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SV Chat: Former Apple exec wants to save oceans, lakes with plastic-free products

Published on Jan 19, 2004 by SHOMIK MUKHERJEE at Bay Area News Group

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Remember the red iPod Nano, a particularly memorable music device from the 2000s that Apple rolled out as a special-edition product?

Just before those were discontinued several years ago, Ying Liu, who helped oversee their manufacturing and sale, made sure to grab one — “for sentimental value,” she said.

That, it seems, is just Liu’s personality, to preserve the things that have brought value to her life. It led the former Apple executive to found a retail company, Blue Lake Packaging, with the goal of reducing plastic-packaging options by offering more sustainable, fiber-based alternatives.

Studies show plastic pollution has irreversibly harmed marine ecosystems, while incredibly small debris known as microplastics have made their way into drinking water and the larger human food chain.

But Liu believes it’s never too late to start using everyday replacements for ordinarily plastic items, such as bamboo rulers, fiber-based toy storage boxes and pencils made from recycled newspaper, plus Blue Lake’s latest offering: a biodegradable tape dispenser.

The iPod probably isn’t making a comeback, but Liu places far more emotional value in the oceans that she’s known and loved her whole life — so much that the company’s name would’ve been named “Blue Ocean” had that not been taken.

The Beijing native once taught English overseas and traveled the world as an Apple executive, before the demands of motherhood led her to settle down in Los Altos Hills, where in 2018 she ran for the local school board and once led the parent-teacher association.

Liu previously founded a company based around an app that helped travelers plan their trips. But her well-honed expertise in the supply-chain industry led her to this latest venture, for which she is currently selling products online, including on its website and Amazon.

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What made you interested in the packaging industry in particular?

A: I went back to China and visited a couple dozen factories, from paper mills to equipment vendors to bag producers to printing companies. What I found was the packaging industry has been very traditional — people have not really been trying to use some new technologies or really think about how packages will be disposed at the end of life.

When I came back to the U.S., the first thing I wanted to look into was solutions; I visited (Recology sites) in San Mateo and San Jose. I have to say, my whole life perspective got changed. I’ve seen piles of plastics — collected from mostly residences — to be sorted, with equipment that was trying to identify which was which.

But it’s so hard! Think about plastic bags and films and containers; they’re impossible to figure out. So a lot of those packages were just waiting to be transported to landfill.

I also learned that there are big landfill facilities only a few miles away from Half Moon Bay, which is one of my favorite beaches in the Bay Area, so I was shocked — and realized I probably contributed (to the problem) by putting plastics in the recycling bin without thinking twice. I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’

See the complete interview at Mercury News.


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