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The plastic milk bottle is the most used item of packaging in the UK – with approximately four billion purchased every year. In November 2012, it reaches an important milestone, with the 30th anniversary of the four pint bottle, the last time a major change in the design of milk packaging took place.
Prior to this point, the way in which milk is contained and delivered has been an ever changing phenomenon over the last two hundred years. From the milk pail to the glass bottle in the 1800s, to the invention of the plastic milk bottle in 1964 in response to society’s new preference for disposability.
After that, changes in consumer and environmental trends led to the introduction of the cardboard milk carton, and the one-, two- and four-pint plastic bottle in 1982.
Since then, however, there has been very little development in milk packaging, but that’s all about to change.
Increasing pressure on retailers to cut waste, through initiatives such as the Courtauld Commitment, and on the whole milk supply chain to reduce its carbon footprint through the Dairy Roadmap, mean that a new plastic bottle – right for the 21st century - is required.
As the leading manufacturer of plastic milk bottles in the UK, it’s a challenge that Nampak has relished. We’ve been on a four-year journey and have come up with Infini: a plastic bottle that is lighter and more environmentally friendly, but doesn’t compromise on its strength. Put simply, it’s a paradigm shift for the industry.
Throughout the development process, we faced huge challenges. In the past, lightweighting has been achieved by simply using less material, but there is a limit to how thin the walls can be and for the bottle to still be fit-for-purpose. Extensive research and testing was conducted, and innovative design changes were made with a particular focus on minimising stretching by bringing corners closer together.
The result is a bottle that contains up to 25 percent less plastic than the standard design and uses up to 15 percent recycled material. Crucially, if Infini was widely adopted and replaced the current standard bottle, we would have a material reduction of approximately 16,000 tonnes per year and an impressive carbon saving of up to 34,000 tonnes per year.
Another essential part of the development strategy was to improve the overall customer experience. To achieve this, we decided to move the handle to the corner of the bottle, rather than keeping it at the side, giving easier access when removing from the fridge.
The results of independent consumer research shows that 75 percent of people questioned preferred Infini to the current standard bottle, particularly when made aware of its carbon saving potential. In essence, it does the job it’s designed to do, and does it fantastically well.
At present, over one million Infini four-pint bottles are being supplied each week into all Marks & Spencer stores in England and Wales, as well as Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s outlets in the South East.
But this success is just the beginning. As the dairy industry continues to build its environmental credentials while still giving consumers what they want, Infini will play an increasingly important role.