GLASS milk bottles might not be the best replacement for the thousands of plastic ones which are delivered to Carmarthenshire’s schools every week, according to a senior councillor.
Education portfolio holder Councillor Glynog Davies told a meeting of full council that glass bottles required water, chemicals and energy to sterilise them and were heavier than plastic, which added to their carbon footprint.
He had been asked by Councillor Bill Thomas to give an update following a unanimously-approved council motion last July which called on the authority to look into using more glass milk bottles for primary schools.
Cllr Thomas said neighbouring Ceredigion Council had announced its schools were going to stop using 400,000 plastic milk bottles.
Cllr Davies said: “The end-to-end carbon footprint of glass versus plastic has not been fully assessed, but one study showed that glass performs worse overall.”
He also referred to a recent BBC article, which quoted recycling charity Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) as saying glass milk bottles needed to be used at least 20 times for them to be better environmentally than plastic – and that they are normally only used 18 times.
“It’s important for us to look at all the facts,” he said.
Cllr Davies said the authority was researching the alternatives ahead of August 2021, when the current school milk supply contract ended.
He said the supplier had confirmed it would not be able to provide glass bottles.
Cllr Davies said Ceredigion Council was looking into using milk dispensers, which hold about 24 pints each, at its larger schools.
Should Carmarthenshire go down the dispenser route, Cllr Davies said school staff would have to manage how much milk each child received – and also clean the dispensers and cups.
He said a key message emerging from discussions with Wrap was that “plastic is not necessarily the problem”.
He said: “More focus is needed on whether the plastic is made from recyclable material, or not.
“Further discussions would then be required with our current supplier with the possibility of a case study being carried out in Carmarthenshire.”
A spokeswoman for Wrap Cymru said understanding the materials products contain, their supply chain and logistics and what happens to them at the end of their use determined their environmental footprint.
She said the milk dispenser system combined with reusable plastic cups was “the best option in terms of both cost and greenhouse gas emissions” for Carmarthenshire Council.
Asked if plastic milk bottles were made of recyclable plastic, the spokeswoman said: “Milk bottles are made from a variety of materials, including glass, high density polyethylene and cardboard – some are even made from flexible packaging.
“Today the use of up to 30% recycled content in milk bottles produced in the UK is common.
“Organisations such as local authorities should ask their suppliers what materials they use in their packaging and what other options they may have available.
“They should also speak to their waste contractor to find out what is happening to the packaging once it is disposed of, so that as many materials as possible are recycled.”