Recycling milk jugs and repurposing tips

Milk is a staple in many households and a fridge without a jug, bottle or bag (depending on where you live) of milk is an uncommon sight in developed nations. According to Zenith International, global milk consumption in 2007 was around 242 billion litres; approximately 63 billion gallons.

Milk in glass reusable bottles is not as common these days, with glass having been replaced largely by paper cartons and plastic bottles – which translates to a lot of packaging.

Other issues with dairy products aside, these plastic milk jugs are churned out by the millions and are an environmental issue as so many of them enter the waste stream.

Milk jug plastic

The plastic used to make milk jugs is most commonly high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The good news is this is plastic resin code no.2 and as such, is “recyclable” (more on this below). The jugs can usually be placed in your kerbside recycling, but check with your local waste authorities first.

Milk jug recycling rates

I found it difficult to find accurate figures for the USA and other countries, but in Canada up until 2009, recovery of HDPE milk jugs varied from 38% to 63%. It’s my understanding that recovery rates have improved since last year when Canada introduced a deposit scheme whereby the return of milk jugs is financially rewarded.

Are milk jugs actually recycled?

No – in its strictest form, “recycling” means to use a discarded product to make more of the same product. However, the term has broadened over the years to represent most type of material reclamation. Milk jugs are actually upcycled or downcycled; i.e. made into different products, or repurposed. HDPE plastics cannot be used again for food-grade items.

Milk jugs are often downcycled into items such as plastic furnishings.

Milk jug repurposing tips

Aside from recycling, upcycling and downcycling, plastic milk jugs can be repurposed at home for a multitude of uses. Here’s a few ideas:

– Fly traps. Small flaps are cut in the side of the milk jug towards the top and bent outwards far enough to allow space for flies to crawl in. Water is placed in the bottom of the jug along with a smelly piece of bait, such as a small piece of rotting meat. The jug is then hung in a tree.

The flies are drawn by the smell, enter the bottle but cannot get out. When they tire, they drop into the pool and drown. The decaying flies then draw more flies.

– As a scoop. Place the milk jug on a flat surface with the handle side up and cut from just forward of the handle on a diagonal down to the base.

– As a funnel. Simply cut off the base of the milk jug and use inverted.

– Seed punnets. Cut a few inches from the base and poke a couple of holes in the base for drainage. Fill with potting mix or your preferred growth medium.

– Cut off the top and use the remainder as a kitchen bench top tidy or as a bin for collecting food scraps for use in your compost pile or worm farm.

– Use for storing dry grains such as rice and beans or even bird seed. The handle and spout makes for easy pouring.

– Cut off the bottom and use the top section as mini-greenhouse for seedlings.

– Fill with water and sand and use as weights to stop tarps from flying away in the wind, or as a doorstop.

– Fill 2/3 with water and freeze to use as freezer blocks for your icebox.

– Use for storing old motor oil until you can dispose of the oil properly.

– Cut off the bottom and use as a pet food or water bowl.

Of course, don’t forget to give the plastic milk jug a good rinse first before repurposing – water and baking soda will do the trick – and allow to dry thoroughly.

Have a handy tip for repurposing milk jugs? Please add your contributions below!