The Conundrum of Plastic

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As many of you have now heard, recycling of plastic in most of Virginia is about to change. I wanted to share with you our thoughts on plastic and glass packaging for raw milk and provide some insight behind our decisions.

Many counties and municipalities have decided that they will no longer recycle plastic, instead opting to put the material in landfills. The reason given is a change in global recycling, with China no longer wanting American plastic, consequently raising the cost of recycling beyond what many local governments can afford.

My dad is in charge of Baltimore County, MD recycling. I asked him for the inside scoop on what is really going on. His response was interesting. For years China gladly accepted US plastic using the recycled material as the plastic base for it's own manufacturing and production. However as China's economy has grown, it has become cheaper and more efficient for them to manufacture their own plastic over accepting everyone else's trash and then going through the process of recycling. With China getting out of the recycling business there is no where for the plastic to go at the moment. This has forced the major players in the trash world to charge tipping fees for recyclables where previously there were none. Consequently, smaller governments that are on budgets cannot afford the tipping fees without any opportunity for profit.

I asked why there aren't any domestic US plastic recycling plants. His response was that the recycling of plastic is very intensive with an extremely small margin of profit. In order to have the scale to make recycling profitable, a plastic recycling plant would cost one billion dollars just to start. He stated that no one is interested in shelling out that kind of money just to get started.

So this brings up the question of plastic milk jugs. Why does Creambrook use plastic jugs instead of glass? There are several reasons why.

1. Milk quality and sanitation are extremely important to us. As many of you know, every batch of milk is tested to ensure it is clean and able to be enjoyed without concern. At the end of bottling milk, we pull a sample that is tested through our on-farm lab. We know that all of the milk coming out of the tank is the same and that all of our plastic jugs are sterile.This allows for the one test to be an accurate measurement of the whole lot. If we were to introduce glass jars that are manually cleaned we would not be able to rely on the test because of possible variations in the cleanliness of the hand-washed jars. 

2.  We want to switch to glass.This past winter we spent some time researching the cost of switching to commercial glass packaging. I spoke with multiple companies that provide the necessary equipment and put a budget together. The total cost of changing to glass bottles and tooling up for the necessary equipment ranged between $30-40,000. This is doable but will take 1-2 years minimum for us to save up the necessary funds. We have set this as a goal for ourselves and have continued to explore options as they present themselves.

3. We can't afford to take on $30-40,000 in additional debt right now. While borrowed money can add fuel to a business it can also burn it down if not managed properly. We just refinanced all of our debt and are not interested in turning right around and borrowing more.

4. Half gallon mason jars are not an option. We have tried to use these jars in the past and have found them to be hard to clean, fragile, difficult to pour from, very labor intensive to fill, and hazardous to transport.

This puts us between the proverbial rock and a hard place. We understand that many of you have concerns about plastic and frankly we do, too. However, as a small family operation our options are limited to make this goal a reality immediately. We realize that this will be a process that takes time. There are many things we want to do now with our farm, but sometimes we have to crawl before we can walk. 

I wish I had a more immediate solution. It is difficult when you want to make big changes but are forced to take a more patient approach.

We appreciate your support as your investment in us helps us continue to grow towards meeting our big goal of packaging in glass.

While we work toward this goal, know that we are producing nutrient-dense raw milk with a positive environmental impact from responsibly-grazing cows without environmentally costly grains, chemicals, and GMO's. 

If you have any other questions or thoughts feel free to reach out to us and we will respond as we are able.

For the family and the cows,

Ben