Alberta Dairy Council Milk Container Recycling Program

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why can't I leave the caps on the jugs?

Milk jugs are made from high-density polyethylene plastic (HDPE #2), which is one of the most valuable plastics for recycling purposes. The milk jug caps may be made from a different type of plastic, which cannot be recycled with the milk jug. Also, the caps are colored and the milk jugs are clear - if the caps are left on they contaminate and reduce the value of the clear plastic for recycling purposes.

2. Why should I crush milk jugs and cartons before placing them in the recycling bins?

Milk containers are very bulky and take up a lot of volume with very little weight. By squashing each container, more containers, and therefore more weight, will fit into the recycling bin - this reduces program costs. Crushing your milk containers will also require less storage space in your home, blue box/bag.

3. Why can't I get a deposit back on the milk container?

The Milk Container Recycling Program is a voluntary program which simply means that there is no deposit paid on the milk container at time of purchase. A voluntary or non-deposit program keeps costs down for both the consumer and the dairy industry. Alberta Municipalities and the Alberta Dairy Council have initiated this voluntary program with support from Alberta Environment.

4. Who pays for the program?

The program is funded through fees paid on sales of milk containers. Under the Memorandum of Understanding between the Alberta Dairy Council and the Government of Alberta, the fees are applied at a rate of 2¢ per 4-litre plastic milk jug and 1¢ per two- litre plastic jug, two-litre carton and one-litre carton sold in the province. Revenue from the fees is deposited into a dedicated Container Recycling Fund, which forms the program's budget.

In 2002, many retail vendors began showing the recycling fees separately on their till tapes. This enables Alberta consumers to identify the fees they pay on their milk purchases.

5. Why don't you just put the milk containers into the deposit program?

Consumer surveys indicate that Albertans consider milk an essential food, and are concerned about keeping it affordable for consumers. The most cost-effective way to recycle milk containers is through a voluntary program. The deposit/refund system is a higher-cost system, which would result in consumers paying higher prices for milk. Depending on the container, the ecology fees charged under a deposit program could amount to more than the 1 or 2 cents currently being paid under the voluntary plastic milk jug recycling program, in addition to the deposit itself.

6. Why should I take my containers to a recycling center if I do not receive any money for them?

Recycling milk containers helps extend the life of Alberta's landfill, and reduces the costs of solid waste collection, transportation and landfill operation, thereby saving your municipal tax dollars. Recycling also reduces the consumption of hydrocarbon and fibre resources as well as the energy that would otherwise be required to produce new plastic and paperboard. The Milk Container Recycling Program allows you to recycle empty milk containers conveniently, along with other recyclables such as newspapers, cardboard, soup cans, etc., within your community programs.

7. Can I recycle all sizes of plastic milk jugs and cardboard milk cartons?

Yes, all sizes of plastic milk jugs and cardboard milk cartons are included in the program.

8. Why are other plastic jugs and bottles of similar plastic (HDPE #2) not accepted into this program?

There is a cost to recycle. In this program, Alberta Dairy Processors of fluid milk products financially support the Milk Container Recycling Program. This is what is meant by Industry Stewardship - being responsible for the waste that is generated as a result of a product being sold to the consumer. It would be unfair to expect the Alberta Diary Council to pay for recycling a container that did not hold its product.

9. How does this program support municipal recycling?

Plastic milk jugs are the corner-stone of municipal plastic recycling. They are the largest volume and the most valuable plastic that municipalities recycle. The Milk Container Recycling Program supports municipal plastic recycling by addressing the chronic problems of high collection costs and fluctuating market price. The program will stabilize the plastic recycling market and lead to the expansion of municipal plastic recycling.

10. How many milk containers does it take to make one tonne?

It takes approximately 16,000 four litre milk jugs and approximately 15,500 2 litre milk cartons to make one tonne. This is very efficient milk packaging with each 4 litre container weighing only 60 grams.

11. What happens to the plastic milk jugs that are collected and delivered to a plastic recycler?

The plastic milk jugs replace some of the new plastic used in the manufacture of many new plastic products. In Alberta there are several plastic recycling facilities that convert scrap milk jugs back into usable plastic. Plastic from recycled milk jugs is used in the manufacture such items as: plastic pipe; drainage tile, flower pots, plastic dimensional lumber used to build picnic tables, patio furniture or decks; and in non-food packaging, such as plastic detergent bottles and lubricating oil pails.

12. What happens to the used milk cartons that are collected for recycling?

Milk cartons are 'hydrapulped' to recover the valuable paper fibre from which they're made. Hydrapulping is a process of soaking, heating, and agitating the used cartons in a giant blender (pulper). The resulting fibre can be used to make a variety of new paper products from cardboard boxes to fine tissue paper.

13. Why are the top-up payments different for plastic jugs and paper cartons?

Top-up payments are designed to stabilize the returns Recycling Authorities receive for the material they collect by guaranteeing prices for HDPE and polycoat. The guaranteed (or ‘target’) prices are set in relation to recent market prices for the materials. The HDPE and polycoat markets are very different, with prices reflecting the laws of supply and demand. Historically, HDPE prices have been significantly higher than polycoat prices.

14. Why do some Recycling Authorities collect both jugs and cartons, while other collect only jugs?

Plastic milk jug recycling is a more 'mature' industry, in part because market demand for HDPE has been stronger than demand for polycoat. Under the milk container recycling program, decisions about what materials will be collected are left to the Recycling Authorities (although the program tries to make it as attractive as possible to collect both material streams). When the program stated supporting polycoat recycling in 2002, only four Alberta communities were collecting cartons; now, it's well over 100, but it will take some time for the municipal collection infrastructure to accommodate cartons at the same level as jugs.

15. How does this program benefit the environment?

Each year tonnes of garbage are hauled to municipal landfills. There are approximately 16,000 four litre milk jugs in one tonne. It takes 2,640 full four litre milk jugs to fill one 40 foot semi-trailer. In their original state, one tonne of milk jugs would fill just over six 40 foot semi trailers. It is worthwhile to divert such bulky materials from the landfill. Recycling also reduces the consumption of hydrocarbon resources and the energy that would otherwise be required to produce new plastic.

Municipalities or designated recycling centres are guaranteed to receive $400 per tonne for each tonne of milk jugs they recycle. This guarantee of a specific dollar amount for recycling helps municipalities or designated recycling centres plan and implement a plastic milk jug recycling program, and helps offset the cost to recycle the milk jugs.