Almost every morning, Eva Holman goes to Baker Beach. The San Francisco resident walks along the sand taking photos of the sun rising behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the pale blue and pink sky reflected in the receding waves. The beauty of the natural setting is only dampened by the plastic straws, water bottles and mylar balloons she also finds on the beach.
Last week, many of her pictures featured tiny rainbow plastic sprinkles. Holman said she finds these relics from the San Francisco Museum of Ice Cream at least four times a week around the entrance areas to the beach.
“I assume people reach in their pockets to grab their phones to take that iconic Golden Gate Bridge photo, and the sprinkles fall out,” she told me. “If you look at them they look like fish or bird food. They look delicious.”
That’s the way they’re supposed to look. The Museum of Ice Cream, which opened its third location in San Francisco in 2017, is an interactive art exhibit featuring tasty treats. Once visitors step or slide inside, they’re confronted with a pink, sparkly, tantilizingly-Instagrammable world filled with unicorns, cotton candy and ice cream sandwiches. At the end of the tour, a giant pool filled with rainbow sprinkles invites visitors to play and lounge.
This dreamy, joyful world feels far away from the cold, hard realities of plastic pollution, mass species extinction and climate change. But it’s not — the Museum of Ice Cream contributes to these crises, despite its efforts to clean up plastic sprinkles. It’s a sad situation that raises a larger question: how can we continue to scream for the places and things that bring us so much happiness without the environment screaming back?
The museum’s sprinkles made news last year when the tiny plastic pellets were found littering sidewalks and storm drains. They hired sweepers to mitigate the problem. Then, in April, they went one step further by removing the tiny plastic pellets completely, and sending them back to the manufacturer for recycling.
Now the pool is filled with biodegradable, 2.75-inch long sprinkles. The new design makes it harder for them to get lost in clothing and escape the Museum. And if they do somehow make it outside, they should degrade over time.
“At the Museum of Ice Cream we take our role very seriously as a brand that greatly understands our social responsibility and cultural presence,” Ailani Hause, a spokesperson for the Museum, told me. “In an effort to keep all sprinkles within our pool and building walls, we spent time researching the right size, shape and weight. We also consulted environmental authorities and design experts.”
Hause said the tiny sprinkles Holman has been finding on Baker Beach “is news to us.” They haven’t received any complaints since the redesign. When asked if the Museum is planning any beach cleanups, she didn’t comment. But she did say the Museum would continue to do “its best” to ensure sprinkles remain within its walls and the surrounding streets are clean.
While the Museum’s design change is commendable, it should continue to demonstrate a wider commitment to the environment and City by sponsoring beach cleanups. But even if the Museum of Ice Cream cleans up every remaining sprinkle, it would still contribute to pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss simply by serving energy-intensive, dairy-based ice cream.
The brutal truth is that many of the places and things that bring us joy come with environmental price tags. But that doesn’t mean San Franciscans should forsake fantasy, pleasure and art for austerity. Instead, we should remain mindful — especially as the holiday season approaches — and strive to enjoy life in ways that are respectful to each other and the planet.
Hopefully, the Museum of Ice Cream will continue to work toward this goal. And visitors can always do their part (and capture other Instagrammable moments) by helping Holman keep Baker Beach trash free.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com