For many families with babies or toddlers in the house, milk is bound to be a staple item in the fridge. Even in homes with no young children, milk seems to be a firm South African favourite. According to Statista (2017) the average South African consumes 26.8 litres of milk annually. That’s over 100 litres a year for a family of four! No wonder there is so much choice in the supermarket.
Fresh milk is generally pasteurized by heating it to around 74ºC for 15 seconds to kill bacteria before going into a plastic bottle, usually made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) recognised by the identifying mark (number 2 in a triangle) embossed under the bottle.
Long-life or UHT (ultra heat treated) milk is heated up to a scorching 150ºC degrees for a few seconds then packaged aseptically in a carton consisting of layers of paperboard, plastic and aluminum all bonded together. The UHT treatment is usually what gives this milk its burnt caramel taste. According to New Scientist (Linda Geddes) UHT milk is nutritionally poorer than fresh milk because it contains a third less iodine and the quality of protein degrades during storage, which can be up to twelve months without refrigeration.
Fresh milk is not just a favourite for its nutritional value and fresh taste. It’s also a favourite with environmentalists because it’s packed in South Africa’s Most Recycled Milk Packaging – HDPE plastic bottles!
It’s 100% recyclable and easy to recycle because the lid, label and bottle are all made from the same group of plastics called polyolefins. Using complex combinations of materials in packaging creates major problems for recycling. Globally, flexible and multi-material packaging, such as UHT cartons make up 59% of plastic production but comprise a whopping 80% of leakage into the ocean (Source: ‘Breaking Plastic Wave Report 2016’). That’s why simple plastic packaging such as HDPE milk bottles are such a great sustainable solution.
Plastic milk bottles are also a favourite for waste reclaimers or pickers, who earn a living from collecting and selling them to recyclers, who always have a buyer for the recycled HDPE plastic, which is manufactured into new bottles for detergents and shampoos, irrigation and industrial piping, bins, crates and bags. This diverse and well-established secondary market for recycled plastic milk bottles sustains many local jobs and helps grow South Africa’s economy, instead of having to import these items. This makes plastic milk bottles the perfect circular economy packaging because the plastic never becomes waste as it is continually recycled into useful items, thereby saving precious resources and preventing marine pollution. For this reason, it is also good news that these plastic milk bottles are not biodegradable, else they would not be able to be recycled again and again.
Interestingly, UHT cartons are not biodegradable or compostable either because they are made from layers of board, plastic and aluminium that prevent natural degradation. Less than 14% of cartons are collected for recycling in South Africa, as it is costly and logistically onerous to transport them all to the only two recyclers in the country, both in Gauteng. Waste pickers are therefore not paid as well to collect these items, as they are for HDPE plastic milk bottles which have a much higher value.
Encouragingly, 75% of HDPE milk bottles are recycled in South Africa, with over 30 recyclers across the country, many of which are small, family businesses supporting local communities. It’s no doubt a favourite milk packaging format for them too!
Why not join the Recycling Revolution and help South Africa reach 100% recycling rate for plastic milk bottles, whilst sustaining jobs, growing our economy and protecting our beautiful environment at the same time? Join the Million Plus Recycling Revolution today on https://www.millionplusrecyclers.co.za/
Or sit back and watch some tips from SuzelleDIY on how best to recycle on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiFmZo1i50k