Cartoned milk set to be ditched by Edinburgh school in a bid to cut waste

Cartoned milk is set to be ditched by a city primary school for pupils’ mid-morning break as part of a bid to drive down waste.

By Donald Turvill
Monday, 21st February 2022, 4:43 pm
Free school milk was ended by Margaret Thatcher in 1971
Free school milk was ended by Margaret Thatcher in 1971

St Andrews Primary has volunteered to take part in a pilot scheme which, if approved, would see a milk dispenser installed in the school for pupils to use.

The scheme may struggle for support however, with a report revealing that rolling it out city-wide would cost up to £113,000 more per year on the delivery of milk in schools – as well as a one-off payment of £40,000 for reusable cups – with parents potentially footing the bill.

Edinburgh City Council also warned that a move towards using milk dispensers in schools could lead to a reduction in uptake, as some pupils prefer “aesthetically pleasing, paper cartons”.

Green Party councillor Steve Burgess asked the city council to investigate the feasibility of following a scheme in East Ayrshire where primary schools introduced organic milk along with a reduction in single-use plastic containers.

Currently in the final year of a four-year contract with Müller, the council buys non-organic, semi-skimmed Scottish milk in 189 millilitre recyclable cartons for nursery and primary 1-3 pupils to drink during mid-morning break.

A report to councillors states that the “key difference” between organic farming and standard farming is “the use of natural fertilizers instead of chemical fertilizers”.

“Müller confirm that all of the milk provided comes from Scottish farms and that their policy is not to milk any livestock undertaking antibiotic treatment for the period of the treatment,” it adds.

It’s estimated switching to cartonless organic milk would cost the council between £83k and £113k more each year – an increase which would be “passed on to parents” if not addressed as part of budget setting.

Providing reusable cups for pupils is priced at around £40,000, with an annual budget required for replacement cups, whilst the milk dispensers cost £525 each.

The council says the existing packaging is “100 per cent recyclable” and that replacing plastic straws on cartons with paper straws “has equated overall to removal of 48 tonnes of plastic already”.

Furthermore, it adds there is currently “inconclusive evidence” to support the argument that organic milk is healthier and better for a child’s development than standard milk.

Council officers made contact with Stirling Council which previously switched milk delivery in schools from cartons to two litre jugs and reusable cups.

Following this move, consumption reportedly dropped significantly, with nearly a third less pupils taking break time milk because “children were no longer responsible for the amount of milk they consumed” and it wasn’t available to them “in aesthetically pleasing, paper cartons filled to the correct amount with a paper straw provided for drinking”.

Although most schools said they felt the idea was “not currently feasible” due to staffing pressures, the council received an enthusiastic response from St Andrews Primary, which has volunteered to take part in a pilot scheme.

Staff indicated their focus is on reducing waste rather than the introduction of organic milk.

If agreed by councillors at the Policy and Sustainability Committee on Tuesday, February 22, the school will trial the use of milk pergals and reusable cups between Easter and Summer.