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It’s been four months since I made the switch from supermarket cartons to milk delivered in glass bottles – something those who grew up in the 1980s or earlier will be familiar with – and to be perfectly honest with you, I doubt I’ll ever go back. The pros far outweigh the cons and my recycling bin is getting emptier week by week.
Our milkman delivers us a couple of pints of milk on a Tuesday and Saturday morning, right to our front door, via an electric milk float. The unassuming whirring sound as he zips down the street in his float and the jingling of glass bottles has become music to my ears.
When I think about the sheer number of plastic milk cartons I’ve gone through in the past five years of living in London, it mades me shudder. On the basis of getting through one carton (either two or four pints) a week, I work out that I’ve sent a minimum of 260 empty cartons to the recycling bin in that time. To be honest, the figure is likely to be nearer 300. Multiply that by five and you start to get a feel for how much plastic I’ve used through milk consumption alone. And that’s just me and my partner, two of 67 million people in the UK.
Our milkman hails from Parker Dairies, an independent family-owned dairy based in Woodford Green, which serves 11,000 doorsteps, schools, offices and businesses throughout central and east London. One of the selling points of Parker is that 90% of milk is delivered before 8am, so people don’t have to worry that their dairy products will arrive after they’ve left for work and subsequently go off.
Back in 1975, a whopping 94% of milk was put into glass bottles, according to The Telegraph. Fast forward to 2016 and that number had dropped to around 3%. But in the past few years, change has been (slowly) underway. The humble milk delivery service has been having something of a comeback thanks to something Milk & More, another delivery service, has dubbed the ‘David Attenborough effect’. People want to play their part in reducing plastic waste. With Brexit looming, they also want to support local businesses. Milk & More is one of the key players right now, with approximately 1,200 milkmen and women delivering 100 million one pint glass bottles each year to over 500,000 household customers.
Our milk turns up between 6.30-7am on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Trev, our milkman, leaves it by our front door and we simply bring it in and start using it – I’m an avid tea and cereal fan, so I get through a fair bit. The milk is delivered in glass bottles with foil tops. Once you’ve finished a bottle you simply wash it out, leave it to dry and then pop it back on the doorstep the night before you’re due another delivery. The milkman then takes away those glass bottles ready to be used again, which helps me leave for work with a spring in my step and less of a guilty conscience. According to the East London Waste Authority (ELWA), reusing is even more environmentally friendly than recycling, and often has a beneficial effect for the local community.
Another perk is that it’s something of a novelty – my family had milk deliveries when I was very young but I can’t remember that time at all (I was born at the start of the nineties), so this is a totally new experience for me. Like all those people who collect records, despite not being born in the era of vinyl.
When you first sign up, which you can do online, you specify how many bottles you want, which type of milk (they also do milk alternatives in the standard cardboard cartons and fruit juice in glass bottles), and which days you’d like them delivered.
I originally requested a Monday delivery, but a neighbour of ours gets theirs delivered on Tuesdays so it made sense for us to have ours dropped off at the same time. If I want to make any amendments to my order or cancel it, I can either email Parker Dairies or text our milkman (I tend to do the latter), and I always get a swift reply. It’s such a simple yet effective system.
The one downside is cost. It’s 86p per pint which is obviously far more than you’d pay in the supermarket, however the upside of this is that it’s made us waste far less – and ‘reducing’ is arguably one of the most important of the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) when it comes to waste management. We get two pints delivered on Tuesday and the same again on Saturday, and we hardly waste a drop.
In comparison, I used to buy a big carton of milk from Tesco because it was cheap and I thought we’d get through it all, but we never did. Also, because there’s no use-by sticker on the glass bottles, you’re constantly smelling it to see whether it’s gone off rather than simply looking at the use-by date and pouring it away.
Every month we get an envelope through the door saying how much we owe – it’s about £16 each time, which I pay online. You can also pay via cash or (old school) cheque. That might seem like a lot but I honestly don’t mind paying it: the service is convenient, it saves me lugging cartons of milk home on the tube. Plus, it feels like it’s a better option for the planet.
Visit www.findmeamilkman.net to find your nearest milk delivery service.