Derek – Friday 29th January 2021

Daffodils are on their way, budding here and there in the garden. We’ll have quite a few in bloom by mid February, but now there’s just a single flower by our middle stage, next to two hellebores also in bloom. We are creeping out of winter as we come to the end of this long month. Though one mustn’t be too eager for spring, as February can have its share of chills and storms.

The garden has a policy of encouraging action against climate change. The main climate change gas is carbon dioxide, formed by burning fossil fuels. These are, in the main, petrol & diesel, gas, and coal.

Items which are manufactured use energy, most of which still comes from the use of fossil fuels. To use less energy from the manufactured goods in our lives, and so generate less climate change gases, the mantra is, strictly in this order:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

‘Reduce’ is the big one. We live in a throw-away society, where many of us have far more than we need. An obvious example is fashion, which encourages people to keep buying clothes. Another is electronics; some people love gadgets, always wanting the latest, and never mind the energy cost. Or think of all those single-use wet wipes blocking our sewers in fatbergs. Twenty years ago, they barely existed, so why are they essential now?

‘Reuse’ is about giving manufactured goods more life, by giving them to a friend, a charity shop or a jumble sale, or repairing them, denying the need to replace them. Fashionistas can buy second hand, and give what they are not wearing to Oxfam.

A classic example of reuse is the glass milk bottle. Of old, milk came in glass bottles that were returned, when empty, to the dairy, to be washed and used again. We still see the occasional milk float but most of us get our milk from the supermarket packaged in polyethylene bottles. My small household of two uses two 2-litre bottles of milk a week, that’s one each. Let’s assume for a rough calculation that that applies to all adults. Adults make up three quarters of our population of 68 million, which is roughly 50 million, so:

1 plastic milk bottle a week x 52 weeks x 50 million
= 2.5 billion plastic milk bottles per year for the UK

The number is quite a shock. Could be more, could be less, but you may note I have ignored children, who also drink milk, so I suspect the actual figure is higher. Yes, you may say, but many of those billions of plastic bottles are recycled. We will come to that.

‘Recycle’ is the poor relation in our mantra. Better than nothing, but not that good. Let’s get back to those billions of plastic milk bottles. We finish the milk and put the bottle in the recycling, but what happens to it then? It will certainly not end up as another milk bottle, as it is too contaminated, and food grade plastic has high specifications. A possible end use is as a black plastic bin liner.

Let’s consider the energy it will take to make liners from the milk bottle. There’s transportation, separation from other waste, and then the bottle has to be melted down at a temperature of around 130 degrees and held there while it is processed. Any contamination won’t matter as it can be disguised in the black pigment added. The liquid plastic is then passed through massive twin rollers to make it into sheets, which are then made into bags. An awful lot of energy has been expended which is why recycling is third on the list, and just better than binning where the bottle would go straight to landfill.

Those two and a half billion milk bottles plainly need to be retained as milk bottles. Is it beyond the wit of supermarkets to take them back, wash and sterilize them, and then fill them again with milk? How about a 50p deposit per bottle, returnable when you take it back to the store. Presumably it is cheaper to continue manufacturing new plastic bottles. Only government action could force them to do otherwise, but, frankly, I can’t see this happening soon.

Having grown weary of all these plastic milk bottles, which I dutifully recycle, but know that little good comes of them, I have decided instead to make my own oat milk. Then there will be no packaging. An added benefit is that oat milk doesn’t come from a belching cow, giving off methane, a climate change gas 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. I am experimenting at the moment and shall tell you in another blog how it has fared.

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