Sustainability Column: Bring Back the Milkman

Maggie Dunn, Maroon-News Staff

I know a good chunk of the people reading this weren’t alive back in the 50s when milkmen were around, but their system of distributing milk actually has a lot to teach us today. In fact, the milkmen system is part of what inspired a project called Loop to reduce plastic use. No, the idea behind Loop isn’t to hire men dressed in white suits to carry around metal crates of milk for people all day; it’s actually to rethink the way everyday products are distributed and discarded.

Some of the largest consumer goods companies such as Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Mars Petcare, PepsiCo, Burlap & Barrel Single Origin Spices and Reinberger Nut Butter, just to name a few, have invested in the project. UPS is in charge of primary logistics and transportation in the United States. The project is set to launch in New York City and Paris, then move into London in 2019, and finally Toronto, Tokyo and San Francisco in 2020.

Here’s how it works: you can go online and choose from about 300 food and hygiene products (the amount will expand later) to have delivered to you. UPS will deliver the products to you in a reusable Loop tote bag. The really cool part is the containers themselves; they are reusable and are made specially for the various products they will house with simple advertising meant to target and look appealing (especially to millennials). Nestle’s Häagen-Dazs brand is among the first to make the jump, along with other partners such as 

Pantene, Tide, Crest, Clorox, Oral-B, Gillette, Febreze, Dove, Degree and Hidden Valley Ranch. Once you’ve used up the product, you put it back in the tote bag and when the tote bag is full, UPS picks it up for free. Those containers are then cleaned, filled back up with the product, and sent out to consumers again.

Why is this so important? Our culture has become used to single-use items. Disposability has won in a part because it’s easy and affordable. Plastic has made containing and disposing products much easier because it’s cheap to make and useful for so many reasons. Who doesn’t love plastic? Here’s a hint: the Earth. Plastic is choking our oceans, killing animals that mistake it for food and crowding our landfills. Now that China has refused to continue to take our recycling, recycling efforts are no longer as effective, and in some areas, are nonexistent, making our collective garbage crisis loom larger.

The highest environmental cost of products is their creation. Even with the transportation and cleaning costs, Loop’s reuse has a lower environmental impact than regular manufacturing. The packaging is also important because now companies do not have to make the cheapest packaging possible; they can make efficient packaging that lasts longer and performs better. The Häagen-Dazs ice cream container, for example, can keep ice cream frozen for multiple hours whereas my ice cream containers start leak- ing everywhere within minutes if the freezer door is slightly cracked. The products themselves were also changed in order to make them recyclable. Toothpaste tubes are too difficult to clean, so Unilever came up with chewable toothpaste tablets. Not only do these tablets come in a reusable, zero-waste container, but they also use less water. The goal of Loop is to not only reduce plastic use, but more importantly to stop the single-use culture that today’s society has gotten so comfortable with. Because you don’t have to even rinse the container, Loop makes its system even easier than recycling. This strategy coupled with the other efforts these brands are making for sustainability should give smart, ethical, caring consumers even more of a reason to try it out. In order to make large changes such as this one, everybody needs to be willing to make adjustments to their lifestyle. Consumers need to step up, demand change and embrace opportunities such as Loop if we’re ever going to stop this monumental plastic and garbage problem.

Contact Maggie Dunn at [email protected].