Day 189: Milk Lids and This Week’s Waste

milk-recycling1I’ve been pondering milk containers lately.

I used to buy milk in 4-litre plastic jugs which are curbside recyclable here.  Then the recycling depot started accepting cardboard milk containers (no deposit unfortunately), so I started buying 2-litre cardboard containers instead.

Before long, we had piles and piles, dare I say a mountain, of cardboard milk and soya containers sitting on our front porch.  If that doesn’t say “welcome to our waste-free household”, I don’t know what does.  Yes, yes, I know they were being recycled, but it does seem like a lot of packaging doesn’t it?  So lately, I’ve switched to 1-litre glass bottles.

Buying milk in glass bottles has its pros and cons.  They’re more expensive, they hold less milk per container, and I know they take more fossil fuels to transport because they are heavier.  However the milk is local and organic, and the bottles are refillable (each bottle has a $1 deposit on it, so we are always sure to return them).  The only waste they have is a number 2 plastic lid and collar which are curb-side recyclable, so in terms of the Clean Bin Project, glass bottles are definitely the way to go.

But what I’m wondering is, why the plastic lid?  I distinctly remember having paper lids on our milk bottles as a kid.  milkI assumed that they had been switched out for sanitary reasons.  But Grant and I are on vacation on the kootenays (about 8 hours East of Vancouver), and I have to tell you that they have milk bottles here with paper lids.  (They also have bulk tofu, so it’s pretty much a waste-free paradise, but that’s another story).

I don’t have the answer here, but I’m thinking that a biodegradable paper lid is better for the environment than a plastic lid that, even if recycled, will eventually end up in the landfill.  Yes, it’s just a tiny milk bottle lid, but it has been staring me in the face because it was one of only 2 items in our waste yesterday.

Yesterday was our second day of participation in Sustainable Dave’s one week waste challenge.  As part of the challenge we’ve been writing down all the waste we generate this week, recyclable or not.   I’m proud to report that yesterday all we produced was a plastic milk lid and a paper bag -both recyclable.  (Of course, we did eat out twice, so that cut down on our packaging waste considerably).

Even though we have reduced our waste drastically over the past 6 months, this challenge has really drawn attention to our recyclables stream.  I’ll do the official waste report at the end of the week, but until then we’ll skiing in the Kootenays, drinking milk from bottles with paper lids to our hearts’ content.



Filed under recycling, reusable containers

11 responses to “Day 189: Milk Lids and This Week’s Waste

  1. zip

    There’s an article about this in National Geographic’s Green Guide (Winter 2009). I can’t find in on the website, but here’s a quote (page 32):
    “Because milk is heavy and in most cases trucked and stored in refrigerated compartments, it consumes a lot of energy before it hits your fridge. When the EPA looked at different milk containers, it found that refillable glass bottles use the least energy overall. Plastic jugs are more available than refillable glass but consume nearly three times as much energy. Cartons (which are hard to recycle) use even more. Single-use glass bottles require the most energy by far – over four times that of a refillable glass bottle sent back to the dairy 30 times.”

  2. kate

    plus milk in bottles taste so much better!
    and weren’t those old lids some kind of foil? is that recyclable?

  3. Carol

    Hi Jen,
    I’ve been following your blog for a while now. I am south of you, north of Seattle. We have curbside recycling, but cannot recycle plastic lids, which is really irritating. The whole lid thing seems to be more about size than plastic content for our single stream system here. Apparently very small items gunk up the sorting machine (or get by the sensors, I suppose). Don’t want to tell you how many gallon jogs of milk we go through each week with a two year old and a dairy lover in the house.

    I am new to the whole zero waste lifestyle, trying to get both my garbage and my finances under control by using and acquiring less. I also am trying to do the 1 week trash challenge by Sustainable Dave. It is appalling how much trash I generate. That doesn’t even count the trash for the other 3.5 people living in my house. I realize that many of the items like a milk jug ring are very small, but I want to look at it like saving pennies. It doesn’t take long before they add up to something significant.

    Many of you are so far ahead of me in the zero waste mind set, that I will have to make some major leaps to catch up.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Great post Jen. It’s very interesting why the lids have changed. Over here in the UK, the milk bottles come with foil lids and those work really well. Hope you’re enjoying your hols. 😀

  5. Jen CleanBin

    Zip – Thanks for the great info on refillable milk bottles. that confirms my hunch that we are making the right choice.

    Kate-You’re right, thebottles milk does taste better. The paper lids I refer to are actually kind of foil-y. They are shiny on one side. My sources say this can be recycled with other shiny papers like some chocolate bar wrappings.

    One year we made little angel ornaments for the Christmas tree using the round paper lids as shiny little dresses. Then my mom took the cardboard middle bit to school to use for counting projects – so I guess they’re recyclable AND reusable.

    Carol- I think you are right about the size thing. We keep tiny things like the plastic ring on the bottle in a separate bag that goes to the private depot, but lately I have been putting the lids themselves in with the curbside pick up because they have an obvious number on them. Maybe I should double check that with the municipality. .. .

    I totally agree with you about the little thing adding up. That’s why we try to stick to our rules as much as possible – once we get off track, it is too easy to let little things slide. That’s great that you are doing Sustainable Dave’s challenge. I’m looking forward to everyone’s results!
    Almost Mrs. Average – AMA – Sometimes the way it was first done was just fine. The UK always seems to know when to stop and when to go. Here in North America, change is almost always viewed as “better”

  6. Hi Jen,

    Good to see you taking up Dave’s challenge. He was lucky having a whole basement for the waste.

    Refillable milk bottles are the best option, though more expensive. They should have tinfoil lids as in the past to give Zero Waste. Locally, that option is not convenient here but I intend to find a source.

  7. I had the same problem with the milk bottles, overhere, glass bottles don’t even exist anymore…and the plastic ones do get recycled, but it’s still plastic….son now, I buy mil in powdered form, which comes in paperboxes….and it makes about three liters of milk, wich I only make, when needed…

    Only “but” is that sometimes the paperboxes are inside of clingwrap….grrrrr!

  8. Hi! I know this article was posted 5 months ago, but if anyone has plastic milk bottle lids, we could use about 200 of them. I’m a Girl Scout Camp Co-Director and we want to use the lids for making compass swaps. Please let me know at my email address-


    • Where abouts are you? I’ve been saving my milk bottle caps all year because of the project. I don’t have 200, but I do have a fair number. Perhaps I could mail them? What the heck is a compass swap?

  9. Kelly

    Any thoughts on the best, most sustainable way to buy non-dairy milk (soy/rice/almond)?
    plus an easy way to make it when I have time to not just buy?

    • We usually buy soy milk in a cardboard container because we can take it to the beverage depot here. If we didn’t have recycling facilities for that packaging, I would probably go with the plastic jug since it is numbered plastic. Tetra packs are also recyclable here, but it’s my understanding that they are actually very hard to process.

      As for making it, I’ve tried it, and it’s pretty easy. There is a recipe on the DIY page and even a link to a ‘how to’ video.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s