Sustainable grocer ditches glass for returnable plastic milk bottles

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

The Club Zero Refillable Milk bottle will cut the carbon footprint of Abel & Cole’s single-use milk bottles in half after just four returns
The Club Zero Refillable Milk bottle will cut the carbon footprint of Abel & Cole’s single-use milk bottles in half after just four returns

Related tags Milk Packaging innovation Polypropylene Dairy beverage

British online grocer Abel & Cole says it has created the UK’s first environmentally-friendly refillable plastic milk bottle in order to reduce carbon emissions from logistics.

The business, which had banished single-use plastics from its milk delivery service since the 1980s, decided to consider the material as a possible solution for reducing carbon emissions that occur as a result of the heavier weight of glass bottles. While glass is generally considered more sustainable than plastic, glass bottles’ weight adds up, resulting in more carbon emissions during transportation.

Organic Milk Refill
The company is made from rigid but lightweight plastic that is heat-resistant and doesn't leak harmful chemicals when warm or hot liquids are bottled up. Image: Abel & Cole

Made from polypropylene - the lightest polymer among all commodity plastics, yet a rigid and durable material that is heat resistant and unlikely to leach chemicals when exposed to warm liquids - the new bottle took ‘three years, three failed attempts and seven teams of experts’ to be developed. It will be used for Abel & Cole’s Organic Refillable Milk range. Berry Global, Campden BRI and dairy producer and long-time Abel & Cole supplier Berkley Farm Dairy were all involved, and the project was also funded by Innovate UK.

What makes the new packaging special is that it will reduce the carbon footprint of the company’s single-use milk bottles in half after just four returns. Compared to the CO2 footprint of glass bottles, it would take more than 15 returns to reach similar emissions savings, says the company.

There’s also good news for the wider dairy industry, since the grocer has vowed to offer its packaging formulation secrets to anyone interested in manufacturing their own refillable plastic bottle. If companies would switch to reusable plastic to transport most of the 7 billion liters of milk distributed in the UK per year, the industry would collectively reduce carbon by 300,000 tons, the company estimates.

 “When it comes to packaging materials, plastic is often seen as the enemy. But, we challenged ourselves to ask if it was better to use glass, which is heavier and more energy-intensive to make, or to go against the grain.

“Club Zero Refillable Milk utilises existing packaging resource and technology, safely allows for multiple refills and is completely recyclable. There’s been plenty of trial and error along the way, but we've trailblazed a more sustainable way to deliver and refill milk and are proud to choose plastic. Imagine the impact we could have if the entire dairy industry made the switch too!”

Ed Gosling, Berkeley Farm Dairy, added: “As a dairy, we currently use a lot of single-use plastic and this is something we really want to cut down on. After supplying organic milk to Abel & Cole for more than twenty years, we’re so excited about the innovation of Club Zero Refillable Milk and the sustainable impact this could have on the industry.”

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