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How to Buy Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese without Plastic

When it comes to dietary staples, some things are very easy to find without plastic or single-use packaging, and others, not so much. Fresh fruit and vegetables? Easy. Fresh bread? Ditto. Milk, cheese and yoghurt? Not so much.

One of the most common questions I receive during Plastic Free July is “where do I find milk (or cheese, or yoghurt) without plastic?” I faced this struggle at the beginning of my own plastic-free journey back in 2012.

(Today I choose a plant-based diet, as do many zero wasters. That, however, is a conversation for another day. Not everybody is ready – or interested – to cut out dairy products from their diet, and I respect that. I have no interest in trying to persuade anyone otherwise. The question is – can these products be sourced without plastic? And the answer is yes.)

If you’re looking to find milk, cheese or yoghurt without plastic, here are my solutions.

Buying Milk Without Plastic

You’re unlikely to find milk in bulk or milk in glass at the supermarket. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t available in your area.

The first places to look would be independent grocery stores, farm shops and health food shops. If you don’t see anything, ask the question – they may not stock any themselves but they may know where does stock it. Alternatively, they may know which brands are plastic-free – and if you know who makes it, it will be far easier to track it down.

In Perth, there are four different brands which sell milk in glass: Sunnydale, Grumpy Farmer, Over the Moon Organics and Bannister Downs. They can be found at IGA stores and independent grocers like the Boatshed and Farmer Jacks. No one store sells all four brands, so you have to do your homework and check out all the stores.

Secondly, try Farmers Markets and farm gates. Some farmers sell milk directly to customers and use a refill system, dispensing with single use bottles altogether. This is fairly common in New Zealand.

Thirdly, you could look for hobby farmers and people who keep their own milking animals. I live in a city, and I have friends (who live in the city also) who keep goats, and other friends who keep a milking cow. I know that might be a step too far for many, but if you really want a solution, don’t rule this option out. These things are more discoverable by word of mouth, but social media is a good place to start.

Something I did was supplement my dairy milk with nut milk. I realised that it was much easier to find cashews or almonds in bulk than it was to find dairy milk in glass, so I began to use nut milk with cereal and in baking. Making your own nut milk is really simple, and you can find instructions for making DIY cashew milk and almond milk here.

Buying Yoghurt without Plastic

If you can find milk in glass, there’s every chance that you will also be able to find yoghurt and cream in glass too. I have seen yoghurt for sale in glass and also in ceramic pots in supermarkets. However, I’d recommend looking in independent grocers, health food stores and farm shops for more options.

If you can’t find it, you might like to know that yoghurt is actually very easy to make yourself. All you need is milk and a yoghurt starter culture (which actually is just a tablespoon of live yoghurt). A thermometer is useful, but it’s possible to manage without. You definitely do NOT need any fancy gadgetry, such as a yoghurt maker. A glass jar wrapped in a tea towel will be fine. Here’s my DIY tutorial for how to make your own yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt will typically last 3-4 weeks in the fridge.

If you can’t find yoghurt in glass, consider buying the biggest tub rather than the individual pots and portioning it up yourself. That will create less waste overall. If you like flavoured yoghurt, you can make it yourself by blending a little sugar and fruit with plain yoghurt.

Buying Cheese without Plastic

Cheese is the easiest of the three dairy products to find without plastic. Most supermarkets will have a deli section, but if not, look for local independent stores, farmers markets, specialist cheese shops and other grocers.

Some  deli counters will have paper to wrap cheese, so you can ask for no plastic. Many will let you bring your own containers.

Some types of cheese are sold in brine (mozarella, feta) or by weight without packaging (ricotta, cream cheese). These are the easiest types of cheese to buy without packaging, simply by bringing your own containers. Smile, act confident and tell the person behind the counter than you’d like to use your own containers as you are avoiding single-use plastic.

Often, your success hinges on the way you do it. Acting like you do it all the time boosts the confidence of the person behind the counter to accept your request. Also, stating what you’d like to do rather than asking adds another degree of conviction. “I’d like to” is much more convincing than “is it okay to..?” If they say no, act surprised, but if they are truly insistent, don’t push. Almost everyone will say that’s fine.

It’s worth mentioning why (no single-use plastic) because staff won’t necessarily realise why, and will wrap your lovely container in gladwrap for “protection” – or pop it in a bag!

Many types of cheese are bought in large wheels or blocks, and will be pre-cut and wrapped by the store to save time. If you can only see pre-wrapped cheese behind the counter, ask whether you can have a piece cut fresh from the block, or whether you can leave your containers there for when the next batch is cut.

Some pre-packaged cheese can be found wrapped in wax rather than plastic. Most of these waxes are made from paraffin (which is sourced from petroleum). Studies have shown that paraffin wax can be broken down in the presence of Rhodococcus sp so if you do buy these cheeses, try composting the wax.

If you’re still having no luck, consider buying the biggest block of packaged cheese you can find (it will mean less packaging overall). Cheese freezes really well, so you can, freeze what you don’t need straightaway.

Bagged grated cheese is all packaging and very little product, so avoid these products and grate your own from the block when you get home. (A food processor with a grater attachment is very useful if you use a lot of cheese. If you’re less fussy, whizzing it through the food processor will also work.) The same is true for cheese slices – it will take less than 30 seconds to slice a block and save lots of packaging, as well as money.

Something else to consider is making your own. Ricotta, mozzarella and halloumi are all incredibly simple to make using milk, and your cheese will be ready in 1 – 3 hours. Labne, a soft cheese made from yoghurt, is also super easy to make. If you’re not confident to make your own, look into cheese workshops in your area.

Still Stuck?

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all these options and you still don’t have a solution, don’t stress. Look at choosing products with the least amount of packaging overall, and ensure that whatever packaging you do choose is recyclable in your local area.

Remember, there are so many ways to reduce our waste in all areas of our life. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are just three things that we consume. There are plenty of other things to work on!

Don’t let not finding these items without plastic be a reason to give up altogether. Much better to focus on the 97 other things that we can change than stress about the 3 that we can’t.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is this something you struggle with, or not? What solutions have you found? Have you had a go at DIY and how have you found it? Do you have any DIY tips to share? Anything else to add? Tell all in the comments below!

How to Get Candle Wax out of Glass Jars

You’ve probably seen pictures on Pinterest or elsewhere of jam jars holding candles and tealights and looking oh so magical. Magical, yes, but are they practical? By that I mean, how on earth do you clean the glass jars afterwards?!

I’m not really into candles. I’m definitely not into conventional tealights, those mass-produced paraffin (petroleum-based) white wax versions. Nor am I keen on soy-based candles, because unless it is clear where and how the soy is grown (and it usually isn’t clear) it could be contributing to rainforest destruction and population displacement. Plus, those soy tealights are often housed in polycarbonate casings – and that means single-use plastic! Beeswax would be my preferred choice, but beeswax is expensive. Besides the expense, I think they make surfaces look cluttered and just gather dust. I think candles are a luxury that I just don’t need.

Last weekend, though, I splashed out and bought some candles. We had some friends around at the weekend for a belated housewarming – it is pretty exciting to be able to get more than four people in the flat at once (that’s all the old place could handle). However, the light in our flat isn’t ideal in the evening, so my boyfriend decided it would be good to get some candles. Yes, it was his idea! We borrowed two lamps from his parents, and I bought some beeswax candles to put in glass jars.

I was determined to reclaim my glass jars once the candles had burned out. I used wide-neck jars (so I could get my hand in there afterwards), and put each candle in an upturned jam jar lid, which I thought would neatly capture all the wax

Turns out I know nothing about candles. Once they had burned out, the wax had spilled over the jam jar lid and glued it to the bottom of the jar, along with so much melted wax it was ridiculous.

Melted beeswax candleThis is what my poor glass jar looked like. The wax looked well and truly molded in there. But I wasn’t chucking it away without a fight. Oh no!

I had visions of boiling the jar in a pan to release the oil and other complicated and hazardous methods for removing the wax, but I thought I should check with the internet first, and I came across a far simpler alternative. So simple, in fact, that I wasn’t entirely convinced it would work.

Put the jar in the freezer.

Yep, that’s it. Apparently the wax shrinks slightly when frozen, just enough to loosen it from the glass.

So I stuck the jar in the freezer for an hour. This is what happened:

melted beeswax candle in a glass jar Freezing melted beeswax to remove from a glass jar Removing melted beeswax from a glass jar frozen melted beeswax leftover melted beeswax

I did use a knife to dislodge the wax, but it came out very easily. The wax is very brittle, and shatters. I’m keeping the leftover wax (HOARDER ALERT!) for the time being, as it is expensive to buy. Who knows, maybe I can make my own candles? Erm…or maybe not.

If I buy candles again, I don’t think I’ll bother placing it on a jam jar lid. It’s probably an unnecessary step.

I am so excited about this trick that I thought I’d share it with you. You know me, I love zero waste, and I also like it when you try something for the first time and it actually works! Apologies if you’re not into candles…then again, neither was I four days ago. But now, maybe I’m going to become a candle person after all.

Zero Waste Week…The First Day

I have declared this week Zero Waste Week, and I am attempting to generate no waste at home. This means NO landfill rubbish and NO recycling (in case you’re wondering why no recycling, I wrote this post explaining why recycling isn’t the green solution we’re led to believe).

So at the weekend I dusted off the bokashi bin that was donated to me by a friend rather more months ago than I’d like to admit, on the condition that I blogged about it. Better late than never! Most of my food scraps go to my worm farm, but lemon peel, onion skins, eggshells and other bulky fruit and veg waste usually go in the bin (the worm farm is pretty small) – and I lament not being able to compost.

Installed Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bin installed in the kitchen. The donated bokashi mix comes in plastic – if this is something I want to keep up with, I’m going to have to learn how to make my own!

Not any more! Or at least, not this week. I’m going to give the bokashi bin a go (I will write a blog about it once I’ve used it for a while and can offer some wisdom!) and see how that works out for me.

So here is my bin system emptied and ready to go on Monday morning:

The Clean Bin Project

The black metal bin is for recycling. The paper-lined bin is for food waste – I lined it out of habit. We use the community newspaper to line once it’s been read. If it doesn’t need changing, then it doesn’t count as waste! The small caddy is scraps for the worm farm, and lined with Who Gives A Crap? toilet paper wrappers (read about that here). The bokashi bin is the shiny new addition to the line-up.

And we’re off!

I thought it might be useful to give you some context as we start the week, so here is a picture of my fridge:

Monday Fridge

Our vegetable box was delivered last Thursday (we currently get one large box a fortnight) so there’s still some fruit and left. The saucepan contains soup, the tin contains a cake and the glass Pyrex containers hold leftovers. The milk bottles actually contain cashew milk which I made on Monday morning (the recipe is here).

Note: yes, some of my veggies are in plastic containers! Slowly but surely I’m replacing them with glass and stainless steel, but sometimes I still have to use the plastic ones. I never use them for leftovers, only raw veg that will be washed, peeled and cooked.

I can’t really take a picture of our pantry as we no longer have one since the move! At some point we will get something, but for now half of my jars are living in a storage crate, which doesn’t make for good photos.

The pantry did need some restocking though, so yesterday morning I headed to Fremantle. Before shopping I met a friend for coffee (dine-in of course!); fortunately the shop only print receipts on request so I was still waste free.

I headed to a different shop to pick up some things – using my own bags. They didn’t print receipts unless requested either. I reused paper bags that I brought from home: I’m reusing until they disintegrate/get stained/turn gross, and then they will go to the worm farm.

groceryshopping day 1

Once home, these get stored in glass jars…except the brazil nuts and coconut, which got turned into cake.

Cake Prep
Cake

I used greaseproof paper to line the tin (I don’t always, but for this cake it’s necessary). I tend to clean my paper and reuse it if I can (as much because I’m too lazy to cut new circle shapes every time); usually I only get a couple of uses and this was the second go. If I can’t salvage the paper, it will go to the worms.

Cake paper

The Dilemma

I needed to go to the Post Office to send two parcels, and for this I received a receipt. My dilemma is this: it’s a thermal till receipt (you can tell because it’s slightly shiny and sort-of slippery) and thermal till receipts are coated with BPA. I’ve talked about why BPA is bad before, and it’s often recommended that we don’t recycle thermal till paper as it ends up as toilet paper, food packaging or even napkins, and these become contaminated with BPA.

Some people argue that because it is such a small amount it doesn’t contaminate the waste stream significantly. I have to confess, I currently recycle my receipts. But put them in the worm farm? Hmhm…I’m not sure I want to do that. So whether it goes to landfill or to recycling, it’s still in the waste pile.

I think I need to get into the habit of refusing receipts, and leaving them in the shop!Thermal Receipt BPA

What I’ve learned so far…

  • It feels good getting the bokashi bin going. I hate throwing all that food waste in the bin, especially as it’s mostly organic and I’ve heard that organic waste makes better compost!
  • My default action is definitely to go for the bin! When I sweep the floor, or wipe food from the counters I head for the bin rather than the worm farm,and this is making me think twice.
  • I need to start training myself to refuse till receipts. Practice makes perfect! We definitely have far too much paper in our house.
  • I have a feeling that the worm farm is going to struggle with the extra waste (particularly cardboard) and I’m going to have a think about whether I can steathily install a compost bin in the lawn area at the front of our building.

So far so good! I’m midway through Tuesday and nothing has gone disasterously wrong yet…but will it continue to go swimmingly as the week progresses?

I’ll keep you posted!