The Environmental Impact of Delivering Milk in Glass Bottles

Delivering Milk in Glass Bottles or Recyclable Packaging

Delivering MilkFrom time to time we hear nostalgic regrets about the demise of delivering milk in the lowly glass milk bottle.

The clink of the glass in the early morning, the washing of the bottles and putting them outside the door as the last daily action before retiring for the night.

A daily ritual that has been, and is again being promoted as the ultimate in environmentally friendly consumption.

Or is it?

The following numbers relate to large movements of milk using trucks capable of a 24 tonne payload.

To move 23,500 litres of milk using Tetra Pac Cartons or plastic bottles means transporting a total of  24 tonnes. 23.5 tonnes of outward payload and  500kg of Tetrapak packaging, . This packaging can be recycled in our green recycling bins

To deliver 23,500 litres of milk using glass bottles, each bottle weighing 0.35kg and containing  500ml (0.88 pint), would mean an outward payload of 49,950kg (49.9t) and then a return payload of 16,450kg (16.5t) of empty glass.

We now need two trucks to do the delivery (if we are limited to 24 tonnes per truck, we can’t deliver all the milk)  To simplify the calculation let’s just send an extra 24 tonne truck along with the delivery and then have it collect the empty glass for return to the refilling plant.

The above of course only gets the milk to and from the distribution warehouse or supermarket, the extra 16.5 tonnes of glass then has to be collected by the consumer or transported in smaller lots by your friendly milkman delivering milk to the end user and back again, once the milk has been consumed

When the glass is returned to the refilling plant, it must first be sent to a washing and testing line to be examined for contaminants or cracks and then transported to the filling lines.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s us assume that the milk bottle moves four times for each usage. So for each half litre of milk consumed we move 1.4 kg of glass. (0.35kg per bottle X four movements.)

Delivering milk in glassIf each person in Ireland consumed one bottle of milk per day there would be a need to transport 6580 tonnes of glass about the place every day which would require in the region of an extra 140 large articulated trucks for the trunking movements and a myriad of smaller trucks and vans bringing the milk to individual consumers.

To transport 2.35 million litres of milk in cartons or plastic requires about 59 tonnes of recyclable packaging. Even if all of this packaging was landfilled or incinerated the environmental impact is dramatically lower than using glass

Apart from the economic cost of moving all this extra weight around, washing and cleaning of the bottles and recycling of broken glass, the environmental consequences moving this amount of glass around the place surely requires that the lowly milk bottle be left consigned to nostalgia and the happy times when ignorance was bliss

Back-up numbers
Weight of  1 milk bottle =                             0.35 kg
Weight of Plastic or Tetra Pak carton=        0.025kg
Weight of one litre of milk=                         1kg    
Population of Ireland 2016,                         4.7 million       

The calculations above are designed to present a concept and may not be scientifically accurate to the nearest litre or kg.


Here at Electronic Recycling we do not recycle glass but we do recycling anything with a plug or a battery including the total destruction of data media in compliance with the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which will come into force on May 25th this year (2018)

Posted in: Environment

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