empty to litre plastic milk bottles in a row.
Milk bottle recycling

Plastic Milk Bottle Recycling

Milk is important to the UK, even with a shift towards non-dairy and non-cow milk. The UK produces around 15 billion litres of milk every year, and while some is delivered to doorsteps in glass bottles, most of it is sold in plastic bottles on supermarket shelves across the country.

Unfortunately, plastic milk bottles are the worst container for the environment – but they are recyclable. They need to be carefully recycled and collected by a trusted plastic waste collection service to prevent damaging the environment. Discover how to recycle your plastic milk bottles safely and everything you need to know about milk bottle recycling with this guide.

Recycling milk bottles

Milk sold in supermarkets tends to be packaged in plastic bottles. Unfortunately, this is the worst container for the environment. Unlike milk delivered in reusable glass bottles, plastic bottles from supermarkets and chain retailers need careful recycling. Recycling plastic milk bottles is more complex than glass bottles.

Most households can clean out empty plastic milk bottles and put them in their domestic recycling bins for collection and recycling by the local authority. Households can also take empty glass milk bottles to a nearby bottle bank or household waste recycling centre. Businesses must arrange commercial waste collection of any plastic or glass milk bottles.

Thousands of consumers in the UK are returning to milk bottle delivery services to be kinder to the environment. However, some supermarkets have started to replace coloured plastic milk bottle lids with white or clear ones that are easier to recycle. Recycling milk bottles made of plastic will hopefully become even easier.

To help you understand everything about milk bottle recycling we’ve put together this guide about how to recycle your plastic milk bottles safely.

Plastic milk bottle
recycling FAQs

  • What are plastic milk bottles made from?

    Plastic milk bottles are made from a type of plastic called high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This means any used plastic milk bottles are a form of plastic waste. It’s also commonly used to make shampoo and detergent bottles. The good news is that all forms of HDPE are recyclable.

  • Are milk bottles made of HDPE?

    Plastic milk bottles are made from a type of plastic material called high-density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is used for its strong and lightweight properties. It can contain milk without splitting or adding unnecessary weight. It’s also food-grade plastic, safe for storing perishable goods. HDPE milk bottles aren’t as heavy as glass and won’t shatter if dropped.

    Its plastic code can be found on the base of any plastic milk bottle and is a recycling triangle with the number 2 inside and often the letters HDPE below it.

  • How are plastic milk bottles made?

    Recycled pellets of plastic are blended with virgin material (non-recycled material) and blow-moulded into the shape of a milk bottle. When the warm, pliable plastic hits the cool walls of the mould, it sets in shape. These are then each filled with milk, packaged, labelled, and sent out to supermarkets and retailers.

    Cow’s milk in the UK goes by a colour scheme based on the milk bottle tops:

    • Blue = full-fat milk
    • Green = semi-skimmed (or raw milk)
    • Red = skimmed
    • Gold = Jersey and Guernsey milk
  • Can milk bottles be recycled?

    Yes, you can recycle milk bottles made from plastic as all forms of HDPE are recyclable. While recycling glass milk bottles is easier, plastic milk bottles are recyclable in both your domestic recycling bin and alongside other plastic waste sent for recycling that your business produces.

  • How do you dispose of plastic milk bottles at home?

    Recycling milk bottles is the best way to dispose of them. This way the plastic is recycled to create new milk bottles and other products. To dispose of plastic milk bottles there are two key steps:

    1. Clean out the plastic milk bottle

    Cleaning your old plastic milk bottles removes potential contaminates that may affect other materials in your recycling – such as paper and card. It also reduces odours in and around your bin and pests such as flies taking root in your bins and house.

    Cleaning out a bottle is simple – empty out any excess milk, squirt in a bit of washing up liquid or soap, fill about a third with clean water, put the lid back on and shake. Then empty the bottle again and rinse with fresh, clean water.

    1. Put it in your mixed recycling bin

    It’s vital that plastic milk bottles go in the right recycling bin. At home you can throw clean and dry plastic milk bottles in your domestic mixed recycling bin. For businesses, dispose of them in a dry mixed recycling bin or alongside other plastic waste.

    If an unaccepted item is found in the mixed recycling bin, it risks the entire load. This can lead to it all ending up in landfill, which has a devastating effect on the environment.

  • How are plastic milk bottles recycled?

    Plastic milk bottles placed in domestic or commercial recycling bins are collected by local authorities or licensed waste carriers such as Business Waste. This waste is then transported to a transfer station, which is a central location for all waste collection vehicles to drop off their recycling loads.

    Here, the materials are weighed and sent to processing facilities. Plastic milk bottles are sent to a materials recycling facility (MRF) where they’re recycled in a few steps:

    • Plastic milk bottles go through mechanical and manual sorting to remove any non-recyclable materials that accidentally end up in the load.
    • The plastic milk bottles are then flattened and baled before being transported to a polymer recycling facility.
    • Finally, they’re industrially cleaned and turned back into plastic pellets, which can be used to create new milk bottles and other plastic products.
  • How can I start recycling my plastic milk bottles?

    For milk bottles used at home, research what your local council currently recycles to check if you can recycle plastic milk bottles by throwing in your domestic recycling bin. You could also find a reputable plastic recycling or waste collection company that offers professional and flexible waste collections.

    We offer free recycling bins and can collect either daily, weekly, or fortnightly – at your discretion. Our bins come in a variety of sizes to suit all of your needs – from small wheelie bins to large 1100 litre wheelie bins.

  • Can I recycle white milk bottles?

    Yes, you can recycle white plastic milk bottles. However, white milk bottles cannot be recycled back into milk bottles due to their colouring. They can still be recycled into other valuable products though, so you should still clean and recycle them.

  • Why are milk lids white?

    Many plastic milk bottle lids are now white as they’re easier to recycle compared to coloured milk bottle tops. Plastic milk bottle caps can’t be recycled into food grade packaging and they can contaminate the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) stream. White milk bottle lids can be recycled back into food grade packaging and avoid colour contamination.

  • Do I need to remove the cap and label when recycling milk bottles?

    No, you don’t need to remove the cap and label when recycling plastic milk bottles. Labels are designed to fall away easily during the recycling process and the caps can also be recycled back into other products, as they’re also made from plastic.

  • How much milk does the UK use?

    Nearly 99% of UK households regularly buy milk. It’s estimated that each household consumes 70 litres every year – that’s 1.4 litres every day. While that sounds like a lot, it’s actually less than in 1974 when the average household would consume 140 litres of milk every year.

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