Milk crates are earth friendly. The plastic milk crate is the only secondary packaging needed for milk delivery. No cardboard or plastic wrap is used. The crates are made of HDPE plastic resin, which is one of the most prized plastics in the recycling industry.
Plastic milk crates stand up to extreme temperatures, take abuse and last years and years before they need to be recycled into new crates. Some have lasted more than 30 years, each carrying hundreds of thousands of milk containers to stores.
But every time someone takes an empty milk crate, a replacement crate must be manufactured. This means four pounds of plastic resin must be created, molded and shipped. This produces green house gases that would not have occurred if the crate had not been diverted from its mission. Each crate costs approximately $4. The dairy industry is losing almost 20 million crates per year, the equivalent of approximately 1.34 billion plastic water bottles (12 to 16 oz.).
When a plastic milk crate is at the end of its life-cycle, dairy companies send them back to the crate manufacturer so that its plastic can be reused to make new crates.
Most milk crates disappear because of outright criminal theft, not misuse. These criminals steal virtually anything they can get their hands on and sell it for scrap. In some cases, organized criminal enterprises are being formed.
However, the majority of plastic milk crates taken by usually law-abiding citizens wind up discarded after they are no longer needed. These crates wind up in landfills, in the woods or along riverbeds.