From the Mountains to the Sea




Two recent headlines show how bad plastic pollution has become. Treehugger, whose motto is “Sustainability for All” published in its November 23, 2020 e-newsletter a story, “Microplastics Found Near the Top of Mount Everest”. Another article in the New York Times, published on November 19, 2020, tells a similar story, with a different geography, “These Items In Your Home are Harming America’s Sea Animals”.

The first article discusses what researchers found when analyzing snow samples on the path to the peak of Mount Everest,

 It makes sense that the highest concentrations were found around Base Camp where hikers spend the most time. But researchers also found microplastics just below the summit — as high as 8,400 meters (27,690 feet) above sea level.

The scientists believe that the tiny plastic particles come from the equipment climbers use and then dispose of on the mountain.

The New York Times article focuses on the more well-known effect of plastics in the ocean on sea life. This includes plastics found in the bellies of whales and sea birds, and straws caught in the nostrils of sea turtles. There is plenty of evidence of harm, but more research is needed to determine the extent of the damage to sea life. And by now, most of us are familiar with the

Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating island of 1.6 million square kilometers in the North Pacific.

The Milkman Returns (and Milkwoman too)

While growing up on the East Coast I remember getting milk delivered every week by the Thompson Milk Company. The milk came in bottles and there must have been a lot of them—I have 5 siblings. The delivery man wore a white shirt, a bow tie, and a cap that looked like ones the police used to wear. And the milk in the bottles had cream at the top! This before low fat, skim, one percent or two percent. On the day the delivery came, we always filled the wooden crate with empty bottles for the delivery person to take back.

(We also received a reusable bin of potato chips from the Charles Chips Company. But it did have a plastic inner liner.)

It seems like this is something you’d find only in a Norman Rockwell painting, but reusable milk containers and other reusable items are making a comeback.

Closing the Loop with Reusable Containers

Reusable packaging services like Loop send you household items, ice cream, and other food and drink in reusable containers. It comes in a tote bag that is delivered and picked up on your doorstep. (You can also drop it off at UPS.) You pay a 100% returnable deposit for the containers. It may be more expensive than the old products in throwaway containers. For example, you’d pay $18 and a $2.50 deposit for a 17-ounce container of Himalayan Salt Soak. Hopefully, as reusable containers become the rule rather than the exception, prices will come down. I don’t remember if the Thompson Milk Company charged more for their milk delivery than we paid at the A&P.

Vessel is a similar service with locations so far in Berkeley and Boulder, Colorado.  The company delivers stainless steel cups for free to restaurants and their customers. You return the cups at drop off kiosks and only pay if you lose a cup.

Mighty Market in Martinez describes itself as a “… women owned and sister owned zero waste + clean beauty shop and refill station.” Their prices are pretty darn reasonable.

Harvest House has a brick-and-mortar store in Concord but delivers to Brentwood, Walnut Creek, and Danville. They sell bulk food items, cosmetics, and health supplements.

Dispatch Goods works with restaurants in San Francisco (and soon, Alameda). You order your food from the restaurant of your choice, pick up your food in reusable containers, text a number printed on the bag, and they will pick up the containers at your home. Besides the cost of the food, you only pay a delivery fee and a monthly membership of $15.

Finally, another option is recycling with TerraCycle. The service is available in 21 countries and they claim to “recycle everything.” They recycle items that are not normally recycled through municipal recycling programs. Ever since China stopped accepting literally boatloads of plastic and other recyclables from the United States, much of what we place in the blue containers ends up in a landfill. But that is a topic for another article.

So during this shelter at home holiday season, maybe toast family and friends near and far with a stainless-steel cup!

(Photo by Gina Jie Sam Foek on Unsplash)


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  • Good to know! Also, you can return Strauss milk bottles back to Whole Foods for reuse and a refund. Their milk still has the cream on top!
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