Yogurt Packaging Choices

  | Food For Thought, Sustainability

by Sarah Brennan, Administrative Assistant

In this era of increased attention to the impact of packaging—particularly plastics—on our environment, what’s a savvy yogurt lover to do? I recently took a spin through our Dairy Department and looked at over 30 brands of yogurt to see what’s going on (did you know we carried over 30 brands of yogurt? I didn’t!). I learned that with a few exceptions, just about every component of the yogurt experience can be recycled: the cups, lids, foil lids, and even the plastic film some brands incorporate, are all recyclable.

For shoppers determined to wean themselves entirely of plastic, Nounos comes in glass jars. The jars are topped with a foil lid with a sticker on it. Unfortunately, that sticker means the lid has to go into the trash (unless you find a way to soak it off). 

The rest of our yogurts are mostly in #5 plastic containers, with a few exceptions (see table). Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) mandates that #1 and #2 plastics be recycled; for #3–7, check with your town or hauler. Brattleboro’s curbside program accepts all plastics stamped with a number.

What about the lids? Well, the lids vary: most 5.3 or 6 oz individual serving cups are topped with just a layer of foil, and many of the larger sized containers incorporate a layer of foil under a plastic lid. The foil must be rinsed and recycled in your curbside program. That was news to me—I had assumed it should go into the trash, but Act 148 mandates that foil be recycled. Please do rinse it first!

Plastic lids are usually #2 or #4, with some exceptions. As above, check with your town or hauler to see if they’ll take them. A few brands include a layer of plastic film under the lid (Seven Stars, Nancy’s, Organic Valley, Fage, and Greek Gods are a few) and this layer can be rinsed and recycled right here in our plastic film recycling bin, by our exit doors. 

I was disheartened to observe that several brands—Green Mountain Creamery (made right here in Brattleboro), Chobani, Ripple, Daiya, and Kite Valley—use a plastic overwrap on their cups. It’s easy to miss this detail entirely but it’s important, as this wrap must be cut away before the cup can be recycled. The wrap is made of polyethylene terephthalate, and cannot be recycled, so into the landfill it goes. Commonwealth Dairy, which makes Green Mountain Creamery, tells me they are researching more sustainable options, so stay tuned.

Other brands, among them Siggis, Lavva, Brown Cow, Forager, Green Valley, and Hawthorne Valley, use a paper wrap around their cups, which is easy to remove and recycle. The rest print directly on the cups and don’t use wraps at all. According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, printed cups are just as recyclable as plain.

Every decision we make as consumers has an impact on the health of not just our own bodies, but our communities and the planet as a whole. Everything is a trade-off: you might prefer a brand with no plastic wrap encasing the cup, but that is trucked from farther away to get here. Or you might opt for the local brand, knowing it’s providing a livelihood for your neighbors, even though you have to put part of its packaging in the landfill. I hope this information helps you make more informed decisions about what products you enjoy!

To sum up:

If you are served by Brattleboro’s curbside recycling pick-up, all plastics (#1–7) are taken.

If you live out of town, check with your town or private hauler—many around here will take #1–7.

Rinse out the cups prior to recycling.

Foil lids should be rinsed and recycled.

The plastic film beneath the lid can be rinsed and recycled in the plastic bag drop-off near our exit door in the vestibule.