The Emporers new clothes

Filed in Blog by on March 14, 2011 29 Comments
FavoriteLoadingAdd article to favourites
sainsburys milk bags to replace plastic bottles

sainsburys milk bags to replace plastic bottles

It’s ok, I haven’t been on another clothes shopping spree, but I’m beginning to feel I see the world through a completely different pair of eyes to the rest of the world. I seriously feel like I’m swimming upstream right now.

As you know, I’m a friendly gal, I don’t ruffle feathers and I’m diplomatic, but my friends, you need to be prepared for a shock today!

I was sent a press release by Sainsburys telling me how they predict their switch from plastic milk bottles to milk bags could save up to 1.4 million kilograms of packaging every year.

We consume 9.3 billion pints of milk every year in the UK but only 1 in 4 plastic milk bottles are actually recycled. The rest end up in landfill.

Apparently, recent sales by Sainsbury show that we’re buying  around 110,000 of their new style milk bags a week. To support customers who want to make the switch, Sainsbury’s stores across the UK will be giving away JUGIT(TM) containers on Saturday 15 May. These jugs enable you to pour the milk easily from the bags.

So far, so good right? Not only do these new bags of milk save landfill packaging, but they cost slightly less than a plastic bottle and you can get a free jug, so you’ve nothing to lose. Yipee!

Unfortunately, that is where my joy ends and here I am in the carnival procession watching the Emperor walk past. Everyone is loving his new robes except me.

My first question was

“Can ALL Sainsburys recycle this packaging from milk bags in their stores?” The response was

“milk bags can be recycled at many of our in store recycling points – please check with your local Sainsbury’s if they provide this facility. If offered, the milk bag would go in with plastic bottles. ”

I asked for further clarification because this was an ambiguous response (no fault of the sender, it was through twitter, so characters were limited). I asked (via email this time):

“Does this mean that if my local Sainsbury store offered recycling for these bags they would be stuffed inside the plastic bottles?? Or did you mean that if milk bag recycling was offered by my local authority i would put them in with the plastic bottles?
I thought that at Sainsbury they would go in with the carrier bag recycling…
Can you also clarify what the milk bags are made from please?”

The response was “Ah – yes, I see now how that can be misunderstood.

The milk bags are in the same recycling category as plastic bottles, so would go in the same receptacle – or in your words: if milk bag recycling was offered by your local authority you would put them in with the plastic bottles.

The bags are made from very strong low density (polyethylene) and have undergone extensive testing to ensure their durability.”

Ok, stop there. Do you see what I see?

Do you know what ‘plastic bottles’ are made from? Plastic bottles are made from PET (#1) or HDPE (#2). I’m being told by a major UK retailer to stuff LDPE (#4) bags in with plastic bottles for recycling. I happen to know that if I did that in the Forest of Dean I would be responsible for contaminating the load with the wrong type of plastic.

I sent the following reply:

“To my knowledge, milk bottles are not made out of LDPE; they are made of PET (#1) or HDPE (#2).

LDPE (#4), which is what you are telling me the milk bags are made from (if I’m understanding you correctly), is the same material as kitchen roll, toilet roll and magazine wrapping along with carrier bags and frozen vegetable bags.

So you’re saying these milk bags should go in with milk bottles, washing up liquid bottles and shampoo bottles? Won’t this contaminate the load in areas where authorities are collecting just number 1 & 2?”

The response I had back was that it was going to be referred to the packaging specialist…

But you know what? This isn’t the first time and neither will it be the last that consumers are given shoddy information. Everyone is looking at the bottom line, the amount of tonnage we can reduce from landfill and they get wowed by the figures, but not many have the integrity to see the whole thing through.

1.4 million kilos of packaging saved from landfill is an impressive amount. Likewise M&S are reducing their small bottles of wine packaging by 525 tonnes – impressive, until you hear that they are achieving this by swapping glass for plastic. Kenco have reduced packaging weight by 97% by switching, you’ve guessed it, from glass jars for plastic pouches…

Ok, I admit it, I’m ‘just’ a consumer and I probably don’t see the whole picture, but I seriously question whether anybody does. Deposit systems on glass bottles worked. Recycling , refilling or reusing glass jars works. Corporations who provide some kind of packaging which can’t be recycled easily across the UK are failing to see the bigger picture as well. Not only that but they are dishing out information that is incomplete at best, contradictory and confusing most of the time and downright WRONG in some instances.

Tell me, what sort of recycling information have you come across lately that’s made your blood boil?

Tags: ,

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 (29)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Kathy says:

    Another example where change is not an improvement. Most plastics are not the best for the environment, even if they can be recycled. Bring back real glass and eliminate this plastic nonsense. My grandfather use to own a dairy when I was a little girl, and those glass jars could be sterilized and reused over and over. Why man has to try and “improve” all the time is beyond me. Simpler is best.

  2. hollie says:

    are weigh and save types shops actually allowed in this country? for me they were the perfect way to reduce packaging and encouraged bringing your own containers… or did the EU get in there and lay the law down banning them? i get frustrated with m&s the vast majority is packed. the one thing that really gets me ranting is this silly idea of BBE or sell by dates and that supermarkets routinely put things in bags to exploit it. loose veg doesn’t need use by dates and best judgement is used.

  3. Hazel says:

    My friend’s husband works for General Food Kraft Jacobs Suchard Kenco or whatever they’re called at the moment and we’ve had a long discussion about the Kenco pouches.
    We agreed to disagree by the end, but I don’t think he was particularly convinced by them actually. But then he’s not particularly convinced by my ‘green’ arguments about anything. Which makes me think probably nobody else on the management team is either, it’s just ticking boxes.

    My problem is that I think all these things make people think that’s all that’s needed. Lighter packaging= problem solved, job done! Don’t give a thought to what else in in your basket if your coffee and milk are in bags instead of jars and bottles!

    I’ve always been sceptical about supermarkets motivations, although I’ll concede Sainsbury’s does seem to be slightly better than the one beginning with T…
    I’ve heard 2 stories about them recently, which makes me think I don’t want to buy anything from them, ever again.

    Free Range chickens were being sold near us recently as the owner claimed they couldn’t afford to keep them any longer. T**** were allegedly paying them 80p a dozen for the eggs (and then selling them for £3+). I know £1 per half dozen wouldn’t cover my feed costs and even allowing for economics of scale, if that’s true, I can see how you’d be out of pocket.
    Secondly, another farmer claims to still be waiting for payment for his last delivery of chicken to them. The next order is due. If he renegades on it, you can be sure T**** will be after him, but can he afford to deliver them when they still haven’t paid him for the last lot?

    Sorry, slightly OT, but still a question of ethics, and it makes me so cross! And there;s no reason to suspect the other big stores are any better.

  4. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    The value of MyZeroWaste is getting to the truth behind questionable business claims. Who can forget the ‘cellophane can be home composted’ assertion for Christmas sweetie wrappers? Happily there are more positives than negatives and the more we buy these positive Zero Waste alternatives the quicker the change.

    As for glass bottles, clear glass in particular with its necessary high purity value in recycling, these are my first choice, though tetrapaks are a significant contributor, eg for milk (Cravendale) and fruit juices.

    The plastic industry is a factor in these recent plastic replacements. Soaps are another example, with only Dove remaining card only. Lush provide many Zero Waste alternatives with a good range of soap bars. I am currently using a lemon-based, orange/brown wedge and am enjoying the experience. There are plenty more to try until I find my favourite.. A Furoshiki is an alternative to the standard plastic tub and ideal for gifts. My thoughts go out to the Japanese who have witnesses the power of nature first hand.

  5. Well said Mrs G, it reminds me of the time when Sainsbury’s switched their canned basics range from cans to cartons. I know TetraPak are striving to increase municipal carton recycling across the land but this step seemed a jump too soon. Instead of putting the cans in the recycling bins, many householders will be tossing the cartons into their rubbish bins. A similar issue lies with the Green Bottle that’s being introduced through Asda. I’d love to support the concept, especially as it’s manufactured by a company that’s fairly local to me and I really can understand the principles, but that too includes an inner plastic bag, which doesn’t get rid of the issue of residual waste if facilties aren’t conveniently available.

  6. Stephen says:

    Calm down mrs g and take a deep breath, and relax ….ha
    Sometimes I think the same, no one sees what I can see it seems but once you have established the driving false behind most probably every larger business in the world, it become clear that the graft on the board room wall go’s relentlessy up, and any saving that’s available to continue to make that graft go relentlessy up is a very good thing in the eyes of the share holders and bosses, at any cost, as long as their don’t brake the law, so in this case you and I can see the likey reason to sell milk in less packeting, which may not be the best environmentally friendly option for us if it’s recyclable or not unless governments play there roll in making business recycle for the right reasons and not hoodwink the public in believing they have their interests at hart, but tetra packs are very hard to recycle and at least they are seemly going in the right direction for now…..

  7. I’m finding that keeping grasp of the whole picture is getting to be almost impossible. It takes me all my time to argue myself into buying dairy milk for the family as it is. Delivered in a plastic pouch would most definitely put an end to it.

    Let’s not be sooked into believing these guys do anything that isn’t based on bottom line…

    Mrs G, you are doing a most excellent job of getting behind the stories – keep up the ranting, for it reminds us all to keep questioning as well.

  8. Stephen says:

    “Another innovation we think is on its way is having a self-dispenser in supermarkets, where customers can take their jugs and fill up with milk actually in the store itself.” Milk in a bag is the latest move by food retailers to improve their eco-friendly credentials after being villified for excessive packaging and food miles.

  9. LJayne says:

    I won’t buy this for the same reason Mrs G. In fact we’ve switched to getting our milk from the milkman even though it is more expensive. It is the same as the new packaging for Suma. It IS made from plastic 1 or 2 but they are telling people to roll it up and put it inside plastic bottles which I know, here, would still be a big no-no. My Borough is very clear that only 1 and 2 *bottles* can be taken.

    Good on you for having the perseverance to go back several times for clarification. I had this with our council over bottle tops when our co-mingled waste collection was introduced. I have it in writing(!) that I am allowed to put plastic milk bottle tops (when I now rarely buy them) in with the bottles as long as they are off, otherwise it stops them compacting properly. But I did have to send 2 emails.

  10. Antonio Pachowko says:

    Hi Mrs G

    An article that is very true but your article is misleading currently around 74% of plastic milk bottle are recycled according to UK Household Plastics Packaging survey 2010 (see

  11. Teresa says:

    I see now. It’s not environmentally friendly as it’s just for customers to save weight which is handy when you don’t have a car but for those who do it means that they can spend more money in the supermarket at each visit because of fewer jars to carry across the car park to their car.

  12. Ailbhe says:

    We buy our milk from the milkman in reused glass bottles, but it IS more expensive this way, it’s purely an environmental choice for us.

  13. Amber says:

    Oh I completely agree – it’s not just you seeing the Emperor running naked down the street Mrs G! I am fed up of all the greenwashing and govt targets that do little to get to the route of the problem. Bring back glass bottles I say!

  14. CarSue says:

    I was recently told by a company that their #5 plastic butter tubs could be recycled curbside in my area. I work at our Recycling Center, so I know for a FACT that that information is incorrect.

  15. Teresa says:

    @Amber: Me too. You have to do a bit of research to see the greenwashing. See it also with toiletries which claim to be organic, green or natural when they are full of chemicals and I know that Origins is despite their advertising.

  16. SherryGreens says:

    @ Stephen – I love this idea! LOVE! It is like buying milk from the bulk bin!

    Alternatively, we should purchase our milk in glass and return our empties to the grocery store when we get more milk, and the grocery store gives these empty bottles back to the supplier, who washes them and reuses them again. Back to basics people, back to basics.

  17. I totally agree that this is again 1 step forwards 2 steps back.

    Until all areas are all recycling all packaging then these things do not help. There needs to be a nationwide recycling directive so all councils are on the same page at the same time. Then it wouldn’t matter where you lived you would be able to recycle the same items; this would also then indicate which items/products were the “naughties”. and the manufacturers would have to do something about them.

    My council do collect type 5 butter and yogurt tubs in the curbside but my SIL 10 miles up the road who comes under a different council can not, she doesn’t even get PET & HDPE collected, but gets a doorstep glass collection where I don’t.

    We have our milk delivered and as previous posters have said it is dearer but then it also eliminates the “pop to the shop spend £20 on a pint of milk problem”.

    I remember the milkman also used to deliver pop in glass bottles which could be returned and my DH remembers the Cresta pop van which took back the empties.

  18. Alyson says:

    Thought milk in bags was a daft idea when I first saw it in Sainsbury. If you can recycle the carton why buy a bag and a jug that you cannot recycle. Daft. I buy my milk from the milkman, but I asked for it to be in bottles because it can be in plastic cartons.The children thought it was fun having bottles. .that was 2 years ago.

  19. janet says:


    Come down to Hythe, in Kent, we have a” weigh and save shop”. So they still do exist.

  20. Teresa says:

    This reminds me of another aspect of greenwashing; laundry powder and tablets strong and powerful enough for people to wash their clothes at 30 C. More energy goes into making these products over ordinary laundry powder than is saved by washing at lower temperatures. Besides they are extremely toxic. I found that if I’m using soap nuts or laundry balls I need to wash at higher temperatures.

  21. Teresa says:

    And if you don’t do the odd wash cycle at 60 C fungus builds up in the washing machine leaving black marks all around the seal.

  22. Sleepwalker says:

    Yep, I just changed from plastic bottles back to glass. The plastic was type 2 (recyclable here) and the glass bottles get returned but the caps are type 4 plastic, not recycled. I’m going to ask the dairy about it. Birdies learnt to peck through foil, hence change to plastic. Getting there one package at a time…

  23. Sleepwalker says:

    Ah ha! Inspired by you, I contacted the dairy and they will recycle the caps and I also asked them if they would consider having the organic milk in glass bottles (I’d like organic but it only comes in plastic). We’ll see what happens.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @Kathy: Thanks for your comment Kathy; I remember glass bottles as a child and Mr Green used to get his milk straight from the cow, still warm in an urn!

    @hollie: Good points, Hollie. Unpackaged shops are indeed legal, despite our silly Health and safety laws. I agree about bbe dates; we usually ignore them and rely on our senses instead.

    @Hazel: No worries, hazel. I think there are many stories like yours – I’ve read a couple of interesting books in the past – ‘Shopped’ and ‘behind the label’ which cite interesting and concerning cases. This is where I try to support local, independent shops where possible.

    @John Costigane: Thanks for the update on Dove. We never buy bar soap so I’m not really in the loop. Glad to hear you are still enjoying working your way through the LUSH repertoire!

    @[email protected]: Oh yes, the green bottle; I think it’s fantastic but wonder how many people will actually bother to separate and recycle …

    @Stephen: Tetra pak recycling is picking up with, I think, 30% of local authorities now collecting from the kerbside, so this could be a future solution to lightweight packaging that is easily recycled. The milk refills sounds excellent. ASDA tried to do this with fabric conditioner but I don’t think it took off.

    @Julie Gibbons: Thanks Julie – the only concern is that we back ourselves into a state of inertia by gathering so many facts we don’t know which way to turn for the best!

    @LJayne: I’m hoping to chase up the Suma thing as I was horrified to see this instruction in their catalogue. Will let you know if I find anything and good for you for putting your money where your mouth is regarding milk

    @Antonio Pachowko: That sounds more like it, Antonio – my figures came from Sainsburys I believe 😉

    @Teresa: It seems that many landfill targets are based around weight which is why plastic is favoured over glass. Interesting about your laundry examples; I’ve been challenged to try Aqua balls, so will be trialling and reviewing them on the site in a month or two.

    @Ailbhe: Good for you – sometimes we just have to pay more to keep spreading the message.

    @Amber: Have you tried milkandmore Amber? You may find a local milkman who could deliver to you

    @CarSue: Ewwwww; that’s such bad advice. just think of the repercussions if people believe them.

    @SherryGreens: Absolutely right – it’s really not rocket science is it?

    @maisie dalziel: that’s a really good point about not wasting £20 on things you don’t want if you pop to the supermarket for one item Maisie – thanks for that. And I agree there needs to be some sort of legislation to bring all recycling into alignment across the country.

    @Alyson: that’s really good Alyson; one of my friend’s husbands is a milkman and everything is delivered in plastic and tetra paks – no glass to be seen! I was horrified.

    @Sleepwalker: @Sleepwalker: fantastic – well done you. I feel like a proud mother 😀

  25. @Sleepwalker: my organic comes in both glass and plastic, I get it in the glass.

  26. Teresa says:

    @Mrs Green: I have some eco laundry balls. I don’t find them very effective as my clothes do get quite dirty and to improve effectiveness you would have to launder everything after only one wear at high termperatures. Plus you would have to hand wash hosiery and underwear first before putting them in the washing machine.

  27. Mrs Green says:

    @Teresa: Thanks for that Teresa, I look forward to trying them out myself and writing a full review…

  28. Chris says:

    Recycling, shipping and transporting glass costs far more in £ and CO2 than doing the same with plastics.

    Work out the cradle to grave carbon before publishing stuff. Collection and sterilising schemes may also be less efficient, transporting glass bottles is inefficient.

    Milk bags should have significant carbon savings, manufacture and transportation CO2 costs alone will be significant.

    As always though, retailers won’t push for change unless there is a financial benefit.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    @Chris: Thanks for commenting Chris and for sharing your thoughts and research with us. Personally I still prefer to use fully recyclable materials and preferably materials made from renewable resources but I completely take on board your views about overall carbon savings.

Leave a Reply