Back in March, when I began my plastic-free journey, I was riding high when it came to replacing my plastic milk jugs. Cartons are right there on the store shelf, an easy plastic-free choice. I bought milk, cream, half and half and even juice in the carton, and tossed it in my recycling. They have the recycling symbol right there on the side.
But then I toured Birmingham Recycling and Recovery, our local recycling facility, or MRF (Material Recovery Facility), and found out that, nope, they don’t recycle waxed or coated cartons. That field trip set me on the right track for recycling well, but in a tailspin over dairy. I sent out an SOS to my Facebook community:
The saga for finding responsible alternatives to single-use plastic continues....
Awhile back I called our local recycling facility and was told these cartons ARE accepted in our curbside recycling program, but today I found out that they are actually NOT accepted in our area (wax coated...it says it on some of their recycling symbols if you’re curious).
So while they are mostly plastic-free, they go in the trash.
Which leads me to think more about waste. With the Chinese ban on our recycling exports, I am aiming to cut down on our plastic use, and waste in general. Since plastic remains in the environment for way too long (like forever), cartons seemed a better alternative in case they never made it to be recycled.
But if they now go straight in the trash.... What’s a girl to do?
Clearly, I could squeeze my own juice. Yay? But I don’t have a cow, and I don’t know of anywhere in Birmingham that refills glass milk bottles (or even sells glass milk bottles), so.....
The journey away from single-use plastic and towards less waste continues.
If anyone has some opinions, chime in! Help!
After my initial disappointment, and discovering that no, there are no dairies or any suppliers with glass milk bottles in our area, I decided that the most responsible choice for our dairy consumption is to buy the gallon plastic milk jug and a plastic bottle of heavy cream.
If you check out my recycling field trip post Getting Up Close, you will find out, as I did, that our recycling is bought by local suppliers in the Southeast and made into new products. What good news!!! While many places in the world are struggling to find buyers for their recyclable waste, here in Alabama, we aren’t! Much of our plastic goes to KW Plastics in Troy, as AL.com explains.
By giving in and buying my easy to recycle #2 HDPE plastic milk jugs, I can then eliminate the difficult to recycle, and not accepted in my area, #5 PP yogurt & sour cream containers, as well as any non-recyclable cartons of half and half.
Side note: if you want to recycle your #5s, you can mail them in to Preserve’s Gimme5 program, or find a local drop off site. You can also mail in cartons to the Carton Council, clean and dry. Many cities do recycle other types of plastic, as well as cartons, but the important thing is to know what you can recycle in your area and do it correctly.
The dairy dilemma solved for now, I shop plastic-free in all areas except for milk and cream. With these two items I can make my own yogurt, cheese, sour cream, and half and half with little hands on time and zero extra plastic. Here’s what we do:
Half and half:
The easiest substitution. Instead of the non-recyclable carton, and we haven’t been able to find half and half in plastic, I pour equal amounts cream and milk into our glass bottle. Boom. Half and half for my coffee.
All you need is a crock pot, 1/2 gallon of milk, 1/2 cup of yogurt (I started with a glass jar of Oui yogurt, and now just keep using yogurt from my last batch), and you set a few timers and sleep through the hard part. Here’s the yogurt recipe I use. I reuse Oui yogurt jars (small mason jars would be awesome) to make individual fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and they are eaten up in a flash!
With just milk and an acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, you can make quick and easy ricotta or queso fresco. Seriously, it’s so easy.
Ricotta: milk, cream, lemon juice and salt is all it takes! Here’s the ricotta recipe I like best.
Queso Fresco: “fresh cheese,” 1 gallon non-homogenized whole milk, bring to 195 degrees stirring constantly. When it reaches 195 degrees, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup white vinegar. Curds separate from the whey. Scoop curds into cheesecloth and hang over a bowl or sink to drain, about 1 hour.
This one took me 3 attempts with 3 different recipes, but the third time was a charm! You need cultured buttermilk, which I found in a small plastic bottle I can recycle, and some cream. Much like yogurt, it cultures for a day on the counter and then you magically have delicious sour cream.
The Saga of Cheese
At our house, we love cheese. This is notoriously hard to find plastic-free, and almost never in recyclable packaging. Often, we live cheese-deprived because by the time I get to the cheese counter at Whole Foods, I’m too tired (read introverted) to ask about plastic-free cheese at the counter. A few weeks ago, I felt brave and tired of being wimpy, and marched over with my questions.
I’m so glad I did. They weren’t scary at all. I found out that if you want to reduce plastic, you need to get the cheese wrapped in cheese paper or your own container while they are actively cutting it. Otherwise, they will unwrap plastic-wrapped cheese, throw the plastic away and give it to you plastic free. That sounds silly. At Whole Foods, you can call ahead and let them know what cheese you want and they will set it aside in paper for you, or you can come on the days they cut your favorite types of cheese. He gave me a whole list of cheese cut each day…so nice! Another option is to go to an actual cheese shop, where they prefer to wrap cheese in paper.
I bought some of the cheese they were cutting, and also walked away with the recipe for Queso Fresco.
So my dairy dilemma has mostly been solved, and I feel pretty good about it. Living without single-use plastic, and trying to reduce our waste in general, is about flexibility and taking it one thoughtful step at a time.
What is it like to buy plastic-free dairy in your area?