CHECK THIS OUT: What Milly did to make the world a better place

Library columnist Avi Silberstein on the legacy of Milly Zantow

By Avi Silberstein

You’ve probably never heard of Milly Zantow. She was born on a farm in Oklahoma in 1923. She was the youngest of seven children. In 1978, she went to Japan to represent a bird conservation group she volunteered with.

During her trip, Milly noticed that each morning, people would go out to the street and place little bundles at the curb. And each morning, the bundle held something different. One day it was glass, another day paper, another day metal.

Soon, Milly came to understand that the Japanese were separating their waste and putting it out to be recycled. When she got back home, she went to her local landfill. She climbed to the top of the garbage pile, and watched truck after truck drive in and dump their load. There was a lot of plastic in that landfill — and Milly knew that the plastic would stay there for a very long time.

Milly knew she had to do something.

Now, I didn’t know about Milly until I read a children’s book that arrived at our library a few years ago. It’s called What Milly Did by Elise Moser. It’s one of many children’s books at our library that deal with environmental issues.

We’ve got the classics (The Lorax), the inspirational (What Matters), the factual (What Does It Mean to Be Green?), the alphabetical (S is for Save the Planet: A How-to-be Green Alphabet), the educational (Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint), and the fanciful (Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day).

If all of this is in your wheelhouse, then you’ll definitely want to come to the library on Thursday, Feb. 20 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., for the latest meeting of our West Kootenay EcoSociety Book Club. Local environmental organizer Alyssa Taburiaux will be leading a discussion on picture books that inspire children to care for the environment. No need to read anything in advance, but feel free to bring a favourite book for show and tell!

This is the library’s latest book club partnership — previously, we’ve worked with Amnesty International and the Kootenay Co-op. And in the near future we’ll be collaborating with a program called From the Heart: Youth Futures — Truth, Resurgence, and Reconciliation to host a book club that will explore fiction and non-fiction works by Indigenous authors.

The way we see it, a library should be a place where you can learn — but also a place where you can make connections, and dive deep into issues that matter. Which brings us back to Milly.

What did she do, anyway?

Well, she did the most library thing of all: she started reading. She read everything she could about plastics. When she was done that, she started talking to people. Plastics experts, manufacturers, friends — anyone who would listen. She had her “Aha!” moment while talking to a Wisconsin dairy company. They told her that when manufacturing their plastic milk jugs, any time they made a mistake they just melted the jug down and reblew it.

So Milly took a trip to Chicago to buy an industrial plastic grinder. Guess what? They laughed at her and told her she didn’t have nearly enough money to buy one. It cost $5,000. But I guess by now you’ve figured out that Milly was not one to be easily deterred.

Milly cashed in her life insurance policy and bought the grinder. And the rest is history. Here’s the best part: the children in her town started to get involved. They started collecting plastic containers on their walk home. Because those children knew the same thing Milly knew.

Which is that every little bit counts. And that just one person — even you! — can make a whole lot of difference.

Who knows? Like Milly, you might find that your journey will lead you to the library.

Avi Silberstein is the children’s librarian at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information on all things Nelson library go to

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