EPA honors Crystal Creamery for reducing waste from Modesto plant

Crystal Creamery received a national award Tuesday for how it handles the sludge left after making ice cream, yogurt and other dairy foods.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored the Modesto-based company for turning the waste into electricity and other byproducts. It presented the annual Food Recovery Challenge National Innovation Award, part of a federal effort to reduce food waste estimated at 37 million tons a year.

The sludge is collected at the main Crystal plant on Kansas Avenue and trucked to Fiscalini Cheese Co., west of Salida. There it goes into a digester that also handles manure from Fiscalini’s dairy cattle. Bacteria turn the waste into a gas that is burned to produce power. The digester also produces fertilizer for feed crops and bedding for cattle.

“You’re saving money, you’re putting less pressure on infrastructure and then, most importantly, you’re protecting the environment,” said Zoe Heller, manager of the Zero Waste Section at the EPA regional office in San Francisco.

Crystal already has cut its overall waste by 98 percent through reuse, recycling, composting and other efforts. It aims to get to zero by 2020, said Tiffany Hooser, sustainability and environmental program manager for the company. This includes five dairy farms that it owns and another 18 that supply milk under contract.

The federal program on food waste starts with crops left behind on farms and moves through processing and grocery stores and finally to kitchens.

John Holland: 209-578-2385