It’s been a dairy-focused week here in Green Garbage Land as we’ve endeavored to reduce the amount of materials we bring into the house thanks to our dairy purchases. Not only are we striving to live trash-free, we are also hoping to reduce the overall amount of packaging we bring into the home, even if it’s recyclable. This is because, especially if we’re talking about plastics, many materials in the recycling stream are not truly recyclable – that is, they cannot be recycled indefinitely. In a process called “downcycling,” each time non-raw materials are reprocessed, they lose some of the properties that make them usable. So, even if we recycle everything, it may ultimately still wind up in the landfill.
Anyway, much of the packaging we bring into the house comes from our dairy purchases. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a vegetarian, but I do still eat organic/free range dairy and egg products. Typically, we purchase cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, a variety of shredded cheeses, ice cream, butter, and milk. All of these can be found in packaging that is recyclable, but it’s unrealistic to think that after we recycle the package, it will never end up in a landfill. At best, we’re simply delaying the time until it gets there.
I e-mailed the Tillamook Cheese Company located here in Oregon and made one of the strangest requests of my life – could I swing by the factory with my reusable containers and pick up some unpackaged cheese? The answer was, predictably, no, though the company representative was extremely gracious and interested in our project. We started looking a little closer to home and found the Willamette Valley Cheese Company, a local cheesemaking operation only twenty minutes from our house. They make soft cheeses like mozzarella, havarti, and Gouda. I called the company and again made the same request, and this time, it was granted. We drove through lovely scenic farm company to the cheese company and passed their cows along the way. We were taken behind the scenes to the cheese-cutting room where a wheel of fresh Gouda was waiting for us – so fresh that it had never touched packaging. We were able to chat with one of the employees, a nice woman named Bonnie who wished us luck on our project and wondered what we’re doing to avoid bathroom generated trash.
After we had a hunk of Gouda cut from the wheel, she asked us to hold on a minute and came back with yet another wheel of cheese, a variation the company had planned to yield one flavor but that in actuality cultivated an entirely different flavor. Because of this, they couldn’t sell the cheese under the label they had planned. We tasted it and loved it – and because it was an unlabeled variety, she gave us a discount from the usual price.
I wish I could freeze-frame this half-hour experience and share it with everyone else as it is so illustrative of our project and its overall goals. Not only did we not produce ANY garbage from this purchase, we bought a local product and got to see inside the farm. Instead of wondering whether my cheese was made at a farm that treats its cows humanely, I saw firsthand how well the cows were treated. Plus, we made a face-to-face connection with a member of the community.
I also took the time to make butter and ice cream this week, both of which are extremely simple projects. Lacking a butter churn, I reverted to a childhood science experiment method of making butter – heavy whipping cream poured in a glass jar with a marble inside. Shake this long enough and it turns into butter and buttermilk. Ice cream is even simpler with the machine we received as a wedding present three years ago. We’ve used this occasionally, but it makes sense to use it much more frequently. Ice cream consists of a few ingredients I generally have around the house – milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla and whatever flavorings are desired. We made vanilla and marionberry.
We also ordered toothbrushes from the Preserve company, and I’m excited to see these arrive. These toothbrushes have handles made from recycled yogurt cups and the neat thing is, once the toothbrushes are used, they are sent back to the company again to be recycled. They also sell razors and kitchen utensils made from recycled plastic.
Garbage produced was minimal this week, and I’m responsible for all of it: one disposable razor blade and an empty contraceptive pill pack. I’m still searching for an acceptable garbage-free razor solution, so stay tuned.
During week 4, we have our two nephews, Taylor and Hunter, visiting from Washington. We expect our taste of living garbage free without kids to be a challenge, especially because we want to take the boys to some tourist-y locations which don’t exactly cater to a green lifestyle. The boys are excited to live garbage-free with us, though, especially since there’s a chance they might be on TV with us (another Portland TV station arranged an interview with us for this upcoming Thursday).