How milk doorstep deliveries could help in the fight against plastic waste

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 October 2018

Bottled milk from Tootles Farm is still very popular

Bottled milk from Tootles Farm is still very popular


Milk deliveries are making a comeback and its partly thanks to environmental concerns about plastic containers.

Chris Rowland and sister Stephanie on a delivery runChris Rowland and sister Stephanie on a delivery run

Forty years ago, almost everyone had their milk delivered by a milkman. It was an iconic part of British life and comedian Benny Hill even had a Top Ten hit with his song about ‘Ernie: The Fastest Milkman in the West’. But fierce competition from the supermarkets meant that milk floats – fast and slow – became a rare sight.

That is all about to change though, as the milkman – and woman – is making a comeback. For the family which has owned and run Mawdesley based Rowland’s dairy for decades, the milkman never quite went away. ‘We have been in this area since the 1920s and we do everything ourselves – from milking our herd of 180 black and white Holsteins to pasteurising, bottling and, of course, delivering,’ says Shelia Rowland, whose father founded the dairy and who still runs it with her children and grandchildren, as well as a small team of dedicated staff.

The Rowland family believe there are several reasons for the renaissance – including the fact that people want to know exactly where their food has come from and Rowlands can trace their milk every step from the field to the doorstep. Another major factor is that many people are searching for ways to reduce their use of plastic.

‘There has been a huge amount of publicity about the damage that plastic bottles are causing both to the environment and to wildlife. That doesn’t happen with the traditional glass bottle in which we deliver milk. Switching to glass is an easy way for us all to do our bit,’ says Shelia’s daughter, Stephanie.

Marcus Rowland guiding cattle accross the road at Tootles FarmMarcus Rowland guiding cattle accross the road at Tootles Farm

‘Customers only have to give them a quick rinse and put them back on the doorstep as we sterilise them here at the dairy, so they can be safely re-used. Mind you, the old age problem of birds fancying a quick drop hasn’t gone away although a tile or cup over the top usually does the trick.’

The family’s herd produces 6,000 litres a day, which means that they can run eight different doorstep rounds, as well as supplying local shops and other milkmen who don’t have a herd.

‘Milk is usually on the doorstep between 2.30am and 6.30am so one change we are seeing is a rise in milk women, as the hours can suit those with families,’ says Stephanie, who only drinks full fat milk.

‘I’m not on my own in that. It is becoming ever more popular and, anyway, it is the only milk to make custard with! We do supply semi-skimmed and skimmed too. Semi is probably the most popular but tea aficionados like skimmed as it doesn’t detract from the flavour.’

Sheila Rowland with her family, Marcus, Stephanie Turner, Chris and NeilSheila Rowland with her family, Marcus, Stephanie Turner, Chris and Neil

Milk delivery men and woman can also be an important part of the community. ‘We will notice if bottles haven’t been taken in and this has led to us fetching the doctor for someone who may be unwell. Sometimes, we are the only ones about early in the morning and we have rescued people from broken down cars, climbed through windows for people who have locked themselves out, returned home those who have been drinking something stronger than milk and, on one memorable occasion, rescued a family from a burning house,’ says Stephanie, who has also rounded up stray dogs – and even some runaway hamsters – to be collected later from the dairy.

For a heritage dairy like Rowland’s some things never change, like the annual spring turn out of cattle onto the fields.

‘This used to be a big event in rural communities with neighbours coming along to watch. It really announced the coming of spring. It still happens but today, with the rise of social media, people tune in to it from it from all over the country. We have over 1,000 followers and many of them have their own particular favourite cow. All our cows have names – they are part of our family, after all, and we try to name a grand-daughter after a grandmother. That said, we did very recently break that tradition,’ says Stephanie.

That was because on the day of the recent royal wedding, a very exciting event was happening at Rowland’s – one of the cows was giving birth and, just as the Duchess of Sussex was saying her vows, out popped a healthy female calf. Twitter and Facebook went wild, with calls for it to be named after the Duchess. The Rowlands obliged and the picture of Meghan the calf went viral.

Nice little churner

Dairy UK, the organisation which represents the milk industry, said doorstep deliveries of glass bottles were now around one million per day. Just two years ago the figure was estimated to be nearer 800,000.

Back in the mid 1970s more than 90 per cent of milk was put into glass bottles, but that had fallen to under three per cent by 2016. Despite a redction in sales of cows’ milk, the market for glass bottles appears to be holding steady, and even slightly increasing. With the government promising legislation to reduce the amount of plastic in circulation, that rise is expected to accelerate.

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