The UK’s biggest doorstep milk delivery service, Milk & More, is aiming to use 500,000 fewer bottles a year by tweaking its systems so that each one can be reused 15% more, as glass prices soar.
The milk float operator is working with its supplier to source more durable bottles and has adjusted its machinery to reduce contact between the bottles and the side of the filling lines to reduce damage.
It is also installing scanners that can identify bottles reaching the end of their life – when tiny cracks in the surface render them cloudy – so that these can be pulled out individually rather than bottles being replaced en masse after a set period of time.
Patrick Müller, the chief executive, said Milk & More, which sells more than a million litres of dairy and dairy alternative milks a week, was also urging customers to return more bottles to ensure they could be reused.
The changes come as the cost of glass bottles have more than doubled in recent years, with availability restricted amid a global demand from manufacturers driven by consumers’ desire to avoid plastic and a return to normal trading as pandemic restrictions have unwound.
While the UK’s glassmaking industry has said there is no shortage of bottles in Britain, makers across Europe are finding it tough to keep pace with demand, having scaled back production in the past when many drink makers switched to lighter and cheaper plastic.
The rise in glass prices comes on top of a 72% increase in the price of milk, while renewable electricity, used to power 40% of the group’s fleet or 500 vehicles, has tripled in price.
Müller said customer numbers were holding steady at about 350,000, although that is down on the height of the coronavirus when figures hit more than 400,000 as households sought home deliveries in an effort to avoid crowded shops.
While some shoppers have gone back to the supermarkets, Müller said new customers were attracted by a desire for more sustainable ways of buying goods, including using less plastic.
Milk & More now sells laundry liquid, shampoo and other household essentials in refillable glass bottles as well as dry foods such as cereal, sugar and pasta in refillable tubs, which are dropped off and picked up from the doorstep.