The Sustainable and Not-So-Sustainable Facts About Eating Yogurt
Last weekend, I went into the grocery store with a short list of very specific items I needed for the day’s cooking, just as I had done a thousand times before. As I was looking for my favorite Kitehill almond-milk cheese, I suddenly became acutely aware that I was all alone in the back of the store.
That’s when I noticed it - the 40-ft. long wall of floor-to ceiling glass refrigerators and the rows upon rows of plastic yogurt containers behind them.
Standing there, in front of the many thousands of plastic containers in every variety, shape, sizes, and colors, I fell into shock for a moment, dumbfounded by the sheer mass of it all. One minute I was standing there, looking at a tiny section of containers; the next, my mind's eye had zoomed out to the umbrella, global view of it all; and suddenly, I realized I was a tiny dot in the sea of all of that plastic. I stood motionless, too freaked out to move. It wasn’t until a moment later, when my husband found me still standing in the aisle that I could shake myself out of it, and I began to process what I was seeing and what it all meant.
If you think all of those plastic containers are going to be recycled, think again. Contrary to popular belief, only a small fraction of the plastic yogurt containers you recycle will actually be recycled.
That’s because nearly all yogurt containers are made plastic #5 polypropylene, which costs more to recycle, so many garbage companies won’t recycle it. Most likely, they will either melt them or ship them as-is overseas to be used as energy or as "mixed plastics". Most #5 plastics will likely end up in landfills which do not provide a sufficient environment for them to break down unless the plastics are made of a bio-based material, which are designed to be more easily biodegradable.
With over 200 billion pounds of new plastic material being manufactured every year, plastic packaging pollution continues to be a significant source of environmental pollution on land and sea throughout the world.
If you must still buy yogurt in containers, then consider buying in larger sizes. Alternatively, the Preserve company have teamed up with Whole Foods to create Gimme 5 collection bins in some communities across the U.S. Where you can drop off your #5 plastic containers and they’ll collect and process them into new Preserve products such as toothbrushes, food storage containers, and grocery bags. Of course, the most sustainable solution for the time being is to consider buying in bigger containers, and to reuse or upcycle the containers.
When I lived in China, there was a French yogurt company that actually delivered yogurt in glass containers to my door every week for a small returnable deposit. It was, by far, the best-tasting and most sustainable yogurt I’ve ever had.
Maybe it’s time to revisit some old-world solutions? If anyone wants to take on the challenge of this idea as a business venture, please write me and let me know?
17 Ways to Use Re-Use Yogurt Containers
Where to Drop Off Your Yogurt Containers: