Plastic is everywhere. It is used to package a vast array of consumer goods and can even be found hidden in products like teabags, chewing gum and sunscreen.
While plastic may provide a great way to protect food products during transportation, it is causing havoc for our oceans and marine life, and contributing to climate change. So, does cheese need plastic packaging? Cheese products generally need a protective covering to prevent them from spoiling quickly. This is likely the reason most cheese sold in supermarkets and grocers is wrapped in disposable plastic. But plastic isn't the only option for protecting cheese from farm to plate.
The manufacturing of cheese is driving a lot of plastic packaging into the waste stream, and this isn't the only environmental issue with the dairy product. Cheese production has a huge carbon footprint. In fact, it is the third worst food for our climate, behind lamb and beef.
In addition to choosing plastic-free, there are a few ways to reduce the environmental impact of cheese:
- Limit our intake and choose a plant-based alternatives like this sliceable plant-based cheeze or this cashew cheese sauce.
- Choose soft cheeses like feta, ricotta and mozzarella instead of hard cheeses like parmesan, cheddar and pecorino. Soft cheese requires less milk to produce and therefore contributes fewer emissions from cattle production.
- Choose locally produced cheese products to reduce the carbon miles involved with getting our food from farm to plate.
If you're not ready to forgo cheese but would like to reduce plastic waste, here's how to find cheese plastic-free:
Bring your own container to the deli
Many delis stock unpackaged cheese in bulk and can give you a portion without packaging. Reusable containers, along with food wraps can be taken to your local supermarket or deli to fill with cheese and other deli products. In Australia, there is no law that prevents customers from doing this.
Buy a whole wheel and share it around
Plastic is generally used to wrap cheese once it is split into portions for sale. In their entirety, many cheeses (particularly hard cheese) are coated in wax to prevent mould from growing and to help the cheese retain moisture during the aging process. While some wax coated wheels of cheese are sold in individual portions between 200g and 500g, they are usually sold in larger amounts, with individual wheels weighing up to several kilograms. By buying a 2 kg wheel of cheese, it doesn't mean that most of it has to go to waste. Consider purchasing the wheel, splitting it up into edible portions and sharing it with friends and family. Another option is to find people who would also like to reduce their plastic waste and set up a buying group. Buy a bulk wheel of cheese and split it up amongst the group. Once split up, the individual portions can be preserved in reusable wax food wraps, washable silicone food wraps or in reusable containers.
Get it straight from the farm
Buying cheese straight from the farm is the best way to get the freshest plastic-free cheese. If the farm is a little far from home, consider bringing a bulk amount back home and sharing it with family and friends or with your buying group. Not only is this the best way to get fresh cheese, it can help you to get to know where your food comes from and how it is produced.
Choose cheese that has biodegradable packaging
While you might have to dig a little deeper into the cheese section of your local grocer, supermarket or deli, cheese can be found wrapped in fully biodegradable wax paper. The only disadvantage about this option is that the packaging cannot be recycled and is single-use.
Choose cheese that has recyclable packaging
Some cheese come wrapped in aluminium foil, which is infinitely recyclable. Other cheeses, most commonly soft cheeses like feta and mozzarella, can be found in glass jars, which are also recyclable. The best thing about buying food in glass jars is that the packaging can be reused and repurposed for food and other storage, and as a last resort it can be recycled.