The memorable clink of glass milk bottles in the fridge is making a comeback as customer demand for reusable and sustainable food packaging grows.
Organic dairy producer Simon Schulz began selling milk in reusable glass bottles last October amid calls from his regular “warrior” customers at weekend farmers’ markets.
While he originally envisioned only selling around 30 to 40 bottles a week, demand has outstripped supply and Mr Schulz now produces up to 400 bottles a week.
“Farmers’ markets are a testing ground for me,” Mr Schulz said.
“I think people are sick of seeing in the media and in the environment all this waste, so I think they’re moving towards more sustainable packaging.”
Mr Schulz said people were now lining up to buy the bottles from the family-run dairy based in Timboon, south-west Victoria.
Demand spurned by recycling crisis
Mr Schulz said he noticed a significant increase in interest for his range of glass milk bottles after China implemented a ban on 24 types of solid waste, disrupting the export of more than 600,000 tonnes of recycling material out of Australia each year.
Since then, recycling company Visy has stopped accepting kerbside recyclable waste from 22 regional councils, throwing Victoria’s waste management industry into uncertainty.
“We already do so much for the sustainability of the farm and the environment here on site but the one thing we weren’t tackling was the sustainability on the waste and packaging,” Mr Schulz said.
“Since the announcement we’ve had a huge influx of customers interested in our sustainable packaging, which is scary.”
Once they’ve finished with it, customers return the milk bottles to Mr Schulz at various farmers’ market stalls.
The bottles are cleaned, filled with milk and labelled by hand but Mr Schulz said he planned to automate the process and reach an even larger customer base.
“We’re gearing up to potentially do up to 10,000 bottles a week, which would save around 500 kilos of plastic a week.”
“There’s still huge demand from retailers now for wanting us to get the glass bottles to them and not just the farmers’ markets.”
One of Mr Schulz’s regular customers, Max, said the reusable glass milk bottles fostered a closer relationship between consumers and farmers.
“We used to buy the plastic and put it in the recycling like everybody should and there’s always that element of you never really know where it’s ending up. Is it being recycled properly?” Max said.
“Literally here I can see the glass bottles coming back, you know they’re going to the farm and being cleaned and refilled and bought back, so it really is closing that loop.
“It’s also that lovely kind of retro thing about opening the top and having the cream on top.”