How do you take your milk? In bottles or plastic cartons?

Plastic or Glass Bottles, or milk by vending machine?

Reducing the amount of plastic I use is on my mind these days. Should I switch to milk in glass bottles?

Milk in glass bottles
Could we see more of these milk bottles?

How much milk to do we drink?

As a nation that we consume 14.3 million litres of milk each year (1). Which means a very large number of plastic bottles, as currently only 5% is sold in glass. Could we avoid this mountain of plastic bottles and go back to glass bottles?

Back in the 1970s about 94% of milk was delivered in glass bottles. By 2012 it was just 4%. Today it is around 5%. Up to the 1990s, the Milk Marketing board set the price paid to farmers for milk and there was little variation in the price of it in the shops. De-regulation opened the flood gates for milk being sold in supermarkets in plastic containers at low prices.

Birds pecking milk bottle tops were a common sight
Birds pecking milk bottle tops were a common sight

Stopping the flow of plastic

A glass milk bottle can be recycled about 25 times. Plastic bottles can be recycled but most are not.

A few years ago, glass milk bottle delivery almost disappeared when the UK’s largest bottling plant owned by Dairy Crest in Hanworth, south-west London, was on the point of closure. In 2015 Müller, the dairy business, bought out Dairy Crest and reversed plans for closure and created the Milk & More business, the UK’s largest milk delivery service.

Following the screening of Blue Planet programme, BBC News contacted 20 dairies in April 2018, 17 of whom reported increased demand for glass bottles.

In Gloucestershire, we have a healthy number of dairies producing milk and other dairy products. But regretfully, many just provide milk in plastic bottles.

Cotteswold Dairy Milk Float delivering milk in bottles
Cotteswold Dairy Milk Float

Cotteswold Dairy are based in Tewkesbury are bottling around a third of their daily 200,000 litres production into glass bottles (as of January 2018). They also supply glass bottled milk in Wales and Shropshire using milk sourced from local dairies.  All of Holmleigh Dairy‘s product from their 40 cows in bottled in glass bottles and delivered to local customers.

At what cost?

Milk in bottles does cost more. Milk and More charge 81p per 500 ml,  Severn Fresh 72p, Holmleigh and Cotteswold 75p including delivery costs. Milk from independent dairies in plastic bottles is usually around £1.40 a litre. However, in a supermarket, milk in a plastic bottle can cost as little as 48p litre if bought in a 4-litre container.

Milk Vending Machines

Is there another option we could consider?

I saw my first such machine in Ljubljana, Slovenia this year. Strategically placed in the market square (the market operates 6 days a week), a steady stream of people came to refill contains. The machine is replenished every 24 hours by a number of local dairies. Should you arrive without a suitable container, one can be purchased from a bottle vending machine. The milk sells at 1 euro a litre.

The milk vending machine in Ljubljana's market square
The milk vending machine in Ljubljana’s market square

The Milk Marketing Board paid farmers 23 p per litre (2) at that the time of de-regulation. In 2018, the average price paid for a litre of milk is 30.63 p (3). You can imagine being a dairy farmer is tough. Here in the UK there are a growing number of farms who are cutting out the middle man (or woman) and installing milk vending machines. Many allow you to bring and refill your own container and there’s often an option to buy a reusable container. It’s not the easiest task to discover just where these are located. There might be one close by you!

Milk Vending Machine at Thytherington Farm
Milk Vending Machine at Tytherington Farm

Perhaps going forward we too could have vending machines located in our local towns, served by a local dairy? Stroud Farmer’s market would be an ideal location!

I’ve switched over to bottled milk delivered 3 times a week. It’s great to have that clink of bottles on the doorstep again.

Over to you

  • Are you prepared to pay more to reduce your plastic use?
  • Have you come across a good site where you can discover local milk vending machines or dairies that deliver milk in bottles? I’ve seen a price of £14,500 mentioned for a machine. Perhaps it merits a crowdfunding initiative?

Do add your comments.

Useful Milk Links

Vending Machine Locations I’ve Discovered

Pamphill Dairy Dorset

Organic Farm Shop, Abbey Home Farm, Cirencester

Tytherington Farm, Somerset

In Henry’s Cafe in Minchinhampton you can fill bottles up with milk from Woefuldane Farm.

Discover milk from cows that are out in pasture 6 months a year


(1) Total milk production in the United Kingdom (UK) from milk year 2001/02 to 2016/17 (in million liters)

(2) Milk Market 20 years after deregulation

(3) United Kingdom milk prices and composition of milk – statistics notice (data for September 2018)

6 thoughts on “How do you take your milk? In bottles or plastic cartons?”

  1. Yes, I’ve seen mention of Nell’s dairy, but I am not sure what’s happened to it. I feel that there must be more, but it’s difficult to find them!

  2. With so many lovely dairies around, I’d hope that we could persuade more to install a vending machine! I think a central place would really work.

  3. This is a fascinating read. I definitely think there should be more options like this to cut down plastic use. There used to be one in the Cotswolds didn’t there, but it sounds like it’s not here anymore? Stroud Farmers’ Market would be a great option!

  4. Such a good idea! We get through so much milk in our house what with two young children so I would be really interested in a solution like the one in Ljubljana!

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