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Our Experience with #PlasticFreeJuly

I feel comfortable saying that we already lead a fairly environmentally conscious lifestyle. I, Anna, grew up in Germany where a lot of sustainable practices are already the norm (reusable shopping bags, water preservation, energy-effiency etc.), and once adopted you don't even think about it twice. In addition, we grow some of our own food, make our own cleaning products, try to buy in bulk & support local farmers. So our foundation for participating in Plastic Free July was solid. However, paying close attention on a daily basis for a month showed us that there is still a lot of room for improvement.

We quickly realized that a lot of our packaging waste came from cheese – mozzarella, feta, parmesan; something we really don't wanna miss. I was vaguely aware that making your own mozzarella was a thing, and a quick round of research showed me that it was surprisingly simple. It only requires two non-everyday ingredients: citric acid and rennet. Both can easily be obtained online or in health food stores. Then you just need one additional piece of equipment that you might not already have – a thermometer, which I borrowed from a neighbor for the sake of the experiment. I followed this recipe which I cut in half and, after about half an hour, was rewarded with my first ball of organic, homemade, farm-fresh, grass-fed mozzarella at a much cheaper price (roughly 50% or more) than you would pay for an equivalent product at the grocery store. I ordered my own thermometer right away.

In addition, we go through two large containers of yogurt a week – that stuff also adds up in the trash can. Turns out, making your own yogurt is super easy, no fancy equipment needed (except for the thermometer). Just heat up milk, add some yogurt & let it sit for 9 hours. Here's the recipe I followed. Plus, homemade saves us more than 25% in yogurt expenses.

Making our own mozzarella and yogurt means buying lots of milk, and when's the last time you've seen milk in a glass bottle? I quickly found out that Whole Foods carries milk (and cream) in glass bottles. There's a $2 bottle deposit which you will be reimbursed for when you return them. This is another thing we're very much used to from Germany, where every can, plastic bottle and glass bottle is returned to the store to get your deposit back.

Other cheeses, such as Gruyère for morning omelettes or parmesan for pasta addicts, can be obtained plastic free at every cheese counter. I brought my Bee's Wrap along to The Big Cheese on Randall Street and asked them to wrap it in there instead of cling wrap, which they happily did.

Another large source of trash in our household are coffee bags. We buy our beans at Ceremony Coffee Roasters, and I enquired whether there was a way for us to bring our own container and just fill up on beans. Sadly, at this point this is not an option. I received a very friendly and positive response from customer service, assuring me they will keep an open mind and be on the lookout for more sustainable options for bagging their beans. And who knows, maybe they'll come up with a way to offer loose beans in the future.

We stopped by the farmers' market more often, ordered recycled, packaging-free toilet paper online, bought toothpaste in a glass jar and explored other packaging-free toothpaste alternatives.

Participating in Plastic Free July was a valuable experience, and I am glad we did it. We gained a new awareness of the problem and will stick with many of the practices we adopted this month. The less we send to the landfill, the better. Just don't forget that going plastic-free is a process, and every little bit helps.

Karl Schrass