Eddie from Our Cow Molly shows how a metal churn can reduce single-use plastic in cafes

Reducing single-use plastic milk bottles in university cafes

A new Grantham Centre project aims to drastically reduce single-use plastic in The University of Sheffield cafes.

Our Cow Molly – a local dairy that supplies all The University of Sheffield cafes with their milk – is partnering with the Grantham Centre to create a new milk delivery system between farm and cafe.

If successful, this project could revolutionise milk supply – not only at university cafes, but across the country.

Social media helps reduce single-use plastic in university cafes

Eddie from Our Cow Molly shows how churns can cut single use plastic
Eddie from Our Cow Molly at the first big meet up, shows off the churns that could replace plastic milk bottles in university cafes.

Twitter had a big part to play in the genesis of this project.

Eddie Andrew from Our Cow Molly saw #RedefiningSingleUse trending on Twitter during the first big meet up of the Plastics: Redefining Single-Use team.

Inspired by all the talk of reducing single-use plastic, Eddie came along to pitch a revolutionary idea.

‘For 71 years we’ve delivered milk in glass bottles, collected the empties to wash and reuse them,’ says Eddie. ‘At the heart of this project is the same concept – just with a larger container.

We are really looking forward to working on a project that could make a big difference.’

The idea: re-use instead of single-use

Eddie’s plan is to revolutionise the milk supply chain. Instead of plastic milk bottles, metal churns would transport milk from Our Cow Molly to The University of Sheffield (TUoS) cafes. This will dramatically reduce single-use plastic in TUoS cafes.

Universities are big consumers of milk – TUoS alone uses over 85,000 4 pint plastic bottles of milk every year. All these bottles, laid end-to-end, would reach from Sheffield to Manchester. In the current system at TUoS, bottles are used once and then are recycled or incinerated.

Switching to a reuse system, instead of single-use, is key to reducing the environmental impacts of the milk supply chain.

plastic milk bottles from Our Cow Molly
Thousands of single-use plastic milk bottles are used in the current system of milk delivery between farm and cafe.

Farmers and engineers work together to reduce single-use plastic

Indepth knowledge of farming practice and supply chains will be provided by Eddie and his team. This will be combined with expertise from our Associate Director Dr Racheal Rothman.

Racheal will provide life cycle analysis (LCA) – a vital part of this project. Joining her will be Dr Jonathan Howse, who has technical and polymer expertise.

Life cycle analysis to ensure a ‘greener’ milk supply

The team will develop a new supply chain that uses metal churns. They will then analyse the life cycle impact of this new supply chain. This will show the benefits and potential drawbacks of using metal churns over plastic bottles.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is central to making a success of projects like this. This is because LCA allows experts to fully analyse the merits of one alternative over another. Specifically, this prevents accidentally causing new problems when solving existing ones. This use of LCA also underpins our Plastics: Redefining Single-Use project.

If successful, this project with Our Cow Molly will provide a new, plastic-free way of delivering milk to cafes. This new system will help us to reduce single-use plastic in university cafes. Importantly, life cycle analysis will ensure this new system really will be ‘greener’.

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Words by Claire Moran