The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
October 20, 2010

What Do You Think About Stonyfield Farm’s New PLA Yogurt Cups?

Stonyfield Farm yogurtIn the same week that Pepsico pulled its SunChips compostable PLA package off grocery store shelves, Stonyfield Farm announced its new PLA yogurt cups. And while I pretty much dissed the SunChips bag in my post last week, I am feeling a little warmer towards Stonyfield’s effort. Not hot. Not warm and fuzzy. But while I think there are better options, I have to concede that the new yogurt cup is a step in the right direction, and I’ll tell you why. (Of course I’ll tell you why. That’s the purpose of this blog.)

Prepare yourself for a long post.  There’s a lot of information here, but I think it’s all important.  So get yourself a snack and settle in.

PLA vs. Polystyrene

Stonyfield’s new yogurt cups replace the multipack cups that were previously made from polystyrene. That’s right. While their larger sized and single-serving containers are made from #5 polypropylene plastic and can be returned for recycling into Preserve toothbrushes and razors, the 4-ounce multipack cups were #6 polystyrene (the same kind of polymer from which Styrofoam is made) and could not be recycled.

Not only is polystyrene not recyclable, but it’s also pretty toxic stuff. Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). And when heated, it can leach chemicals into food. But, you might say, I don’t heat my yogurt! Actually, it’s already been heated in the container. But I’ll get to that part later.

PLA (polylactic acid) is made from plants — mainly corn. And as I mentioned in my SunChips rant, corn is a problematic crop. I wrote:

Industrial corn farming requires huge amounts of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. And growing corn in this country is fraught with other environmentally and socially damaging practices. From monoculture farming that destroys diversity to genetically modified organisms that ensure the monopolization of the food supply by large corporations, industrial corn is a troubling business.

What’s more, PLA is produced by Cargill, the same company that gives us other corn goodies like high fructose corn syrup, and which also trades in petroleum and other fossil fuels. How, then, is this PLA any better than the polystyrene it is replacing?

How Stonyfield’s PLA is Different

Stonyfield did not go into this process ignorant of the environmental problems associated with PLA, and they addressed these issues in a Webinar that I attended last week. First, Stonyfield contracts with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy for Working Landscape Certified corn. That means that the farmers who grow the corn agree to:

* Grow only non-Genetically Modified (GM) crop varieties
* No continuous annual crop production on same acreage
* Soil testing to assure that nutrients are used efficiently and are not likely to leach or run-off
* No use of chemicals that are known human or animal carcinogens, including atrazine
* Use of cover crops to minimize soil erosion
* Creation of a farm plan that includes information on biodiversity, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, the corn Stonyfield actually receives is not necessarily the certified corn. The IATP system is an offset program. Stonyfield contracts for the amount of certified corn it needs, and that amount enters the system, whether Stonyfield or some other purchaser gets it.

Less Toxic?

Most people are surprised to know that PLA products, like petroleum-based plastics, contain additives that can leach, especially when heated. (Like I said, I’ll get to that later.) And Stonyfield’s containers are made from 93% PLA, 4% titanium dioxide — a colorant, and 4% other additives. It’s that 4% that we, and Stonyfield, are worried about. Here’s the thing…

A BIG thing…

A thing that I have ranted about before, but for those who are new here and missed those rants…

NO ONE KNOWS what additives plastics manufacturers put in their plastics. Not the consumer, for sure. But not even the companies that contract to have their containers made. Stonyfield doesn’t know what chemicals are added to their PLA containers because no plastic manufacturer will disclose that information. In fact, the rep who presented the webinar stated, “Plastic is the most secret industry you can imagine.”

Knowing that those additives could be a problem, the company took steps to mitigate the situation. Since it couldn’t know what was in the plastic, Stonyfield decided to identify and ban the toxic chemicals they did not want. So it hired the environmental consulting firm Pure Strategies to come up with a plan. I spoke with Ken Soltys from Pure Strategies who explained the steps the company took to ensure the safest chemicals were added to the PLA.

1) PS identified the three types of additives that would be needed to make the yogurt cups: an impact modifier to soften the plastic, since unmodified PLA starts out very brittle (Turns out, impact modifiers are another set of petroleum-based plastics. So yes, there is a tiny amount of petro-plastic in the Stonyfield container.), a heat stabilizer, and a melt strength additive to make sure the PLA doesn’t sag or crumble in the machine when heated. Then, knowing what additives would be needed, PS identified all the chemicals available to serve those functions and from that list, specified the toxic chemicals that could not be used.

2) PS identified 2,500 other “red list” chemicals — those that had been determined to be toxic (carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants, and endocrine disruptors) by several different U.S. and international agencies — and banned all of those chemicals from Stonyfield’s packaging.

3) PS flat out banned certain classes of chemicals: phthalates, polybrominated materials, PVC, and BPA. According to Ken, even if those chemicals were not directly added to the plastic, they could still end up in it if the manufacturer reused molds that had been previously used for other plastics. So Stonyfield’s packaging had to test free of those contaminants.

Is It Safe Enough?

Here’s the thing: Knowing what’s not in something doesn’t tell us what is. It’s great that Stonyfield went to such lengths to ensure that known toxic chemicals were not added to their product. But the fact is that new chemicals are released onto the market constantly, and sometimes what we don’t know can hurt us.  That is why (watch me climb up on my soap box now) I. Don’t. Eat. Food. In. Plastic.

Ken acknowledges that the system we have in place is not perfect and that if the FDA were truly protecting us, then firms like Pure Strategies would not be needed. But until the government requires plastics manufacturers to disclose all of their additives, steps like Stonyfield has taken are the best companies can do if they want to package food in plastic.

A Question of Heat

As I mentioned before, plastics leach the most when they are subjected to heat. And while you are probably not going to put a plastic container of yogurt into the microwave, Stonyfield’s yogurt cups are filled while the yogurt is still hot. 100°-108° F, to be exact. Why? Because that is the temperature needed to grow the little bugs that make the yogurt. The cups are filled with the hot milk as well as the yogurt culture, and the yogurt sets right there in the plastic cups. If there are chemicals that can leach from the plastic, that’s the time they’ll do it.

Not all yogurt companies fill their yogurt cups with hot milk, but all the big ones do. Straus Family Creamery, a local yogurt company I visited and blogged about last year, vat sets their yogurt. The milk is cultured in big stainless steel vats, and the plastic yogurt cups are not filled until the yogurt is finished and has been cooled to 40°F.  As you can imagine, Straus makes its yogurt in much smaller batches than Stonyfield.  It’s not attempting to outdo the Yoplaits and Dannons of the world.

Waste — Downstream vs. Upstream

Unfortunately, right now there is no way to recycle Stonyfield’s new PLA containers. Unlike Pepsico that insisted its SunChips PLA bag was compostable (despite customer reports to the contrary), Stonyfield is making no such claim about its yogurt cups. Instead of composting, Stonyfield is looking at feedstock recovery — recycling the containers back into PLA pellets that can be reused to make new containers. It’s recycling which actually closes the loop, unlike the downcycling that happens with petroleum-based plastics. And there are two facilities where PLA is recycled: one in Belgium and one in Nebraska. But Stonyfield can’t do it yet. They have a lid problem.

Because the lid of the Stonyfield yogurt pack is not yet made from PLA but metalized PET (#1 plastic), the PLA recycling facilities will not accept it. Creating a new lid and developing a take-back program for the containers are priorities for Stonyfield. But the company wanted to replace the polystyrene cups sooner than later and opted to release a less than perfect solution now, which they feel is at least a step in the right direction.

What’s more, Stonyfield says that the upstream benefit of the new packaging outweighs the downstream waste issue. In a life cycle assessment performed by Roland Geyer from UC Santa Barbara, PLA outperformed polystyrene in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions and human toxicity. In fact, the new cups have 48% lower global warming potential than the old ones. And that is why Stonyfield is comfortable releasing them without a recycling infrastructure in place yet.

The Wrong Comparison?

Here’s where I get all hardcore on you and where I ask for your opinions. I will certainly concede that the new packaging is superior to the old. And it has the potential to be even better, once the lid problem is solved and take-back program in place. But…

What if we didn’t need a disposable package in the first place? There are already two options that negate the need for plastic packaging. The first is not available everywhere. But the second… anyone could do.

St. Benoit is a small yogurt company in the Bay Area. It sells its yogurt in returnable glass and ceramic containers. Just like glass milk bottles that are available in some places and can be returned to the store, St. Benoit’s containers carry a deposit which is refunded to the customer when the jar is returned. There’s no extra fuel used to return the container to the store because customers just bring them back during their regular shopping trips. Zero waste (except for a plastic security seal around the lid).

But even better than buying someone else’s yogurt in any kind of container: Make your own!

Do you know how easy it is to make yogurt yourself? It’s so simple that I achieved perfection the first time I tried. I made it in a Thermos. Here are the homemade yogurt instructions I followed. All that is required is milk, a tablespoon of yogurt from a previous batch (or commercial yogurt if it’s your first time), a thermometer, and a thermos. Fruit or sweeteners are a plus. And you get the whey along with the yogurt, which can be used in all sorts of ways. (Pun acknowledged but not necessarily intended, unless you like puns.)

The Bottom Line

Stonyfield yogurt is a good alternative to Dannon or Yoplait or other big brands because it’s organic and because the company is doing its very best to mass market its product sustainably. If the choice is between a non-organic yogurt in a plastic container or an organic yogurt in a bio-based container, I’d choose the latter. And hopefully many other conventional yogurt eaters will make that switch.

But let’s not forget that we do have other choices. We don’t have to opt for the mass market.

So what do you think?

47 comments
Noj
Noj

This is interesting, 

I'm an avid 3d printer  - a hobby which is growing quite rapidly with reprap derivative 3d printers becoming more and more affordable. the two main plastics we use with these machines is PLA and ABS. PLA normally being the preferred feedstock where our end object does not need to be heat resistant. it shrinks less as it cools, it's uses a lower temp to print (normally around 185C), it smells like waffles when melted, and is supposedly biodegradable under the right conditions.

 

interesting point on the additives, I might check with my supplier to see if he knows what's in the filament he sells.  I'm lucky in NZ as we've got access to good filament, in the US though we're (the community) having problems with getting plastic with a consistent diameter (normally 3mm and 1.75mm filament) of suitable quality at a competitive price.

 

Steve's comments were very interesting too. hopefully we get more PLA recycling plants up and running.

 

there are a handful of projects attempting to make small (desktop) recycling plants to melt down and turn our failed prints into usable filament again, though I've yet to see one that is working well enough for us to use, progress does seem to be being made in this area.

 

 

kanishka
kanishka

point of information - stonyfield was long ago bought by dannon. there is a lot of controversy to what extent stonyfield has and/or will sell out. i don't believe it's values can peacefully coexist within a multinational profit machine. there is a pretty interesting old mother jones article about it even fi we all dont' have access to local glass container yogurt, there is almost always a local yogurt producer of some kind. i would trust them (as long as they are organic) more than i would stonyfield, if i had to choose. of course, i admire the make it at home people the most, i'm not there yet, but lucky to have glass yogurt local

Steve
Steve

Hello, I am the Project Manager for PLA recycling at the Belgian recycling site you mentioned and I would like to bring more precision on this recycling technology. To make PLA, we first need a source of sugar (corn, sugar beet, etc). This sugar is then converted into lactic acid (a liquid with a water-like appearance) that in turn, serves as raw material for the production of virgin PLA granulates. A plastic compounder will add charges and/or additives to give the material new properties and the end-user is eventually manufacturing the final product. End-consumer will buy it, use it and throw it. Through chemical recycling, the waste is fully dissolved and all building blocks of the lactic acid are recovered in a highly purified form, perfectly suitable to manufacture virgin PLA with the exact same properties as the original one. Unlike composting or incineration, the carbon material is NOT lost. Meaning that it is not necessary to go back to land use. The recycling process is also very energy-efficient and do not require harsh chemicals. This is a state-of-the-art technology already online in Belgium but that it still in a learning curve for new technical applications for PLA are found almost every month. Cordially,

Beverly
Beverly

This company, Stonyfield, needs to prove itself. Until it does, I'm making my own. I spend a lot on grocery and won't give my allegiance until I see proof of safety and a "shenanigans-free corporate culture that takes manufacturing safety and human health seriously." I talk with a lot of people about our food supply and people are really interested in this - we want corporations to deliver better.

Cheryl Newcomb
Cheryl Newcomb

Thank you Beth for this very complete information. I have to agree with you that the very best thing is to avoid packaging altogether and make your own (Thank you so much for the "how to") But alas, many of us live lives that dictate turning to ready made products for variety in our diet. I have to admit, my own yougurt habit has me feeling guilty about the waste. And I am not crazy about eating anything that is out of plastic packaging and try to avoid it as much as I can. So, why don't they package yougurt in glass jars? Furthermore, if all the plastic waste in the Gyres, and everywhere was glass instead, how would that impact our environment? What would happen?

Debra Baida
Debra Baida

As you wrote in the blogher version of this post: "The company came up with a list of several classes of chemicals and over 2,500 specific chemicals that would be banned from its containers." Holy cow! How many other specific chemicals did they have to choose from!? If production of foods like yogurt were more produced more regionally by these large companies, would re-usable glass jars be an option/incentive? Mind you, I don't see these companies creating regional production facilities, but just imagine if things were truly more localized and shipped fewer miles and if they were the leaders in creating less waste...period. I love St. Benoit here in the Bay Area and the simple fact that I have a teeny tiny piece of plastic to show for it when all is said and done. Sigh.

asrai
asrai

this is awesome becuase they say to feed your baby full fat yoghurt which doesn't exsist in stores unless you buy the sweetened coloured stuff. Now if I can figure out how to stick it in a tube for my 8 year old ...

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Actually, paperboard containers are not coated with wax. They are lined inside and out with polyethylene: plastic. They have not been coated with wax since the 50's, but most people think they still are.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green

Just read Rob's comment and Beth you may know better than me but aren't ice cream containers paper lined with a petroleum based wax?

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green

I buy the big containers (normally just for my dog lol) and recycle them. I know it's not perfect but considering I save them to go to a town 3 hours away a few times a year I think I'm doing better than most would haha. I honestly thought the small ones were paper and wax (I knew the wax would be plastic based). I had never paid much attention as I normally get the big ones. And couldn't they do that? Paper and like beeswax? My mom makes her own yogurt and I would but I'm not a big yogurt eater anyway. I try to be but I'm not. My dog loves it though. Anyway I always have mixed feelings on corn based plastic. It's not recyclable, not always biodegradable (and nothing really is in the landfill where it will end up), and we are just wasting different resources with the corn and such. Seems like at least for now using less and reusable items is what you have to do if you want to not waste. We like easy options but right now we don't really have them.

Yuki
Yuki

I'm glad I read the comments because I learned about soy based yogourt! I've never seen that so I can't buy it but I think the idea is arlready implanted in my brain! ;o) For your question I would answer that I always had a really big concern with PLA, I don't like very much the idea that it's made out of non-organic corn and that it's made with food! If it was made with corn waste or another thing that would just be discarded anyway I would be all for that! But it's not... not yet I hope... And for the homemade yogourt, I would like to add that it's much more cheaper than buying it, it's devoid of refined sugar, preservatives, artificial colorant or flavour, it's a win win solution!

Priscilla
Priscilla

No authoritative or regulatory body anywhere in the world classifies styrene to be a known cause of human cancer. Moreover, a study conducted by a "blue ribbon" panel of epidemiologists and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (November 2009) reports: "The evidence of human carcinogenicity of styrene is inconsistent and weak. On the basis of the available evidence, one cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between styrene and any type of human cancer." Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC (www.styrene.org) is a trade association representing interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Traci, I think my thermos has plastic inside the lid too, but at least it doesn't touch the milk/yogurt. Just don't fill it up all the way. Also, could you see if a friend or someone on Freecycle has one to give away so you don't have to buy new plastic? I already had one handy, so I didn't buy it new. There are other ways to do it besides using a thermos. Some people use glass jars, but then, there's plastic inside the lid of a glass jar, too.

Traci L.
Traci L.

I want to try making yogurt in a Thermos, but I can not find a Thermos without a plastic inner lid. Any suggestions?

Carla
Carla

Hi Beth, I've reading your blog for a while and it has changed my life, thanks for all that you put into it. I have been thinking about ther pervasiveness of plastic a lot. You said "that is why I.Do.Not.Eat Food.In.Plastic" and I can see that you do make a lot of efforts to avoid plastic. But I think you most probably do eat food in plastic but sometimes you don't handle the plastic, you can't see it. For example: bulk food. A lot of food reaches the bulk stores in plastic bags, large ones yes, but plastic. The bulk bins are usually plastic and/or lined with plastic bags, which I can almost bet they throw away (the bags) rather than clean and reuse. Or when you buy food in a restaurant. Highly likely that many of the products used to make your food were packaged in plastic. And sometimes the juice you order may be in a platic bottle before it is poured into your glass. You don't see it, but plastic nonetheless. Or, I could go on, but that is not the point. My point is not to point out where there is possibly plastic in your anti-plastic efforts, I am not here to shame or judge. My point is rather that although we can do our best to reduce and almost eliminate plastic from our food at the consumption level, plastic is present, and I would guess increasing, in food packaging everywhere. And not to be fatalistic, but at some point I do wonder how far up the line anti-plastic efforts should go (mine and anyone else's)? I do think that individual efforts make a difference but I also think that the bigger fight is with the food industry and food handing and packaging. Ah, sorry, didn't mean to end up in such a downer note. oops. I love reading your blog and always wait for the next morsel for knowledge I get from it. Carla

Rob
Rob

I do like that they are using a "Biodegradable container" but, alas, only if it is disposed of properly (i.e. in a compost pick up bin or some other sort) To be honest I have never been able to figure out why the #5 plastic to make yogurt containers, when in my mind, Paperboard carton (like Ice cream) would do. But I do applaud the effort!

Sonja
Sonja

I cannot eat either soy or milk that contains lactose. There are lots of yoghurts sold in glass where I live, but they're always either 'real' milk or soy. As an lactose- and soy - intolerant I'm faced with either not eating any kind of dairy at all, or eating the special lactose free stuff that is sold in plastic (not single serving though, one container contains about three servings) or those coated cardboat thingies. I lived without dairy for a couple of years, but I missed it so much, yearned for it...and my body is actually happier when it gets dairy two or three times a week. Perhaps, one day, the company will listen to the lone voice requesting glass containers for that special yoghurt and change it. Your post was so well-researched! I think what you do is very inspiring.

Lori Alper
Lori Alper

What a great post Beth! Thank you for such useful information. I initially posted the info about Stonyfield's change in packaging on my FB page and then included your in-depth post to ignite discussion-and that it did! I commend Stonyfield for taking steps in the right direction. They clearly have an awareness that change is needed in packaging and while they are not quite there yet.....they are making an impact by promoting discussion and education. I have vivid memories of my father making homemade yogurt. I have to admit, I am not as ambitious with my own family-but it might be worth a try. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

Kate
Kate

I live in Ohio and there is a biodynamic farm called Seven Stars Farm in Pennsylvania that we get our yogurt from. It comes in #5 plastic which we turn into Preserve toothbrushes (okay, we don't do it, they do it...). I recently found a recipe for crockpot yogurt which I mean to try as soon as I can get myself to the farmer's market for some milk. Here it is, if anyone's interested: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html

Traci
Traci

Beth - Your posts are always filled with great information and further enhance our awareness. Since being introduced to your website and ideals, I've been in pursuit of making as much from scratch as possible and reducing my waste. As such, I've discovered making your own yogurt and it's awesome and easy to do! And since I enjoy the Greek yogurt, I strain it and voila great yogurt at a fraction of the store price while maintaining my eco-conscience. :) And to even further reducing my plastic consumption, after much searching I've finally found a store in my region of the country that sells milk in reusable glass bottles. I wish the vast majority of the population would share in my enthusiasm and modify their behavior, but since that's unlikely to occur overnight I applaud companies for trying to alter their packaging to address underlying environmental and health concerns.

Kathryn Grace
Kathryn Grace

Thank you so much for researching this and giving your views, Beth. I'm with you on this one, and blogged about it today as well, with a mention of this post and sending my readers to you for a deeper discussion.

Reenie
Reenie

The situation with plastics, which type, how to create clean plastic, etc. reminds me of times in my life when I stubbornly refused to see or acknowledge that I was "on the wrong course", "moving in the wrong direction", and wouldn't change till life just finally pushed me into a brick wall. If it's this complicated, then perhaps plastics just need to go. Why not have yogurt companies accept a standard size jar, say, glass peanut butter jars, that we recycle. They can create a new lid, and put yogurt in them. It just seems like we really are living in a nutty time when plastic and the marketplace trumps common sense.

Clif
Clif

I'm sitting in a motel - this motel uses cardboard disposable cups with a ruffled outer layer for thermal insulation. Leaving water in the cups overnight doesn't make them soft or leaky. Why couldn't foods be put in this kind of packaging? Presumably, the cups are recyclable as paper/cardboard. I agree with David. The materials recycling facilities are being overloaded with all kinds of things that are contaminating each other and much ends up going to the landfill. The recycling-as-extra-step-to-landfill is an expensive way to simply dump things as always. On this little vacation trip, Beth, I am discouraged. You are a trooper and a role model. You live in possibly the most environmentally aware urban area in the United States...but when I travel and see the great mass of Americans, overweight and still stuffing themselves in restaurants offering all-you-can-eat that panders to gluttony, when I see the deep-fry and meat and sugar loaded menu items, I ask myself - Will any of these folks consider doing the things Beth talks about - making the many extra efforts - when they are clearly destroying themselves with a will? Today in the paper - a story about the Tea Party folks adamantly denying global warming. Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell and such make a big thing about being just folks (this means ignorant) and there is a rage in the land to put such people into office...rage against government, the one and only regulator, poor as it may be! The overweight folks stuffing themselves at Bob Evans are the troops of the Tea Party. The San Fran area might as well be on Mars. I think we Fishies might be well advised to simply move there and try to survive as a colony while the country at large continues racing toward a brick wall! Lastly - I eat Dannon coffee flavor, no other company makes a coffee flavor. I eat one a day and get them 10/$1 At age 60 in good health, I figure I've beaten the odds and have to admit my concern about chemicals on my body is fading, not to say it isn't important for the youngsters!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi David. I totally hear you about using recycled plastic. But I think there is a contamination issue. It's my understanding that in order to make food packaging out of recycled plastic, they would have to add new plastic to line it, and that would also make the package heavier. The PLA is much lighter and thinner than the PP that their other containers are made from. I'm thinking that's why they don't recycle their PP containers into new containers but instead send them to Preserve to be made into toothbrushes. But that is a very good question. I'll ask! The other thing about using recycled plastic is that unless they are only using plastic from their own recycled containers, they wouldn't have any control over the chemicals in the plastic.

Sandra Lee
Sandra Lee

Hi Beth, I'm awed by the amount of information in this article. Thank you! I also do my best to avoid eating food in plastic and I'm not too keen on anything that comes from corn. But I am impressed with the efforts that Stonyfield Farm is making to ensure a safer product. Thanks!

jenny
jenny

I also make my own yogurt. It is terrifyingly easy. And it tastes better than the stuff you buy at the store. And you can make your own frozen yogurt out of it.

Faith
Faith

If someone can point me toward a palatable recipe for soymilk or other non-dairy yogurt so I could make my own, I would be happy to do so. Until then, Stonyfield's happens to have one of the better-tasting soy yogurts, and it's one of the few that's occasionally available in our local non-health-food-store supermarkets. Stonyfield's does as much as they can toward environmental causes, and I applaud their attempts to find a healthier, better-for-the-environment alternative for those people who must have their single-serving packaging.

David
David

Not a fan. These things will ruin the recycling stream, because customers WILL try to recycle them. They will get mixed in with real plastic, making all of it useless. Terrible idea. If they really want to do good with their packaging, making the containers out of "real" recycled plastic that can then be recycled again, would be the way to go. This is just bad, bad.

Marie A
Marie A

I don't eat yogurt myself, but I do buy it for my husband. Tried making it myself, first batch didn't turn out so good. I'll have to try again. I guess I'm lucky, we have a local dairy with a storefront where I buy milk very inexpensively ($1.37 for lactose free!). I can see it dispensed into the cardboard half gallon containers (plastic film lined, but better than full plastic) on the machinery, and know that I can't get much fresher without owning cows. Are there no other places with local dairies that sell to the public? It's well worth going out of your way for. This whole conversation brings up to me the old concept of deposit/return that has been almost abandoned in favor of recycling. I wish I lived in a deposit/return state, but I don't. It makes so much more sense to return glass bottles to manufacturers and have them clean/refill than to spend the energy sorting, melting and reforming the glass into new bottles.

Genna
Genna

Great post, very informative as always. I'm a newcomer to this blog and so I love getting all this information that some of your more long-term readers might already be familiar with. I live in France and have been making my own yogurt for some time now. However, my big dilemma is that almost all brands of organic milk come exclusively in plastic bottles, and are sold only 1 liter at a time (enough for about 7-10 days of yogurt consumption in our household). These bottles can be downcycled, but they are still plastic! I don't know of a SINGLE store in all of Paris that provides milk in re-usable glass bottles. My other option is to buy non-organic milk in Tetra Pack cartons. I have read that these cartons are made with 75% cardboard (but enveloped in a plastic film). They are said to generate 33% less CO2 over the course of their lifetime than plastic bottles and 75% less CO2 than glass bottles - I have no idea how they get these numbers, but I've read this on a couple websites. Anyway, my big concern is that all of these milks are sterilized for long-term preservation. I'm particularly concerned about the chemicals that could be leached as a result of this exposure to high temperatures. It's all a big trade-off, I guess: Buying milk that can be stored at room temp for long periods of time may reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because less refrigeration is required. But, on the other hand, the packaging options leave MUCH to be desired, especially if the ultra-high-temperature processing is done to the milk WHILE it is in the plastic, or plastic-enveloped containers. Beth, do you have any suggestions or information you can impart?

sui
sui

Beth, I just want to say that you are amazing. For your posts, your in-depth research and stickler-ness(!?) for accuracy. I don't eat milk yogurt, but I want to find a plastic-free alternative so I can get me some nondairy yogurt for baking. And lactobacillus. ;)

rebecca
rebecca

Home made whole milk yogurt is the best. So tasty, and easy. It does take time, but if you make big enough batches, you only have to do it once every few weeks. I make a gallon at a time and use 4 quart jars and my heating pad with some blankets to insulate. That lasts us a month, and I often do I while I am already monitoring something else in the kitchen which isn't really taking up any more of my day than before.

Amber
Amber

My choice (if I'm buying yogurt) is to buy organic yogurt in a plastic container - but the largest one I can find, using #5 plastic. And then I re-use the yogurt containers to store ice cream and freeze soup and so on. Perfect? No. But less plastic than if I were to buy the single-serving yogurt my 5-year-old clamours for. Avoiding plastic is great. But when I don't do it successfully, I still steer clear of single-serving foods. They seem very wasteful, whether or not they're made out of bio-plastic, and whether or not they're "recyclable".

Julia
Julia

We have a local(ish) option here in Montreal too. The company is Pinehedge Farms, they sell Organic yogurt and kefir in 1Kg returnable glass bottles, and they are located in Ontario. When I found this, it made me very happy because I was really questioning how I would do without yogurt. As far as the make your own goes, I very much wanted to do this until I realised I would just be replacing the yogurt container with a milk carton. I have tried very hard to find glass bottled milk here with no such luck. I have started to think it might be a regulation thing, because I know the dairy industry in Quebec is very strictly regulated. I don't even know how to change this because I want glass bottled milk!

Condo Blues
Condo Blues

I usually buy my yogurt by the big tub and in spirts so I'd never have starter around when I wanted/needed yogurt. .I have family that live in itty bitty cities that have more limited shopping options than I do, so for anyone who buys single use yogurt I admit it's a step in the right direction. The thing I wonder about is how/what this corn based PLA is going to do to local plastic recycling programs? If someone mistakenly puts it in their recycling bin and it gets mixed in with a bunch of petroleum PLA plastic, it's going to ruin the whole batch for remanufacturing.

Pure Mothers
Pure Mothers

Yes, we do have other choices. Mine is not to eat yogurt or dairy products. While the steps Stonyfield is taking is admirable (or self-serving knowing how much demand there is for greener options and if they don't do this first, someone else will), the dairy industry still exploits cows, keeping them pregnant and depriving the calf of its birthright - cow's milk! They get only colostrum and then if female, they are lucky enough to begin their slavery sentence and if a male it is auctioned off and destined to spend it's short life (of 4 months) in a crate and kept anemic to become veal. Misery. Consuming dairy products perpetuates this cycle, even if you don't eat veal. Sorry Beth. My opinion. You asked.

abbie
abbie

We HAVE to encourage the big companies trying to be more sustainable and trying new things. Even if it isn't perfect and not totally sustainable yet, we have to encourage the effort. Yes, there will always be home-made options that are better or small-local options for some. But if we as a WHOLE society ever want to live sustainable it has to be simple, convenient and EASY for everyone to do. And working moms with several kids cannot run all over town to buy their groceries from single prodcut companies (places that can sell things in glass containers that can be returned) and do not have time to make their own. I loved reading all the information that you gathered for us. So informative and helpful. Thanks!

Darris
Darris

Happy to see companies are getting with the program . . . unfortunately, Stonyfield yogurt is dairy and dairy is toxic to our bodies and the environment. It takes up to 2000 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk. And does anyone notice sinus drainage, stuffiness, inflammation, late summer/fall? Here in Sonoma County dairy farms spread liquefied manure onto their fields. This is only one way to get rid of the manure waste, another is to shoot it into the air via massive oscillating sprinklers which then send the bacteria laden mist into the air floating for miles and right into our sinus cavities . . . . not to mention the overwhelming stench . . . this is a far reaching health hazard that no one is addressing because as we were told by an air quality management employee, "the agriculture lobby is so strong it's nearly impossible to make changes without a huge battle . . . "

Melanie
Melanie

Since there's little chance of quickly getting the main population that *would* buy disposable yogurt cups to change to making their own, I do applaud the measures that the company is going to. Their solution isn't perfect. But it's still better, in my opinion, than what was out there before. Oh, and there are places that will recycle polysterene, at least the styrofoam version of it. I know. My research centre and another that's tagged onto our program has sent around 100 enormous bags of styrofoam boxes and chips for recycling :) But that's beside the point. I'm glad you mentioned making your own yogurt. My mom did that when I was little. I remember the yogurt as being sharp and 'thin', but it turns out this is because she used skim milk with dry milk powder added. Start with homogenized (whole) milk. Yum. I've been doing it for a couple of months now for my son and myself in large batches, and using washable containers for lunch packing. My main challenge is maintaining incubation temperature, but I hadn't thought about using a thermos! Way cheaper than buying an electric yogurt maker.

Tan@tan/green
Tan@tan/green

Your last comment is something that I debate all the time - and imagine you have answered in the past for yourself and readers- but mass market v. not. If I put my dollars to mass market products I think are moving in the right direction (Stoneyfield, organic produce from the market, some natural personal care products, etc) doesn't that send a louder message than if I take my dollars away from the mass market? I don't do all of my spending in the grocery or big box store and do support locally owned sustainable businesses as well. I am interested in hearing from Beth or other readers on this.

Tiffany
Tiffany

Fascinating article Beth. Only you can make such a drab topic interesting! The yogurt issue is a non issue for us since we are making our own now. I have a vintage yogurt maker from the 70s that has glass containers. You can find them quite easily on ebay and Etsy. We make our own Kefir (drinkable yogurt) too so that we don't have to buy plastic bottles of it. I make that along with sourdough right in Ball jars on my counter. Making your own is so easy.. it takes 5-10 minutes a day.

Chris Kelly
Chris Kelly

I am going to try the thermos yougurt, I had stopped buying it commercially because of the plastic cups and there in no convenient alternative in inner city Washington DC (yet). But I agree we should also encourage stonyfield to continue with their efforts to get an all recyclable package, so in that vein, I will buy one cup of Stonyfield to start my thermos yougurt. I too dont have a thermometer, but as one poster said, I will try it once the glass bowl is cool enough to handle and see how it goes. Thanks for all you are doing Beth.

Laura
Laura

I love yogurt, but haven't gotten it in a year or so because of the packaging waste. I keep saying I'll make my own some time, but who knows when that will be. Long before I stopped eating yogurt though, I stopped buying the single serving cups in favor of the big containers - they are cheaper per serving and have way less packaging per serving. I'm surprised Stonyfield doesn't stop making single-serve cups altogether and encourage people to buy the big containers instead (and work towards making the packaging for the big containers more eco friendly).

Tracey
Tracey

While I LOATHE AND BLATANTLY DISAPPROVE of anything single use, it sounds like Stonyfield opened up some new territory with non GMO offsets. Thanks for sparking the RRRevolution, Beth. I hope it all comes around before the PLastic Apocalypse!

Cat C-B
Cat C-B

I think that my yogurt-loving husband, who has been simply doing without the yogurt he loves to avoid generating either plastic waste or another chore for one or the other of us, may be in luck. While I see the arguments against buying yogurt, or buying it from the kind of big company that can't realistically go with a returnable-glass option, we don't have an option in our neighborhood for that kind of local yogurt, and we're already baking our own bread, growing our own lettuce (indoors in the winter!), canning and preserving local produce, etc., to try to live with less plastic and emissions. It does reach a point where adding another item to the list of things to make in the kitchen gets hard. And, you know, there's an argument in favor of encouraging Stonyfield to move forward in exploring more eco-friendly packaging. They may wind up being trailblazers for others... and, much as I'd like for my friends to all give up plastics, I know they won't all. Generating a few alternatives, in a socially-responsible way, may not be a purist's ideal. And I'll admit to a purist instinct. But it may be good activism. If nobody who's aware of the issues with plastic buys products like this, I think that it will not lead to more local production of yogurt everywhere--some areas won't make sense for that. But it may lead to Stonyfield abandoning this work, and that seems like a shame. Bottom line? I follow your reasoning, and I find it convincing. But I think our household may come down on the other side of the fence on this one, and begin buying Stonyfield, at least occasionally, as a guilty pleasure. I'm way impressed at the research and analysis, though. Loved this piece!

SavvyChristine
SavvyChristine

Not a fan. Then again, I'm generally not a fan of things made from corn because I am sensitive to corn, and I REALLY don't want to restrict anything else I eat. There's a big enough list already. Even though the manufacturer's will tell you that the protein has been processed out of the corn before it's turned into this plasticky material, the process is not 100% foolproof, and there are people out there who are STILL so sensitive to corn products that this would set off their body's responses. Sigh.