At least once a week, the sound of gently clinking glass bottles woke most of Buckhead.
It wasn’t the late-night revelers of the old Buckhead bar scene coming home in the wee hours.
By the back door of most houses sat a wooden crate with a metal grate. Over the course of the week, homeowners filled it with empty bottles. On the appointed morning in the pre-dawn darkness, the Mathis dairyman drove up the driveway to the back of the house, took the old bottles and filled the crate with ice-cold bottles of fresh milk and chocolate milk.
I don’t recall hearing the truck, only the soft clinking of the glass bottles being switched out. It meant I had a few more minutes to sleep before I needed to be up for school. The dairyman was the world’s best alarm clock.
The bottles were beaded with condensation and chunks of ice floated in the milk. Perhaps enhanced through the prism of childhood, but I am yet to find a glass of chocolate milk as delicious.
As the world paused to celebrate Earth Day last week, I thought about Mathis milk and recycling those glass bottles, the emissions from the truck notwithstanding. As we think about ways to improve our environment, perhaps it is worth considering how we did things in the not-too-distant past.
Every week, we throw enormous empty laundry detergent jugs that are half the size of our kitchen recycling bin away along with all kinds of plastic receptacles. We carelessly toss them in the large blue bins each week, taking comfort they will be reused.
It is becoming more and more obvious they will not.
According to a recent “60 Minutes” report, a majority of that plastic ends up in landfills or in incinerators in Third World countries. Plastic is choking our oceans. Closer to home, the banks of the Chattahoochee River, after those recent heavy rains, are littered with plastic. It is overwhelming.
I don’t need a Proctor & Gamble man pulling up our driveway once a week to take the old laundry detergent jugs away and leave new ones, though I’d be fine with that.
There was permanence in the Mathis milk bottles. They were built to last, except when my friends and I decided to test out or new wrist rockets on a few that were left in the crate. A wrist rocket is an over-engineered slingshot. Made of metal with a strong rubber tube, it allowed the shooter to pull the band back the length of the arm, and it was accurate.
The main problem with such a toy is young boys run out of things to shoot: enter the empty milk bottles.
I imagine that’s one of the reasons companies favor plastic. Not because kids shot them with supped-up slingshots, but because you can drop, bump and generally handle a plastic bottle roughly and whatever is inside will be OK.
The same cannot be said of glass or ceramic, which will inevitably crack or break.
Plastic may not have the permanence of glass, but I’m pretty sure we can use many of those receptacles more than once.
My Earth Day thought is to return these plastic bottles to the companies that use them, and leave it to them to reuse them or determine whether they are no longer good enough for consumers. Even if they only reuse it once, it would have a significant impact, I imagine.
We would be more than happy to return the plastic to the grocery stores, and have them fill those delivery trucks with the empty containers so they can be reused by the same companies that filled them in the first place.
It seems to me we’d do a lot better to borrow some lessons from the past — like Mathis Dairy — to save our future.