• Tim Wade

Plastics and how to stop using them – Bring Back the Milkman

The Milkman v Plastics

If the following is true… Plastics are destroying ocean life, clogging waterways, can’t go into landfill indefinitely, cost too much to recycle, and burning them buggers up the atmosphere.

Then the obvious solution is… Stop using plastics.

And in particular, stop using single-use plastics. These include soft drink bottles, milk bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic wrappers, and cardboard drink cartons. These cartons are lined with plastic. “Paper milk cartons are lined with two layers of polyethylene, inside and out. Many people are under the mistaken belief that these cartons are waxed. … The point is that if it’s made from paper these days, and it holds liquids, it’s generally going to be coated with plastic.” – Hidden Plastic » My Plastic-free Life.

But then…

How would we consume our soft-drinks, get our milk, carry our stuff, wrap stuff?


Look to the past and leverage the present to protect the future.

The Past

The milkman would deliver milk in glass bottles with aluminium foil lids. I remember this still happening in Australia in the early 80s. He’d do it in the cool of the early morning, leaving half a dozen bottles in a wire basket on our doorstep, and he’d collect the empty bottles we have washed and left out for him. He would take those bottles back, sterilise them, refill them with milk, and reuse them. Nothing ended up in the ocean or the air.

There would be milkbars (Australia) and soda fountains (USA). There people who needed a soft drink would go into a shop, order a drink, have it served in either a glass or a metal tumbler. They would drink it there and leave. The shop would wash the tumbler and use it again. Nothing ended up in the ocean or the air.

Fast food was served on porcelain plates with metal knives and forks. They would eat at the establishment and leave. The shop would wash the plate and utensils and use them again. A huge amount of paper, plastics and sauce wrappers didn’t go from counter to table to rubbish bin within 10 minutes. And nothing ended up in the ocean or the air.

People would carry their groceries in baskets or their own canvas bags. We’re getting better with this one. Slowly. But not everyone. And not everywhere. Legislation has changed habits where it has been enacted.

But it’s time to bring back a version of the milkman.

Why the milkman went out of business

The milkman did two key things: home delivery and re-used glass containers. He went out of business because the economics of single item home delivery lost out to the scale of supermarkets, and the economics of washing bottles lost out to the low cost of single use plastics.

The Present

Now home delivery is back and widely accepted, and perishables are kept cool throughout the delivery process. The economics have swung back to home delivery because of the internet making B2C easy without a physical shopfront or supermarket, saving the cost of supermarket real estate, and because of supply chain efficiencies consolidating multiple items from multiple vendors into a single delivery is already happening.

And because of doorstep deliveries, we can return milk bottles and other reusable packaging to the delivery person.

We can.

But we’re not… yet.

That’s because it still seems to cost too much to wash for re-use.

What we need to ask our governments to do

Unless governments and councils factor in the costs of cleaning up our parks, beaches, roadsides, and other common areas. And they add in the costs of collection and disposal, of garbage collection, of attempted sorting at recycling centres. Of recycling itself. Of cleaning up the oceans. Of a portion of lost tourism due to filth. Of a portion of public health costs and lost productivity due to poor health. Factor in these items. Make a case. See the bigger cost. Take action.

The public doesn’t see the problem. So they’re not calling on their government to take action. How can they see the problem? Create a Trashy Campaign. During it you could stop all cleaning and collection initiatives for a month. See what happens then. We need residents on autopilot to wake up and change their habits. They need to feel the problem. They might acquiesce after 2 weeks of stench and garbage piling up.

Then introduce the new way forward. Re-use over recycle.

Then introduce the ban on single use plastics and disposable fast food wrappings and containers. You’ll probably create a whole bunch of hygiene and washing jobs.

And divert funds and offer tax incentives for re-use initiatives. Like the creation of giant bottle sanitation and chipped bottle repair centres.

Next Step

As a reader, we could send this message to our ministers and councils, or start your own discussions locally. Because doing nothing solves nothing. #motivatepositivechange

And we could bring back the milkman. Upgraded. Milkman Prime.

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