The Chair of the all party Sustainable Resource Group has slammed milk bottle processers that use white plastic which cannot be recycled into new white milk bottles.
MP Alan Whitehead believes that milk processors should all use clear HDPE bottles to package their milk, in order to increase closed loop milk bottle recycling levels.
Whitehead said: As I understand it, there is a tolerance level as to how many white bottles can be recycled with the clear bottles. If the reprocessor knows they are below the contaminant level its fine but this is clearly not a long-term prospect.
It seems slightly perverse to me to add a white pigment to a bottle, which could foul up the rest of the recyclable bottles.
Fewer than 5% of recovered milk bottles in the UK are white rather than clear. Currently, due to the small proportion of white bottles, white and clear milk bottles are reprocessed together without affecting the colour or performance of the food-grade recycled bottles. However, an all-white recovered HDPE stream has not yet been cleared for food grade application. While a proportion of this plastic can go back into recycled milk bottles, the remainder goes into lower grade mixed plastics. The concern is that, as the percentage of recovered white milk bottles increases, more of this plastic could be lost to mixed plastics rather than recycled back into bottles.
Arla Foods, which owns Cravendale - one of the main firms using white plastic milk bottles admits there is a tolerance level for the percentage of white bottles that can be recycled with clear ones. It hopes to incorporate clear rHDPE into its white Cravendale bottles but cannot recycle its own bottles in a closed loop process as a single stream.
Milk Roadmap targets have been set to encourage milk processors to include recycled plastic in their bottles. Fresh milk manufacturers must hit a series of targets to introduce recycled content into their milk bottles, reaching 50% by 2020.
Arla Foods packaging manager Richard Taplin said: At the moment there is sufficient material recovered for the dairy industry to hit the 10% recycled content target for 2010 but there is currently insufficient reprocessing capacity to hit the 2015 and 2020 targets. Additional facilities are therefore required in the UK.
In an ideal world we would have a dedicated reprocessing stream for white bottles, if they become a sufficient proportion of the waste stream.
Cravendale said it used the white masterbatch pigment in its milk bottles to protect its milk from prolonged visible light, which can cause an off-note in milk from exposure to it.
Whitehead remained unconvinced: I cant believe a white milk bottle is so commercially important that they can set up a separate system for it to be recycled. It creates a much more complex stream than would be otherwise necessary. The right way forward is to put milk in clear bottles.
Owner of recycled food grade HDPE plant Greenstar Wes managing director James Donaldson said white bottles are reprocessed without problem: We put a fair amount of [white bottles] in to be reprocessed. In the sorting process, because of the pigment, they can get rejected [by the machines] more than we would like but wed use more if we could get more.