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Do I Need to Become Vegan to Live Plastic-Free?

As I did my grocery shopping this week, I realized how much plastic packaging is involved in the selling of animal products.  My raw meat comes on a styrofoam tray and shrink-wrapped plastic.  My deli meat comes in a plastic bag.  My yogurt comes in plastic cartons.  My milk comes in plastic jugs.  My blocks of cheese come shrink-wrapped in plastic too.  My buttermilk is in a plastic-lined Tetra-pak container.  At least my butter is plastic-free (I think).  Even if I were vegan, it would be difficult to eat entirely plastic-free, but unless you raise your own livestock, I think it is well nigh unto impossible to live plastic-free while eating meat and cheese.

However, I did try one new thing this week.  I discovered I can buy milk (albeit somewhat inconveniently) in glass jars.  You rinse out the jars, return them, and they get used again and again.  The only waste is the tiny recyclable plastic lid.  Inside is the homogenized cream-top milk that I'm trying to shift our family to drinking.  I'm not sure what I think exactly about homogenization, but it does entail a greater degree of processing, and I'm generally for less processed food.  The milk is pasteurized, in case you are wondering.  I'm good with low-temp pasteurization.  So I'm looking for a more convenient way to get that milk, and thereby generate 2 less plastic-gallon jugs per week.

So how else can I decrease my plastic waste while still eating meat and cheese?  A few ideas:
  • Eat less.  I always hate this one, but I probably do eat more than I need to.
  • Eat less meat.  We are heading in this direction anyway.  Of course, tofu usually comes packaged in plastic too.  But we buy beans in bulk, which creates a whole lot less plastic waste than meat.
  • Avoid meat packaged with styrofoam (one of the evil plastics). Instead buy meat that just comes shrink-wrapped in plastic, like the organic thighs I buy at Costco (these also come pre-divided into individual servings).  Does anyone sell ground turkey without styrofoam packaging?
  • Make my own yogurt.  We eat a lot of yogurt. This is on the imaginary to do list that appears in my mind while surfing others' blogs.  Someday I hope to do this, and then I can make and store my homemade yogurt in reusable glass jars.
  • Make my own buttermilk (from milk in glass jars).  It would be nifty to make my own whipping cream and sour cream too.
  • My CSA is about to offer local cheese.  I hope it comes in something besides plastic!

And a few minor things I already do:
  • Buy large containers instead of individually-sized servings (of yogurt, for example)
  • Skip the shredded cheese and buy a block instead
  • Only store and defrost meat in its original packaging, instead of creating additional plastic waste by repackaging it in disposable Ziploc baggies.  I used to sometimes defrost ground turkey in the sink in a Ziploc baggy if I forgot to defrost it overnight in the fridge.  Now that I've stopped buying disposable baggies, if I forget to defrost it in the fridge, we just don't eat it.
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