Straus Family Creamery gets high-level zero-waste certification for Marin, Sonoma operations

Straus Family Creamery has struck gold.

The company announced Tuesday its creamery in the west Marin County community of Marshall and its Petaluma offices and warehouse received TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) zero-waste certification at the Gold level from Green Business Certification Inc. for a focus on sustainability across the business. GBCI describes itself as the “premier organization independently recognizing excellence in green business industry performance and practice globally.”

The first 100% certified organic creamery in the U.S., the company said in a statement it is now also the first creamery in the world to receive the certification.

“Sustainability is one of our five core values we have at Straus Family Creamery,” said Joseph Button, the company's sustainability director.

Button said achieving the certification has taken about two years and has included efforts like increasing the amount of waste the company diverts from landfills from around 85% to above 90%.

Button said getting the Gold-level certification involved the company being judged on over 50 specific sustainable practices across 15 zero-waste categories. Those efforts included purchasing a bailing machine to reuse shrink wrap used on shipping pallets so that the plastic can be sent directly to a recycler, instead of putting it in the municipal waste stream.

Button said an emphasis on reusing and tracking materials as they move through the company's different manufacturing lines like milk, ice cream and yogurt was also essential.

“A lot of the effort for managing materials happens in the operations,” he said. “Each line knows what to do with every piece of material.”

He also highlighted the company's purchasing team's efforts in managing the incoming supply chain. Button said an example is the company's elimination of disposable cardboard boxes when moving paper collars for milk bottles between Santa Rosa and its Petaluma facility.

At the Straus Petaluma offices and warehouse, the company diverted 95% of waste from landfills, resulting in more than 153,000 pounds of waste reduction.

At the company's Marshall creamery near the Marin County coast, which produces milk, yogurt, butter, ice cream and sour cream, 92% of waste there was diverted from landfills in 2018, equivalent to more than 880,000 pounds of material, according to the company.

Button said there is also a business impact for the company of achieving the certification, in that they have significantly reduced costs associated with waste haulers like Recology by almost half, compared with when he started three years ago.

The company isolates reusable materials like cardboard and sells them.

“When we can put 100% of cardboard in a bail together … that's a really high-value commodity,” Button said.

Countries like China that are traditionally large buyers of U.S. recycling have recently instituted strict controls about what kind of recycling they will purchase, making high-quality uncontaminated materials more prized.

President and Chief Operating Officer Robert McGee said the focus on waste reduction and environmental stewardship is “the right thing to do” and that he wants to work with the independent farms Straus works with, and beyond, to focus on environmental issues.

“We hope that as we talk about it that other dairy manufacturers or businesses and consumers will learn, will get interested, will do a little research and think about how they can do their part to try to reduce some of the negative impacts,” McGee said. “We do it through conferences. We do it through speaking engagements. We do it talking in the community.”

He said the company is always eager to share and replicate the progress it makes on environmentally friendly initiatives.

Button said the company is working on other green initiatives beyond just achieving the certification. He said company founder and CEO Albert Straus has challenged him and his team to make his farm carbon neutral in the next few years, using technologies like methane digesters and satellite imaging of captured greenhouse gases in grazing land.

“The main practices are applying compost to the pastures, which helps bring the soil to life and increases the rate of carbon sequestration,” Button said. Working with a consultant who specializes in satellite imagery the company has shown how carbon gets captured in soil with sustainable grazing and the addition of compost. “We've been able to show that when you implement these practices there's also a net financial benefit for the farmer in that their fields are more productive.”

Of the 12 farms Straus sources from, Button said about half are actively using compost or using rotational grazing practices.

Another power source the company is pushing for is gas generated from animal waste. Straus' farm has a methane capture and digestion system that generates electricity to power his farm from the gases produced in a manure pond, Button said. Many of those mechanisms are designed for much larger dairy producers, but Straus is working with a company in Central California to install a smaller, simpler prototype at the Straus farm, he said.

“We are very close to putting a prototype of the digester system on the Straus farm,” Button said. The goal is to have it up and running in the next four months. “We are going to use that prototype as a case study to show the rest of the farms in this milk shed in Marin and Sonoma (counties) that here's a system you might be able to afford.”

Both McGee and Button said while they have won the battle for the TRUE Gold certification, the war for sustainability continues.

“The whole goal of zero waste is to find the highest and best use for every material that comes through your facility,” Button said. “To keep our certification, we have to continue to increase our diversion rate. … It's an ongoing practice we will be improving on over time.”

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