Preserving the Environment

Wisconsin Has a Seriously Cheesy Idea. And It’s Going to Save the State a Fortune

December 31, 2013
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Wisconsin Has a Seriously Cheesy Idea. And It’s Going to Save the State a Fortune
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This crazy plan is helping to save thousands of dollars — and the environment.

A couple of facts most people know about Wisconsin: it’s got a lot of snow and a lot of cheese. So it was just a matter of time before the two things would converge. In Milwaukee, which averages about 50 in. of snow each winter, a pilot program now has workers spreading cheese brine — a superabundant byproduct of the cheese-making process — on icy roadways. The idea is to combine the salty liquid with traditional rock salt to thaw frozen roads; the brine helps rock salt stick, leading to less salt bouncing or washing off roads, and ultimately shrinking costs and reducing pollution.

MORE: Wisconsin’s other upcycling breakthrough: a hydroelectric renaissance.

Granted, it’s a mildly stinky solution, but it’s already proven successful in some of the state’s smaller localities. In Polk County, near Wisconsin’s northwest border, officials estimate that they saved almost $40,000 in rock salt costs in 2009, the year they started using cheese brine on the highways. Recycling the dairy waste also reduces the costs of hauling it and processing it at waste-treatment plants — huge expenses, considering that Wisconsin produced 2.7 billion lbs. of cheese in 2012. So far, no one’s complained about any scent of mozzarella or provolone on the ground, though it would seem a small price to pay for a state of proud cheeseheads.

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