How do, Coke, Cheese and Snow Connect?

posted in: Nature and Budgets

Have you had enough snow and ice yet – or know family and friends in other states who have been digging out?  Piles of snow, means icy streets. Icy streets, means tons of rock salt.  Tons of rock salt means contaminated waterways, erosion issues along roadsides, rusty cars and huge drains on city budgets.

Did you ever think that mozzarella cheese, just like the cheese on your Super Bowl party pizza, could actually help keep the roads from freezing?

truck-cheese-on-road_optSince I love exploring interesting and fun topics related to eliminating waste by recycling, and repurposing, and then connecting these ideas to our money, I loved this new solution for reducing tons of rock salt, trimming city costs and easing pollution, all by experimenting with cheese. More specifically, repurposed cheese waste, called brine.

Leave it up to Wisconsin, a state famous for cheese, to come up with a cheese solution.   Milwaukee, a city that averages 50 inches of snow each winter, began a pilot program for repurposing cheese brine (salt is added to cheese for flavor and other processing reasons).  When this cheese brine is added to rock salt and spread on the city streets, it quickly melts the ice and keeps the snow from freezing. 

cheese-vats-shelves_optOkay, if you’re too distracted with the thought of the smelly cheese to stay focused, you can relax.  No, there have been no complaints of stinky cheese odors wafting off the streets or rodents crowding in.

Yes, those cheese heads think of everything and are always looking for ways to eliminate waste and save money, some of my favorite topics.

It turns out the mozzarella and provolone cheese brine have the best salt content (and that’s probably why they are so yummy), freeze at lower temperatures than salt (as low as minus 25 degrees versus the 16 for salt), stick to the roadways better and overall save money. 

Snowy Road Plow... just add cheese.Now you’re probably wondering how using cheese can save a community money?  Well get this…the cheese makers avoid the cost of hauling away the waste, the city government spends thousands less on rock salt and waste treatment plants have less waste to process.  Now there’s a nice win win win.

After all, when a state produces the most cheese in the nation (2.7 billion pounds in 2012) there’s a huge surplus of brine to be disposed of.  One company saved about $20,000 a year in hauling costs. One county saved $40,000 in rock salt the year it started using cheese brine on its highways.  

In this video, Emil “Moe” Norby, the Polk County highway employee who first pioneered the brine-recycling plan, talks about his cheesy solution.   Story continues below…


Pouring Milk For CheeseOf course I love this story because I’m from Wisconsin.  I was a cheese-maker’s daughter, grew up living above and working in a cheese factory and know all about cheese waste – that salty brine that gets hauled off to the local waste treatment facilities. 

Overall, this repurposing program sounds like a win-win-win situation for the factories, the municipalities and the environment.

Now speaking of cheese and recycling, are you still scratching your head wondering where, the famous musician, song writer, Black Eyed Peas band connection fits in? Edam CheeseWhile poking around online for some interesting cheese connections, believe it or not this graphic popped up.

Apparently, claims to be famous for launching a successful cheese (in a cheeky sort of way). 

Who knows, he may be considering the recycling options for cheese waste, now that I recently learned about his interest in sustainability and recycling.

I happened to discover that little tidbit about recycling after recently seeing a commercial at the movie theaters for EKOCYCLE, a new repurposing company. 

Ekocycle Coke plus LevisNaturally, I was curious about this company and did some research. What a surprise to learn that musician,, and The Coca-Cola Company joined forces to start an EKOCYCLE ™ brand initiative dedicated to using post consumer waste for fashionable lifestyle goods. If you thought the title was curious and totally missed the Coke connection, I too was one of the slow ones who missed the Coke-spelled-backwards part of that company name.

Ekocycle Levis 501JeansWho would have thought all those water, and soft drink plastic bottles thrown in the recycling bins could be part of those next pair of 501® jeans you try on.  Actually, 8 various sized recycled PET plastic bottles and 29% post-consumer waste materials, to be more precise.

Now, of course, using plastic bottles for recycling is not real unique, nor is the use of plastic for clothes, unique.  What is significant is the growing trend for sustainability, larger numbers of the big players getting involved, and the push to encourage demand by savvy consumers for recycled products.  

Granted, the Coke products themselves and the plastic produced is a whole separate topic, and I’m certainly the last person to encourage drinking coke products.  However, this is definitely a positive start when a company is dedicated to supporting a more sustainable environment by identifying a range of their own products that can be repurposed into fashionable and valuable lifestyle products.

Now consider your own participation in recycling or repurposing in your household and how this can affect your finances. 

What is the “cheese brine” or the “plastic bottle” in your life that can be repurposed to save you money, or improve your environment?

Consider the following ideas for your own household budget:

Recycle your STUFF

Your overstuffed clothes closetClothing – Let’s start with those bulging closets full of clothes.  Check out the resources in your area for selling your stuff and/or picking up super bargains.

Divine Consign is a fun shopping event in Milwaukee that happens twice a year and was developed by two enterprising women. According to my friend who goes every year, it’s an amazing way to clear out your closets and an even better way to find high styles at a fraction of the price.   

Clothing SwapsOr you could go the Naked Lady Party route.  No, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it’s a fun title. Basically, this is a group of women gathering together with their bags of clothes, shoes, and accessories – all items they’re ready to part with.  Everyone has a chance to show each of their “piles” and add any stories. After all, we are a bunch of very social women and always have stories.  Then the party begins and everyone’s off to grab the first thing they want to try on. Pretty soon we’re all trying on new things, getting group consensus, and flinging clothes off to try on the next cute item just cast off by someone else standing in their underwear. 

I can’t tell you how many clothes I cleared out this way and how many perfect, hard to find shoes, boots, and clothes I snagged. 

Your overstuffed book shelfBooks, DVDs and More – Are you still hanging on to those old CDs, DVDs, or books you haven’t looked at in years? Try moving a few times. After hauling those boxes of books over and over, and maybe a few flights of stairs for the clincher, you may soon be questioning the need for so many books on your shelves-especially if they are only collecting dust.

This may be the time to discover your local resale shops. They may not pay much, but at least you’ll clear out more “stuff”.   If you have a Hastings store as we do here in Albuquerque, they take old VHS movies, DVDs, CDs, and books.  It’s really amazing.  Of course there is always the option of the local libraries and Goodwills.

Sharing Groceries with friends and neighborsShare Groceries – Think about your actual grocery needs for the upcoming week or two. Are you actually going to be home most of that week and making meals? Will you and or your family really be able to eat all the food, particularly the perishables that were piled in your basket when they looked so tempting? When you buy those bags of a dozen lemons, or six avocados (that all ripen at the same time), or a dozen bananas are they all going to be eaten or will they end up spoiling and being tossed in the compost heap? 

How about working out a share arrangement with your friend, neighbor, or family member so everyone benefits from the price break and gets to enjoy fresh food while it’s fresh?

Your local food drop-offFood Bank –  Staying with the food idea… After buying that sale of spaghetti sauce or canned soup, only to discover three bottles or half dozen cans still on the shelf from the last time you took advantage of a sale, it may be time to share some food with others in need.  Many stores and businesses have food donation bins year round now. Clear out those cans and boxes of food before they expire. Most food does expire you know.  Plus, it’s always nice to have some clear space.

Your garage stuffGarage – Look around.  What items could be given a new purpose, new use?  Where could a little paint bring new life to some item for a new purpose instead of taking up space?

Just like municipalities came up with a unique way to save money and recycle their own resources (cheese brine of all things!), so can we come up with clever ideas to save money and recycle our own household resources.

Yummy mixed cheese curds
Oh, and for the record,
I hated the taste of cheese the whole time growing up in that cheese factory environment. The only exception was the warm, salty, squeaky curds right out of the vat at the end of the day.



3 Responses

  1. Bradly

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a
    daily basis. It’s always exciting to read content from other writers and use a little something from other websites.

  2. Jane Bluestein

    What a fascinating article, Judy. I’ll admit you had me at as I never would have pictured you as a “Peas” fan. I love the way you weave these stories and topics together and your work continues to inspire me to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Well done, my friend. Keep up the good work. 🙂

    • Judy Lawrence

      Thanks so much Jane. I’ve really been enjoying the process of putting these stories together and always appreciate hearing from others. And yes, I truly want to inspire others to reduce, reuse and recycle so thank you for your ongoing consciousness.