How a return to the classic milk bottle is helping the fight against plastic pollution
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 June 2019
As one Cheshire dairy reveals their customers are returning to traditional glass bottles in their droves, we investigate how the region is fighting against plastic pollution.
For most of us nowadays the milk bottle is the stuff of childhood memories: opening your door to get your pint of milk from a frosty step, peeling back the cold foil lid. If the cream had settled at the top, your dad would spoon it out, so it didn't land in blobs on your cereal. There was a comforting daily ritual around your pint of milk.
Most of us at some point performed this routine: in 1975, 94% of UK milk was delivered in glass bottles. Then as convenience became key and competition drove a price war, we started to abandon our local milkman for a plastic pint at the supermarket, along with our shrink-wrapped cucumbers, hermetically-sealed chicken thighs, detergents in plastic bottles… plastic snuck into our baskets - and homes - at an alarming rate.
But as the plastic backlash continues apace - largely thanks to Sir David Attenborough and the so-called Blue Planet effect - the milkman might just be back on his rounds.
Creamline Dairies, which has been delivering milk to Manchester and Cheshire since 1945, has seen an 85% increase in the numbers of people getting glass bottles delivered to their homes in the last year (delivery is done by an electric fleet so kudos on the green credentials there). According to the company, the glass bottles delivered to doorsteps in the last year equates to a staggering 293 tonnes of plastic saved from going to local landfill.
'The growing popularity of our glass milk bottles is definitely linked to people's growing awareness of plastic pollution,' says Chris Swallow, joint managing director at Creamline. 'As a company we've been delivering traditional glass bottles to doorsteps for over 70 years and it's great to see people getting really passionate about where their food and drink comes from again. Environmentally, it's not just about the plastic - they're also reducing food miles by supporting local farmers.'
Creamline aren't the only ones to notice the increasing demand for locally-produced plastic-free milk. Jason Clare, 32, an entrepreneur from Wilmslow is just about to launch Dairy Drop, an app that, he hopes, will bring people back to ordering from their local milkman. 'When I read that the number of people returning to ordering milk to their doorstep was increasing, I saw an opportunity,' says Jason who also co-founded a business Fruidel that delivers fruit to corporate offices. 'People don't want plastic anymore - we've already got rid of the plastic wrapping on our fruit baskets. I've seen the demand for it in that business so I know it's out there. I think the main thing that puts people off ordering from the milkman is how antiquated it all is; him turning up on your door at 7pm to get cash. The app modernises all of that.'
Easy or not, switching back from plastic to glass bottles may feel like you're making an insignificant ripple in a oceanic sized issue, but the heartening news is that all these steps - using a cotton tote bag here, or declining a plastic straw there - can all add up. This is the message from Debbie Groom, from Chester, who had an epiphany after coming back from a holiday in Cornwall with her daughter Millie last summer. Millie had been volunteering with the action group Surfers Against Sewage, and when they came back home, they decided to try to live plastic-free themselves.
But her resolution ended up going one further than that. After being frustrated that there wasn't a plastic-free shop in Chester Debbie opened Just Footprints in December last year, selling refillable store-cupboard goods like pulses and beans and herbs and spices, as well as household essentials (justfootprintschester.co.uk). The reception has been wild. 'There are a lot of people who care about this issue and we've found that if you make it easier and more accessible for people to make the changes, they'll do it,' Debbie says. 'So many people remember buying food and dried goods like this years ago.'
Similarly, sisters Sarah Muldowney, 27, and Claire, 29, started their stall, Echo at Altrincham market, which sells package free foods and household items, after returning to the county from living in Australia and Asia respectively, where they were inspired to live more environmentally-friendly lives. As interest in their market stall has grown, they are also trialling a delivery service in Altrincham, Hale and Bowdon (for details, message them on facebook.com/echozero).
Georgia Roberts, who lives in Warrington and runs the online shop Sustainable Living decided in April to take her initiative one step further and start an event where local plastic-free and environmentally conscious retailers could band together to show the public what was available. The first Sustainable Living event in Cheshire, which had a variety of stalls, talks and workshops throughout the day on the theme of eco living, was such a success she's organising a second for June 22 (10am-4pm, Warrington Market; for more details email firstname.lastname@example.org). 'People are becoming aware about making planet-friendly choices, but it can be overwhelming sometimes to know where to begin or how to start so I wanted to help people start or continue on their journey,' she says. (sustainableliving.co.uk).
There are other groups doing their bit, too. Such as the campaigning group Plastic Free Wilmslow. 'Everyone is seeing the mess we are making of the world and some of the ramifications from plastic that we never guessed,' Andrew Backhouse, chair of the group says. The group recently staged an event at Waitrose on Chapel Lane to highlight unnecessary plastic packaging. He says there was a huge ground swell of support. 'Now Waitrose encourages people to bring their own containers to the fish and meat counter, just as the butchers and fishmongers on Chapel Lane have done for a long time.'
It can feel overwhelming when you try to make such a fundamental change in your own life. Even Debbie freely admits that while living without any disposable waste is her goal, she's not there yet. 'Sometimes it's impossible and you have no option but to have something that's in plastic. It's about doing the best you can and not beating yourself up about the things you can't change. It's better to make one or two small changes that you can sustain rather than trying to change everything at once, failing and making no changes at all.'
5 TIPS TO GO plastic free
Plastic-free campaigner Lizzie Carr, aka Plastic Patrol, has some tips to cut down your plastic consumption.
Choose a stainless steel or bamboo razor instead of a disposable plastic one. One is easily composted, the other will last longer.
We're all familiar with the microbead problem in our cosmetics that's blighting our seas, and so try natural exfoliators like sugar, jojoba seeds or finely ground grains instead. But also look out for products in recycled or other sustainable packaging options to avoid unnecessary waste too.
Use beeswax wrap or jam jars instead of clingfilm, and if you don't have either - a bowl in the fridge with a plate on top works well.
Plastic is often used as a seal on teabags, so opt for loose leaf tea instead or choose brands who keep their bags plastic free.
Be actively involved. Get hands on in the fight against plastic by protecting your own community.
Visit plasticpatrol.co.uk to download the app and find out more information on how to get involved.