The Return of the Milkman

David Trammel's picture

Since China recently decided to close its borders to Western World trash, there has been a bigger and bigger realization that the way we recycle isn't working. Those stuff you put in the bins you set on the curb often just ends up at an incinerator to be burned. In this article I read today about the waste crisis, an interesting side note stood out.

'Plastic recycling is a myth': what really happens to your rubbish?

"Perhaps there is an alternative. Since Blue Planet II brought the plastic crisis to our attention, a dying trade is having a resurgence in Britain: the milkman. More of us are choosing to have milk bottles delivered, collected and re-used. Similar models are springing up: zero-waste shops that require you to bring your own containers; the boom in refillable cups and bottles. It is as if we have remembered that the old environmental slogan “Reduce, re-use, recycle” wasn’t only catchy, but listed in order of preference.

Tom Szaky wants to apply the milkman model to almost everything you buy. The bearded, shaggy-haired Hungarian-Canadian is a veteran of the waste industry: he founded his first recycling startup as a student at Princeton, selling worm-based fertiliser out of re-used bottles. That company, TerraCycle, is now a recycling giant, with operations in 21 countries. In 2017, TerraCycle worked with Head & Shoulders on a shampoo bottle made from recycled ocean plastics. The product launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos and was an immediate hit. Proctor & Gamble, which makes Head & Shoulders, was keen to know what was next, so Szaky pitched something far more ambitious.

The result is Loop, which launched trials in France and the US this spring and will arrive in Britain this winter. It offers a variety of household products – from manufacturers including P&G, Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola – in reusable packaging. The items are available online or through exclusive retailers. Customers pay a small deposit, and the used containers are eventually collected by a courier or dropped off in store (Walgreens in the US, Tesco in the UK), washed, and sent back to the producer to be refilled. “Loop is a not a product company; it’s a waste management company,” says Szaky. “We’re just looking at waste before it begins.”


I know that some of the more upscale grocery stores, like Trader Joe's, will allow you to bring in your own containers and use them for bulk items. Mason Jars now have their unfilled weight imprinted on the glass. This got me thinking about what I consume on a regular basis and how i could cut down on my trash. I volunteer at a local animal shelter here in St Louis, and as part of my duties go to a nearby pet supplies store where we have 4 rescued cats in display cages up for adoption. On my way home, I often stop at a ice cream store for a smoothie to drink. I think starting soon, I will take a reusable container and ask them to put my smoothie in it, instead of a disposable plastic cup.

Every little bit does help...

We do a lot of bulk buying. Clean, well-washed peanut butter jars work really well (my husband eats a LOT of peanut butter).
The clear plastic jars are free and have properly sealing, screw-top lids.

Canning jars work well too, right up until the moment you drop them and they shatter.

Teresa from Hershey