How sustainable is my life #2 – milk bottles
I awake at 2am to find myself sitting bolt upright in bed. The plastic bottles in which I get my milk might not be as eco-friendly as I had thought!
“How green are my milk bottles?” I think. “I’m going to have a closer look.”
The bottles are light, the plastic thin. Underneath is the marking “2 – HDPE”. So what’s HDPE?
As you’ve probably guessed, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is an oil-based product. It has heaps of uses apart from milk bottles, including vehicle fuel tanks, telecoms insulation, folding tables and chairs, piping and food containers. This is stuff that ends up in the ocean, choking everything.
What’s wrong with recycling it?
Unfortunately, recycling plastic is not as easy as recycling metal, it is typically downcycled (wrong direction, bad news). Downcycled HDPE ends up as tables, roadside curbs, benches, truck cargo liners, trash receptacles, stationery (e.g. rulers) and other durable plastic products.
In the UK there is a shortage of plastic recycling facilities so we in old Blighty have to send it to someone else to recycle. “If they actually do recycle it” is a sentiment I have heard on more than one occasion.
So what are the alternatives?
Option One: glass. That’s what it came in when I was growing up. If you live in the USA, looks like you’re in luck: you can get it delivered in glass.
Well I live in the UK. And guess what? I’m in luck too. findmeamilkman.net offers a fairly self-explanatory service: they find you a milkman. Your very own milk man or woman who also delivers in eco-friendly glass bottles.
Of course glass is not without its issues. The bottles have to be sterilised, and recycling glass requires a great deal of heat. But since the world currently has such an overflow of plastic, glass seems a good option.
Option two: bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from natural materials such as sugar cane and will eventually replace plastics like HDPE. At the moment the science seems to be in its infancy though.
Packaging giant Tetra-Pak have produced bottle tops using HDPE made from sugar cane.
Option three: cartons. Environmental consultant Pablo Paster estimates that Tetra-Pak milk cartons are more eco-friendly than glass, plastic or cardboard. However, this is heat-treated milk, not pasteurised.
And what about me?
I’m going for the glass. With all the plastic disposal problems in the world it’s better to accept the heat treatment issues of glass for the time being. Just got to get them to deliver.