Which is More Environmentally Friendly: Storebought or Homemade Yogurt?

Image Source: Rebecca Bent
Dear Pablo: I eat a lot of yogurt, about a quart a week, so I'm accruing a lot of containers. I've thought about making my own yogurt, but it seems then I'd just be trading a plastic yogurt container for a cardboard milk container. Taking into account the production and recycling of each container, is one environmentally any better than the other?What a great question! The problem here is that we are not comparing apples to apples, like a comparison between glass and plastic packaging for a certain product. What we are comparing instead is a product (yogurt) and a raw ingredient for that product (milk) which require some processing by you. Anyone that has had fresh homemade yogurt will know that it is hard to beat. Nowadays it is also the easiest way to ensure that your yogurt is free of corn syrup and preservatives.

Making Yogurt is Easy

Making yogurt is easy but it has become a lost art, mainly because buying it in the store is so convenient and there is no cleanup required. There are many commercially available yogurt incubators, but it's easy enough to just use Alton Brown's method.

The Science of Packaging

In the science of packaging we know that larger containers are a more efficient use of material because they can hold relatively more product per unit of packaging material. For this reason I hope that your 1 quart per week yogurt habit is satisfied by a 1 quart yogurt container, and not 8 ounce single-serving cups (some of which shrank to 6 ounces back in 2003, did you notice?). If buying a quart of yogurt is more efficient use of packaging, then buying a gallon of milk is even more so. Of course, if you only eat a quart of yogurt per week this will leave some milk left over, but I am sure that you have a use for it. You could also make some extra yogurt for your friends and neighbors. I am sure they would appreciate it.When it comes to buying milk you have several choices: you could buy locally produced milk in glass bottles, and you can buy milk in plastic, gable-top milk cartons, or in TetraPaks. The latter two are made mostly from a renewable material (wood pulp, and in the case of TetraPak, from FSC and SFI certified forests) and are recyclable (although currently only 20 percent of communities have access to curbside recycling of aseptic cartons)

Buy Local

If you decide that homemade yogurt is not for you then make sure that you buy your yogurt in the quart size or buy a brand of yogurt that packages in very thin 6 or 8 ounce cups. Also, make sure you keep an eye out for locally made yogurt. Saint Benoît Yogurt of Sonoma county makes delicious organic cream-top French-style artisan yogurt that is crafted in small batches and packaged in reusable/returnable containers. If you don't find a locally made yogurt perhaps you can find a new career making fresh organic yogurt for your community.Ask Pablo is a weekly column that aims to answer your pressing eco-quandries. Want to ask Pablo a question? Simply email Pablo(at)treehugger(dot)com. Wondering why Pablo's qualified to answer? As the Vice President of Greenhouse Gas Management at ClimateCHECK, he helps major corporations measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions.
More resources on yogurt making
a href="http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/12/easy_homemade_y.php">Easy Homemade Yogurt
Make Your Own Yogurt
Yogurt Making Illustrated

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