What should we do about plastic milk bottle tops?

Filed in Blog by on January 30, 2009 18 Comments
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plastic bottle recyclingOk, we’ve had a bit of a time with this issue. It seemed that my announcement about collapsing plastic bottles, sticking the cap on and putting in the recycling skip on Radio Gloucestershire this week caused a bit of a stir.

I don’t mind admitting, this has been playing on my mind. Was I wrong? Did I give out false information and am I now single-handedly responsible for contaminating the plastic bottle recycling througout the county?

Not being a person who takes anything for granted, I called my local council again. I asked ‘Can you tell me what I should do with the plastic tops when recycling milk bottles?’ I was told to landfill them and that they should not go into the recycling skips because they contaminate the load.

Well, this is quite different advise to the suggestion of compacting the bottle and putting the caps back on that I was told by one of her colleagues last year!

Talk about confusion and conflicting advice. I then called Stroud district council and was told, yet again, to landfill them.

In my usual style, I had had quite enough of this malarky and decided to go right to the top (boom boom). I contacted the three companies who our council sell their plastic bottles to and was told the following:

The first two companies (AWS in Lincolnshire and JFC plastics, formerly know as Deleve, in St Helens) said it wasn’t a problem to have the caps on the bottles because they sort them at the plant anyway. I was assured that nothing was ever landfilled at both plants; that the caps were removed and recycled separately.
In fact I was encouraged to compact the bottle and place the cap back on to keep the bottle compressed. Let’s face it, it takes up less room and saves massive lorries having to be on the road carrying 90% air; it makes total sense.

The third company (Valpak in Preston) said it was ok to put the caps in the recycling skip, but to take them off before putting them in. This was so their machines could sort the bottles from the caps more efficiently.

So, according to the companies that deal with the recycling, caps are not a problem. It might be better to remove them, because who knows which company is going to be buying the plastic, but at least, to my mind, I haven’t given out any false information about what to do with the plastic caps.

Remember, if you want to do the altriuistic thing then there is another option. Save up your plastic milk bottle tops and post them to GHS. They collect and recycle milk bottle tops for the charity of your choice. There is a minimum payment amount of 500 kgs but they will keep a log for you if you just want to send in a pack at a time. To give you an idea, posting 90 lids will cost you just 66p second class post. Why not club together with friends or set up a collection point in a local school or community centre?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (18)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    Confusion abounds in this issue. My take is to flatten the empty/washed/drained plastic bottle and then replace the lid. Both can be recycled by receiving organisations.

    Asking for advice from councils can be a waste of time. The real problem is the chaotic organisation of the whole home recycling setup. Uniformity is required and from that certainty in practice will be achieved. Say it often enough and maybe the penny will drop.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    I agree with your John; this has highlighted an important issue this week. I said something on a radio broadcast, that perhaps wasn’t true. I felt terrible about that – but I guess it’s not my fault. I was passing on information I had been given and the next time I called I was given different answers.
    I understand that people who don’t even bother to try and recycle because of ‘confusion’.

  3. Mrs Jackson says:

    Hi Mrs Green
    I do like the idea of schools sending them off – what an incentive for schools to encourage people to do more as they will gain some funds from it.

  4. Peter says:

    Ah, conflicting ‘advice’ from the authorities. Where we would be without various box-tickers contradicting each other, he asks, rhetorically.

    John’s final para is bang on, though I fear a vain hope.

    I have long since given up trying to get my head around the logic of the stated instructions. The request to collapse surely makes sense to improve the weight:volume ratio lugged by a dirty great truck, but squashing these devils is easier said than done. And having done so, as a matter of physics, without screwing the cap back on I rather suspect they may spring back out.

    Thank you for the link to GHS. I have some concerns about logistics, enviROI+ wise, but it’s great that there are folk thinking around this. The solution is perhaps in that 500kgs payment threshold.

    Now, what if local communities could be coordinated (as you suggest, but on a bigger scale) to drop-off sufficient quantities of any recylate material or reusable item such that it was worth the while of a business to come and get it… and pay. It’s possible paying individuals may be a problem, but injecting benefits into the community is still a powerful motivator… and reward.

    I have given up on government and LAs, and businesses can be a a tad short-term bottom line (especially at the moment), but am working on it using the postcode location facilities of such as my site, Junkk.com

    Thanks also for the associated ideas on reuses. Readers may wish to share any they have on Junkk.com too.

    Interestingly, I am still in the thick of promoting my RE:tie re:evolution second use design of the little tamper-evident strap that links the cap to the neck piece of usually higher end organic milks – http://www.junkk.com/junkkdetail.asp?slevel=0z622&parent_id=622&renleewtsapf=1828

    In today’s climate, it still amazes me that many high-ups in departments theoretically devoted to reducing unnecessary waste still cannot get their heads round how people might very easily be directed to keep things, reuse things or at least donate in a useful, segregated manner… if well directed, helped and encouraged or, better yet… rewarded.

    The time has yet to come. But it will.

  5. Hi Mrs G – I am with you on the frustration over having conflicting advice from the local authority and hunting down the answer yourself. But don’t waste your time feeling bad. The embarrassement on that should lie with the council.

    Where conflicting advice is given, I suggest take it to the top of the department too. Staff at councils HAVE to know what advice to give out, otherwise they are responsible for risking contamination to the loads. And the individuals can’t be blamed either. It might be down to simply spending enough time to train staff or in ensuring information systems are always up-do-date. If I was head of a dept I’d want to know about the issues that are affecting recycling process. So if anyone does suffer from being caught in the same situation, make a complaint and get the system improved.

    By the way, if readers haven’t seen it already, Peter’s RE:Tie solution is fantastic. Indeed genius and is well worth a look 😀 x

  6. Sarah says:

    What’s needed is a national approach and decent information on recycling. The people working within councils often have no clue, it’s not their specialism.

  7. Peter says:

    AMA – blushes, but ta.

    Sarah… bang on. Though I’d have to say I find it hard to believe they have no clue, having been to a few too many expensive conferences and met a few too many sporting badges that suggest they are paid to think about such stuff all day long.

    However, and trying to be fair, I think it goes higher than that, and waaaay further back. Hence we have a bunch of conflicting systems overseen by entrenched operatives in turf-defending empires.

    Hence it needs a real shake down from the top, which may be very expensive and possibly impose a lot on enviro-negatives, at least short term.

    Basically, what’s needed are some folk who understand the science and engineering, have the leadership qualities to push through the petty politics, EU targets-based box ticking, ignoring the bonusses and nice little earners from 25-year contracts ‘smoothed’ by lobbyists, and… oh, I fear I might not need to hold my breath.

    But we can hope.

  8. Kris says:

    Thank you Mrs G for doing the work of contacting the right people to find out the right information which it seems the councils haven’t got round to doing…

    I had a very similar moment of feeling appalled that I may have been telling people the wrong thing because I always collapse and re-lid bottles as per the instructions on one local bank – but feel very frustrated that other local banks aren’t specific so you get these crises of confidence.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Mrs Jackson: Hi Mrs J – getting schools involved with these projects is a great thing because not only do you reach a decent amount of people at once, but you’re influencing this generation where I feel it is important that the 3 R’s become ‘normalised’.

    @Peter: Hi Peter – great to see you again and thank you for the link on your blog today. These bottles DO need their tops on to remain compacted – I speak from experience 😀 The re:tie page is excellent. It’s these tiny things that can make such a difference.

    @Almost Mrs Average: Thanks Mrs A – it’s good of you to smooth my feathers; this ties in with your post the other day about how sometimes we take on far more responsibilty than we should.

    @Kris: Interesting to see we have been doing the same thing, Kris. Which bank tells you to put the lids back on?

    In my Utopia there are only, say 3 types of plastics allowed to be used for packaging of foods – all of which can be easily reused or recycled in some way; in a valuable and ‘real’ way (not a shipped-to-China-for-me-to-buy-back-as-a-useless-toy kinda way).
    I appreciate that in our culture some plastics are ‘necessary’; and I am sure the technology is out there, somewhere to come up with good solutions that are a win-win for all. (manufacturer, customer, environment)
    This, combined with the factors John, Sarah and Peter talk about – helpful, empowering and nationwide information could put a stop to all this confusion, frustration and end result of apathy.

  10. maisie says:

    My council has never said whether or not to put the lid back on jusat that any type 1 & 2 platic can be recycled.

    I might put the lid idea to the head as she keeps giving me any literature she gets about recycling etc.

  11. Kris says:

    Hi, the site with specific instructions over the bins is in the Bishops Cleeve carpark – the corner nearest the church.
    It’s a hive of little green pods, all plastered with do’s and don’t’s.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Keep us posted on what you find out, maisie and thank you Kris. Amazing that it can be so different in the same county **sigh**

  13. Poppy says:

    Kris – any of the banks in Cheltenham take any bottle that previously held a liquid *with* their lids. This is straight from the mouth of the poor young lady who’s job it is to try to co-ordinate these things!

  14. Kris says:

    Thanks Poppy – that’s good to know 🙂

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Does that include things like bleach?

  16. maisie says:

    @Mrs Green: Just re-read my comment and realised I hadn’t clarified.

    I mean’t the head teacher to collect the lids for sending to GHS.

  17. Sheila Booth says:

    I have found that if I squash the bottles in hot water (after washing-up) they remain flattened even without lids – a friend collects the lids for a Charity.

    (I’m about to change ISP so may register after I’ve done so.)

  18. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie: 😀 no problem, Maisie – thank you!

    @Sheila Booth: What a great idea Sheila – we haven’t tried that one. That’s such a simple but effective tip 🙂 GOod luck with the ISP change over.

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