By Jackie Ward

MARSHALL (CBS SF) –- A family-owned business in Sonoma County is making headlines around the world for being the first zero waste certified creamery ever.

Yet on its 26th anniversary Friday, Straus Family Creamery’s mission remained the same: To help sustain family farms in both Marin and Sonoma Counties by providing high quality minimally processed organic dairy products.

“I think we’ve had a lot of success, but we have a long way to go before we make a farming system and a food system that’s really sustainable,” Founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery Albert Straus said.

Since 1994, one of Straus’ goals has been to become zero waste certified. In November, it happened.

“I have a lot of hope that we can make change and we can make it quickly,” Straus said.

It’s not the first time his creamery has set the tone for the dairy industry. It was also the very first 100% certified organic creamery in the U.S.

“I feel an urgency with climate change, with the disappearance of family farms,” Straus said.

Zero waste certification requires a business:

  • To divert 90% of its material from landfill each year
  • To have a waste management plan and philosophy
  • To have a goal to end the negative environmental impacts from the material it handles

“There’s no secrets here,” said Joseph Button Director of Sustainability at the creamery. “We’re only successful if everybody moves in this direction.”

Button said the green effort began three years ago when the creamery was diverting 80-85% of material to landfill. They were sending out three dumpsters full of garbage every week.

“We’ve decreased that to one and a half dumpsters, we’ve been making continuous improvements,” Button said.

Those improvements come after close inspections of the dumpsters and a thorough evaluation of what’s been thrown away.

“It’s a very dirty job, but it’s something that we’re happy to do,” Button said. “It helps that we buy bagel sandwiches for everybody.”

Part of the Straus Family Creamery’s mission is to also work with companies that use sustainable materials. Their flagship product, glass-bottled milk, is at the core of everything.

Creamery officials said that 75% of their customers return the bottles, which allows the creamery to use each of them about five times. It’s cheaper than one-way packaging, and it’s helping the creamery divert more than a million pounds of waste a year.

Currently, 93% of their waste products are being reused or recycled.

“We are not trying to be national or international with our products and we are still family-owned, Straus said. “I have no desire to sell because our mission and our values are what drives me, what I love to do.”

And that message is carried out by all of the creamery’s employees.

“This is a systemic problem,” Button said. “It’s everybody’s problem. We all see the waste on the side of the highways, we all hear about the plastic problems in the ocean. And as much as we can educate, lead, and teach others, we’re going to do that, because that’s the end goal.”

The creamery isn’t stopping there. Creamy officials hope to be carbon neutral in the next two years, and it’s building a new creamery in Rohnert Park that will have double the capacity of its current facility in Marshall.

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