This is the first of many posts about the topic of zero- and low-waste baby and kid. Here I’ll share my system of zero waste breastmilk and food storage.
The Freezer Stash
I think it’s pretty universal that breastfeeding moms freeze their expressed milk, whether they work or not. It’s insurance. I choose to keep my “freezer stash,” as it’s called, in glass baby food storage containers. I made this choice because I wanted a plastic-free option that wouldn’t be useless to me after my child is finished breastfeeding. I chose the brand Sage Spoonfuls, you can find them here. I really do like them–they are good sizes and shapes, and are made of quality materials.
Working moms who breastfeed use a breast pump at work to express milk that will be fed to their children at daycare the following day. How to stash the fresh milk? It wouldn’t be manageable or affordable to use my Sage Spoonfuls containers every day for storage when I pump at work. That’s too many jars to own or carry to work with me. A lot of people use disposable plastic bags like this. For the record, I do not judge people using these bags. Most of them are recyclable. I have chosen not to use them because I don’t think they are the least-waste option and I don’t want to continue to have to buy them. Instead, I use mason jars. Every time I pump during the day, I consolidate the milk into one 24-ounce mason jar.
I bought a case of 12 24-oz mason jars for around $12, including tax. FYI, Target has the best prices on mason jars I have seen in Tulsa. You can buy them at pretty much any grocery store. I don’t have a Sams Club membership, so I’m not aware of their price.
Cost: The cost of the 12 jars I use over and over is comparable to one pack of 50 storage bags. The bags usually hold 6 ounces. On average, I pump 12 ounces per day, so I would use 2 bags per day. Thus, one pack of 50 bags would last me 25 work days using 2 bags per day. By this method, I would need a little less than one pack of bags per month. This does not account for extra freezer stashing, damaged/wasted bags, or variation in amount of milk pumped, so it is a conservative estimate. For 6 months of pumping and storing, bags are going to run you at least $60 at $10/pack of 50. I save $48 every 6 months using jars. It’s not extreme savings, but it’s enough to convince me not to use bags.
I used 6 months as a reference point because I may have to replace my jars soon (and I’ve been operating by this method for almost 6 months now). The brand of jars I bought have a perfect ring on the bottom that has cracked and looks like it’s about to punch out (picture below). I got a call one day from daycare telling me the bottom of the jar had fallen out–and so had that day’s milk. I have since learned that canning jars sometimes fall victim to thermal shock, which causes cracking when the jars are subjected to quick temperature changes. At daycare they were running the cold jar under hot water to loosen the fat that gets stuck to the side of the jar (the milk separation occurs no matter what vessel you store your milk in). I have noticed many of my jars are starting to get this ring, so I will probably buy a new batch. I plan to use the old jars to make “kleenex” dispensers for the upcoming cold season (watch for a post about this). The jars are recyclable when they have no further purpose, if that day comes.
Waste: According to our calculations above, the bagging method sends around 40 bags to the landfill (how likely is it that the daycare actually puts the bags in recycling?) per month. At worst, the jarring method sends 12 jars to be recycled every 6 months. The jarring method is about as close to being truly zero waste as it gets, according to our zero waste guidelines (which you can find in the “Fundamentals of Zero Waste” page). Too much packaging and too many variables come into play (i.e., will it actually get recycled?) with the bagging method for it to be considered zero waste. But, like I said, I’m not knocking anyone who uses this method. Some people may not be able to make this change, but find other ways in their life to reduce their waste. I was given a pack of bags that I keep in my office just in case I forget to bring a jar (which has happened a few times). Instead, I should keep an extra stash of jars! I will work on making that change.
Energy and Natural Resources: Water is used to wash the jars after each use, but also to rinse the bags before they are recycled. The jarring method cuts down on fuel usage associated with traveling to the store to buy bags or having them shipped to you.
Time: This may be six to one, half a dozen to the other. I have to carry the jars to work, then to daycare, then home each day. Then I must wash them. They take up more space than bags. With bags, you have to either buy them at the store or online, carry them to work only once when you buy them, carry them to daycare each day, and they do not have to be carried home. They are lighter and more compact than jars. Does the amount of convenience they bring outweigh the amount of waste they cause? Not for me. I prefer to only buy things once. I do not like to have to continually purchase something. I don’t like going to the store, and getting online to buy something is only slightly less painful. So, for me, it’s a huge bonus when I can cut down shopping trips. Using jars I save money, time, and waste. These savings multiply with the number of children you raise.
What are your thoughts? What is your system of milk storage? Do you have a better method?