The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 19, 2007

Plastic-free yogurt? Well, almost. Plus ways to use whey.

Turns out we do have an almost plastic-free prepared yogurt here in the SF Bay Area. Saint Benoà®t yogurt comes in a reusable, returnable ceramic container and is sold at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, and other natural foods stores. As with the Straus milk containers, you pay a deposit which the store refunds when you return the container. The containers are covered with foil tops, which can be reused until the yogurt is gone, and have a small plastic seal around the rim. That’s way less plastic than buying yogurt in disposable polypropylene containers, but I’ve found a better way.

I thought that in order to make yogurt myself, I needed to invest in a yogurt machine. Not worth it considering the small amount of yogurt we eat. But then Melanie Rimmer of Bean Sprouts revealed a brilliant method of making yogurt with only a Thermos in her post, How To Make Greek Yogurt. You should check out her post to see photos of the step by step process. Here are the basics:

    1. Fill a Thermos with any kind of milk you want to use. I used nonfat milk in my handy KQED Public Radio travel Thermos. This step is simply for measuring out the correct amount of milk.


    1. Pour the milk into a pan or microwave bowl and bring it to a boil. I used a Pyrex container in the microwave.


    1. Remove it from heat or microwave and stick a thermometer into the milk. I used a candy thermometer attached to the side of the Pyrex container. Allow the milk to cool to 122°F (50°C).


    1. Pour milk back into Thermos and add a tablespoon of yogurt from a previous batch. I used a tablespoon of my Saint Benoà®t yogurt.


    1. Cover the Thermos and let it sit for 8 – 14 hours. I left it at 8:30 this morning and opened it back up at 7:00 tonight. And it worked!


  1. For less watery yogurt, strain it through a cheese cloth. Actually, I put it in a wire sieve over a bowl, and that method worked fine. As you can see in the photo, I ended up with some nice yogurt and a bowl of whey (the watery part.)

In fact, I left the yogurt draining for so long that it was a little thicker than I wanted, so I stirred back some of the whey for a softer consistency. But apparently, if you left it straining longer, you’d end up with yogurt cheese. I may just have to try that.

So now I have this delicious yogurt and a bowl full of whey. I hated to pour out the whey, so of course I did a little more research and found all kinds of nice uses for it. According to this Fias Co Farm article, whey is full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. You can use it in soup, bread, to cook pasta and beans, drink it plain or sweetened, and even feed it to your plants. You don’t get that added benefit when you buy prepared yogurt from the store. And this way, I can save the last tablespoon of each batch to start the next one, only needing to buy more milk (which is also not entirely plastic-free, but I’ve discussed that fact elsewhere.)

And there’s another use for whey that the article doesn’t mention which I actually discovered this weekend before ever making yogurt. I needed a non-toxic coating to protect an unfinished pine bookcase I bought a few weeks ago. I don’t enjoy painting or staining furniture, so I wanted something clear I could slap on quickly. The salesperson at the Ecohome Improvement Store in Berkeley recommended Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey Natural Furniture Finish, which is made from, of course, whey instead of petroleum! This whey is a biproduct of the cheese industry.

So I happily slapped on several coats of the mild-smelling stuff (the smell is a little like Elmer’s glue) until the container was all used up. It wasn’t until I was rinsing out the empty can to recycle it that I noticed it was made from black plastic! Fortunately, this plastic is 100% recycled polypropylene, just like my toothbrush. San Francisco accepts wide-mouthed polypropylene in its recycling bins, so I thought I was all set.

Until I noticed the rim of the container. It’s metal! I tried to pry it off with a screwdriver to no avail. The metal rim, as far as I know, renders the container unrecyclable. So I e-mailed the Vermont Natural Coatings company last night and this morning received the following e-mail back:

From: “Gregory Hebert” (
To: Beth Terry
Subject: RE: VNC Website Inquiry
Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2007 15:52:36 -0500


Thank you for purchasing PolyWhey Furniture Finish.

Good to know San Francisco’s recycling includes #5–not every city is embracing the full range of plastics. Regarding the metal lid, a handsaw is probably the only way to adequately remove the metal lid from the plastic can. Please be careful if you choose to use this method.

Currently, only one U.S. manufacturer makes the recycled plastic cans and so we source from them. They now produce all plastic gallon cans (including the rim and lid) and our newest batch was just put into these. All plastic quarts will be available in 2008 though the company has no plans to make pints. We hope more manufacturers will move toward recycled and recycle-able containers.

Please let me know if you have other questions and good luck with your wood projects.

Gregory Hebert
Vermont Natural Coatings
180 Junction Road
Hardwick, VT 05843
802-472-8700 phone
802-472-5227 fax

So that answers that. I’ve already hacked open a plastic Brita cartridge. I guess I’ll be breaking out the saw again. I do like this coating (although, as Anna Hackman from Green-Talk suggested when I contacted her for furniture finish recommendations, I should wait and see how it holds up in the long run before recommending it to others. So that’s what I shall do.)

Is this way more than you ever wanted to know about whey? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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Jason Sanders
7 years ago

I used to make yoghurt often. I used a glass preserving jar. I warmed up the milk, whether cow’s or goat, to about blood temperature, then put a couple of table spoons of old yoghurt in. Then I put a lid on the jar and wrapped a towel around it, and placed somewhere warm, like a hotwater cupboard. Left it overnight and hey presto, lovely fresh yoghurt. I know a medication centre which makes it’s own yoghurt regularly. They built a box and put a light bulb in the bottom of it. It is lined with clothe and had a lid. The yoghurt came out perfect! I really like the method of using a ceramic jug with just a plate on top. Will try it.

7 years ago

I was considering getting a yogurt maker but this sounds like something I could try first. Question : when you add the spoonful of yogurt from the previous batch, do you stir it in or do you just drop it on top?

10 years ago

I don’t own a thermos and it failed to work in a water bottle that I tried to insulate. Any other containers that might work?

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

I’ve heard of people using glass jars, but you do have to figure out a way to maintain the temperature for the full amount of time. Could you find an insulated container at a yard sale or thrift store or Craigslist, etc.?

12 years ago

Yogurt can be made with nothing else but patience.
Back in the days, people used to make yogurt in a ceramic jug, covered with a small plate. Just pour the raw milk with a spoon of yogurt, position the ceramic jug in a warm place (somewhere close to the oven) and let it sit a day or two. In the summer, one day is enough. In colder weather, let it sit a few more days.
And voila, yogurt made the traditional way!

Liz M
12 years ago

Just reiterating Rachel’s question – anybody know whether you can use soy milk for this? I realise this is an old post, but I’m hoping somebody in the know will see…

12 years ago

I realize this is really about yogurt, and I may have to try the recipe. Would love a plastic free option and the reduced cost given how much we eat.

But… I am actually wondering how the whey finish turned out.

Hoping you check comments on old posts…

Daniela Chavez
13 years ago

I love this site, its so original, helpful and considerate for humanity! thanks for what you are doing! I heard about this after I wrote a post about why we sholudnt use plastic for our jewelry (I make jewelry from natural materials most that i find walking around in nature), someone made a comment to my post that happily brought me to fake plastic fish. I love it!
My family has a long tradition of making homemade yogurt, my favorite is with homemade strwaberry syrup! Well, one good use for the whey is to use it on the face to make the skin softer and with continued use it helps to fade out the dark spots left from past blemishes or sun. You can apply a layer of whey directly, just wash your face with it, or you can mix it with other natural ingredients to make a face cream. If anyone is interested in recipes for this just email me, I know different one depending on your skin type etc.. And this are way better than store cosmetics, and one more way to consume less plastic! Kisses to you all! and thanks again!

13 years ago

Beth – Thank you for posting this yogurt recipe! I couldn’t find any yogurt in glass or ceramic at my Whole Foods and was disappointed because I eat it all the time (I’ve “recycled” my containers, but, knowing what I know, now, I’d rather avoid them altogether.) Luckily, I did find the milk in glass – once I get a thermometer I’ll try this! Thank you!
I’ve recently signed the “REFUSE” pledge at — I’m on board and I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for all your inspiration – this is do-able!

13 years ago

Just made this for the first time last night – it was a great success! Thank you!

14 years ago

I know it's an old post, but I was just looking for uses for whey…

With regards to the ceramic crock… I am absolutely enamored of Ball canning jars (or any other brand) and wish more companies would standardize to them. My vacuum sealer has an attachment to suck air out of the canning lid, and it comes in two sizes (lg. and sm.). The lids are metal, 2-piece, w/a tiny bit of rubber to form a good seal. They're excellent for keeping ants out of the pantry – superior to most mfg. packaging for ant-repellance.

By vacuum-sealing the excess, I am able to buy bulk beans, grains, etc. for my little family, reducing packaging waste enormously (and saving $$). I wish I could bring the jars right into the store and fill them directly – right now, I have to use a plastic bag to carry grains home to dump right into the canning jar.

Ariana Saraha
15 years ago

I’ve enjoyed White Mountain’s “Bulgarian” yogurt for awhile before starting my own – and like that it comes in glass jars (not to mention that it contains no pectins or other fillers). Unfortunately it does come with a plastic lid – but Fortunately they are very nice sized jars for keeping and reusing over and over again… :-)

15 years ago

I’m very interested in this alternative of packaging.
Do you know more companies which use the packagin ceramic for their products?

15 years ago

I tried your yogurt recipe, but, being a non-fuss (reluctant cook) type person, did not use a thermometer (do not own one, and did not see the point in buying until I knew if I needed it). I just waited until the glass jar I was using was hot to the touch but not painful to hold. Left it on the kitchen counter wrapped in a towel overnight, and stuck it in the fridge in the morning. Worked great!

And as for the whey, I had three cats and a dog fighting over it…I can’t imagine it would harm them, and it probably just saved me a few cents in pet food…

I am new to the ‘no plastic’ idea, but love it. I will be searching for more alternatives on your site, for sure…keep up the inspiration!

15 years ago

yogurt making tip:

freeze Tbsp sized portions of plain yogurt and drop them in at the desired time (122 degrees?) This way (whey hee hee) you will always have some on hand if hubby or kids eat all the yogurt without leaving a bit for starter.

15 years ago

Thanks for referring me to this recipe – I’ll definitely give it a try!

15 years ago

Can you make this with soy milk? I’ve seen soy yogurt at Whole Foods…

15 years ago

I used to make enriched yoghurt for my son when he wasn’t growing well, and that consisted of mixing a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk into wholefat milk before making a batch of yoghurt. It makes it very creamy.

I haven’t made yoghurt for a few years (I can’t think why not, it’s very little trouble), and since my husband’s heart attack we eat a diet as low as possible in saturated fat … so now, I think I’d make no-fat yoghurt creamier by doing the same thing: mix fat-free powdered milk into skimmed milk


15 years ago

Beth, P at a posse ad esse uses powdered milk.

All the green bloggers are doing this. I’m going to try again this weekend. Thank you!

Whey is excellent liquid for bread, if your bread doesn’t need to be vegan.

terrible person
15 years ago

Also, I was reading something — on AOL, I think, yeah, really authoritative — about tap water versus bottled, and it made an interesting point: you often have no idea how long bottled water has been sitting around, maybe breeding bacteria, whereas tap water may have been in some pristine Sierra reservoir only a earlier that day (not sure how fast it moves down the aqueducts, anyone know?) and has been in motion since. So I was thinking about how important the names we give to things are in our perceptions of them, how over the years various industries and their advertising and PR people have managed to rename and rebrand products to manipulate the public’s choices. So I thought, what we need to do is rebrand “tap water” as “fresh water”, and “bottled water” as “canned water”. I mean, true, “fresh water” has another meaning, as the opposite of “salt water”, and bottles and cans are different, but still, using terms like this would help illuminate the difference. “Fresh” is good; “canned” is fake and bad. If someone offers you bottled water, say, “Do you have any *fresh* water?” It will make them think. Maybe.

terrible person
15 years ago

With apologies to Fastball:
“She heated the milk
It started fermenting
She left it in the Thermos for a day
She opened it to let it do some venting
She strained out the yogurt, but what would she do with the whey?”

So I’m looking at this pamphlet I picked up at my gym, 24-hour Fitness, about the benefits of whey protein. It’s online at and (This is kind of weird. The “wheylean” site, according to the pamphlet, is for women, while the “wheymuscle” site is for men. Oh, I forgot, women are only interested in losing weight, not in being strong, whereas guys are only interested in being buff and strong, not in losing weight.) Anywhey, there’s an FAQ link on each site. But it doesn’t really explain how you go from whey to whey protein. Maybe you just consume the whey. The thing is, Little Miss Muffett was eating whey, but she was still scared off by the spider. But since she was a woman, the whey made her skinny, capable of running, instead of bulky enough to fight off the spider.

I’m a little scared of any nutritional advice I get at the gym. I’ve eaten whey protein bars after exercise, and I’m not sure they made much difference, either in bulkiness or leanness. Maybe Beth will let me eat/drink the leftover whey and see what it does for me. It doesn’t look all that appetizing. Maybe with a little chocolate syrup stirred in. Beth, I can haz weh?

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hi Sunny. I did use non-fat milk and it worked fine. Don’t know what would happen if I had used a mainstream brand of yogurt. My Saint Benoit yogurt was actually several weeks old, and apparently there were still enough nice bugs in it to make new yogurt.

Now I’m wondering if it would work and be any good with powdered milk. Anyone know?

Melanie Rimmer
15 years ago

I’m glad your yogurt making was a success. I made a list of “10 Reasons Everyone Should Make Yogurt” but reducing plastic waste was not on the list. Thanks for adding an eleventh reason.

Sunny – you can certainly use non-fat milk, that’s what I usually use. You can use natural yogurt as a starter, or you can use a little bit of your last batch (sometimes that fails if your batch is over a week old – still good to eat but not so good as a starter).

15 years ago

So, quick question. Is it okay to use non-fat milk? And, you should use a “natural” yogurt as starter right?, so it has the good bacteria. I’m not a huge yogurt fan but my husband likes it sometimes in smoothies and I bake with it once in a while. Thanks for the info.

Deb G
15 years ago

Great tip about the whey (not too much info!). Yogurt cheese makes a great substitution for sour cream, so that’s more plastic you can avoid too. I’ve had really good luck with my homemade yogurt in a thermos. On a similar note, if you make your own butter, the first water you pour off is buttermilk. I use it to make scones :)