Retro milk float brings Londoners zero-plastic groceries

By Agency

Founder of Topup Truck, Shone (right) serving a customer from her electric milk float converted into a zero waste shop, which brings "packaging-free" shopping to people's doors, in east London. Photo: AFP

Ella Shone's small electric truck used to deliver milk but now she drives it around London, selling groceries and household goods that are free of plastic packaging.

The 32-year-old bought her "top-up truck" last year after the first coronavirus lockdown got her thinking about innovative ways to reduce waste.

She has found plenty of demand for her service, with customers scooping up dry groceries such as lentils or filling bottles from large dispensers of vinegar or washing detergent.

On a rainy day in May, Shone plied a route to eight stops in the up-and-coming district of Hackney in northeast London.

"It's very straightforward; it's a bit like a go-cart ride," she said of driving the truck, which has a top speed of 48km per hour.

But she admitted the steering can get "a bit bumpy".

At one stop, three customers bought dried mango, pasta, raisins and shampoo.

The mobile shop was created to bring "packaging-free" shopping to people's doors, tapping into a growing demand for deliveries during the stay-at-home restrictions.

"I felt that there was a need to make it easier, to make it more accessible, more visible," she said.

Nevertheless, she wasn't immediately sure her idea was viable.

"When I started this, I thought I'd gone a bit mad on furlough leave," she admitted.

During lockdown, Shone was on government-subsidised leave from her job in sales at a company producing sustainable condiments.

She decided to buy the truck with the money she saved during lockdown, wanting to offer a "community shopping experience".

The truck deliveries launched August last year and customers can book a stop online.

The electric vehicles – known commonly as milk floats – were once commonly used by milkmen and women to deliver pint bottles of fresh milk on household doorsteps.

Customers returned them for reuse and Shone says her truck prompts a "nostalgic" reaction.

But she is responding to very current concerns over plastic packaging, which disintegrates over time, creating ubiquitous microplastic pollution.

Activism targeting governments and corporations can help, she said, but added: "I think there's a lot that needs to be done at consumer level."

Pandemic 'awakening'

Britain is the world's second biggest producer of plastic waste per person behind the United States, according to Greenpeace.

A study published in January by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency found that the 10 largest supermarket chains in Britain reduced their use of plastic by just 1.6% in 2019, despite promises of change.

Shone is nevertheless optimistic about people's motivation to cut down on wasteful packaging.

"During the pandemic, there has been a bit of a step back towards single-use (plastic) just because people are fearful of reusing something that might entail passing on Covid-19," she said.

"But against that tide, I think there has been a bit of an awakening in terms of our responsibility towards the environment."

In April, she raised £15,000 (RM87,765) through a crowd-funding campaign, which allowed her to add more shelves to her float. She has also left her previous job.

Ultimately, Shone would like to see a ban on single-use plastic packaging.

"There are so many areas where plastic is completely unnecessary and the government is not putting regulations on what corporations are allowed to do," she said.

"And the recycling infrastructure is quite terrible as well." – AFP Relaxnews

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