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Phil Storer, director at Pooling Partners, argues more people should ‘have the bottle’ to drive packaging change for the final mile

We all watched Blue Planet 2 with a sense of awe and horror as beautiful sea creatures struggled to survive under a growing tide of suffocating plastic waste dumped into our oceans.

What happened to our once Green Planet? Can we ever imagine a world where products are home delivered in re-usable packaging on the back of re-chargeable electric vehicles producing zero-waste or emissions?

Here, I could be looking to the future in a post-plastic nirvana. But no, I’m looking back to the 1970s when 98 per cent of milk arrived on our doorstep in re-usable glass bottles delivered on electric floats.

Daily empties, left outside by the householder, were collected at the same time, heat-washed and back on the doorsteps the following day. Allowing for breakages, each pint could be re-used 25 times before being ultimately recycled into new bottles.

But, by 2012, only four per cent of milk still arrived this way. It was believed that the model was less economic than plastic, purchased in bulk from the supermarket.

How times change. If we could not afford to sustain this then, can we afford not to now?

Inspired by Blue Planet, a new generation of consumers – the so-called Millennium Generation’ – are going back to the future.

In London, milkmen and women are making a comeback as mainly younger customers are prepared to pay a little more for glass bottle deliveries.

This is supported by the figures. UK-wide company milk&more has gained more than 2,500 new customers since Blue Planet 2 was screened in January and industry-wide figures suggest a three per cent increase in milk deliveries which equates to one million pints per day.

Parker Dairies, in East London, which has a fleet of 25 electric milk floats, has gained almost 400 new customers since the beginning of the year – an extra 1,800 pints per week.

Consumer-power, spurred on by shocking images, has resulted in the demonisation of plastic in the same way that diesel has become the corporate and carbon-intensive bête noire.

This means supermarkets are now under pressure to find re-usable alternatives.  Iceland has already pledged to replace plastic packaging on its own brand products with more environmentally-friendly alternatives by 2023 and a Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza has just opened the world’s first plastic-free shopping aisles, an aspiration of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

As a manufacturer and pooler of sustainable wooden pallets to the circular economy, we are all-too-familiar with this ongoing debate, which is why we coined the phrase ECOnomics in the first instance. This is a reference to the fact that what goes around, comes around and just because a packaging is environmentally-friendly, it does not necessarily mean that it is going to be more expensive in the short or longer term.

What is clear is the clear-up of non-recyclable plastic will be expensive, as will the search for alternatives, but those who find the environmentally-friendly alternatives will be those brands who put corporate social responsibility at the forefront of what they do.

These are the companies with one eye on the bottom line, but the other firmly on their brand reputation. And, who knows, we may all once again be woken from our waste nightmare by the gentle clink of glass deliveries on our doorsteps.