs and jugs will be top of their shopping list. The eco-packs will make a radical difference to the way milk is sold within the UK.”

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