We all know that plastic is bad for the environment and for us. Different kinds of plastic take anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years to break down. Plastic that makes its way into the ocean kills millions of sea animals every year. It contains dozens of harmful chemicals that leach into the ground and our water supplies. And it’s extremely dirty energy-intensive to produce.
Yet eliminating plastics from our everyday lives can be extremely challenging. It often feels like just about everything we buy comes boxed, bagged, or wrapped in some form of plastic, from toys to makeup to power tools. And don’t even get me started on grocery stores! Even if you follow the advice to “shop around the store’s perimeter” for healthy eating, meat, berries, and salad greens alike can usually be found packaged in styrofoam and hard plastic containers.
The Plastic-Free July Challenge
This July, I decided to take the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge that’s currently trending on social media to reduce my plastic intake and output–and I highly encourage you to do the same! You can read more about the challenge and register on the Plastic Free July website.
While inventorying my plastic consumption last week in preparation for the challenge, I noticed that the bulk of our plastic use was from food and kitchen products–and I’d guess that that’s true for many of you as well. In that vein, I made a list of easy ways to go plastic-free in the kitchen to inspire us both to make a lasting reduction in our plastic use. Some of these are things that we already do and want to continue–others are things I’ve been meaning to do for a while and just need to bite the bullet and do already. But let’s get onto the list!
Easy Ways to Go Plastic-Free in the Kitchen
- Use reusable grocery bags.
- Make or buy reusable produce and bulk goods bags. Last year, I made a few large produce bags from old t-shirts with the help of this super-easy tutorial (no sewing or superglue involved!). They’re perfect for larger fruits and veggies like beets, carrots, and onions, and for using at the farmer’s market. However, we still need to buy smaller bags and mesh bags for bulk goods and smaller produce. I’ve got my eye on these organic cotton produce bags (the same company also makes mesh bags).
- Invest in a glass or stainless steel water bottle. Did you know that the quality regulations on tap water are much stricter than those on bottled water? Just another reason to ditch the bottled water habit!
- Invest in glass Tupperware. We have this set and love it. The pieces are incredibly durable and don’t get superheated in the microwave, unlike plastic Tupperware!
- Invest in reusable travel utensils for meals on-the-go. Life Without Plastic has several good options!
- Use BeesWrap or silicone food covers, not plastic wrap. We use these cute flower-shaped silicone food covers–they come in multiple sizes–but still use plastic wrap for some things. There’s a cool new alternative to plastic wrap, though: BeesWrap! It’s made from cotton and beeswax. Unfortunately, it’s still pretty expensive, but it lasts up to a year when properly used and cared for.
- Avoid boxed and shrink-wrapped food. The following tips are a few suggestions as to how to avoid boxed and shrink-wrapped food.
- Buy grains, legumes, and nuts in bulk. Bring your cloth bags and fill them to the brim! Dried goods have a long shelf life. Store bulk foods in glass jars at home to avoid contact with water and bug infestations. And if cooking beans from dry seems too hard and time-consuming–it isn’t! Recipe: Soak beans overnight. Drain. Put in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are soft but still hold their shape, 1-2 hours depending on type of bean. Store in the fridge for up to 7-10 days. Works for any quantity or type of bean!
- Shop at the deli counter. Avoid the styrofoam and plastic-wrapped meat in the cold case and buy fresher, paper-wrapped meat and seafood instead.
- Visit your local farmers’ market! Bring your reusable bags and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies without the excess packaging. Besides, is there anything better than sweet corn-on-the-cob that’s been picked just hours earlier? Short answer: no. Long answer: no.
- Start growing your own salad greens. Lettuce and spinach are low-maintenance veggies that can be grown in a raised bed, on an apartment balcony, and even right in your kitchen with an incubator light. If you let lettuce go to seed at the end of the season, it will often replant itself and come up without any work on your part the next year.
- Drink loose-leaf tea. Did you know that many teabags contain plastic and thus are not 100% biodegradable? Invest in a reusable tea caddy and buy loose-leaf tea instead.
- Use rags instead of paper towels. Paper towels usually come packaged in plastic and oftentimes the individual roles are wrapped in plastic within the outer packaging! Cut up old t-shirts and pillowcases to use for wiping down surfaces instead. You’ll save money, too!
- Make your own cleaners. I love my Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning products as much as the next person, but I hate the plastic packaging. I’ve only just dipped my foot into the world of homemade cleaners, but I use a vinegar-water solution (1:4 ratio) stored in a reusable spray bottle for cleaning our countertops and it works just as well as any storebought cleaner!
- Replace broken pots, pans, and other cooking tools with non-plastic versions.
What about Recyclable Plastic?
Buying recyclable plastics is better than nothing, but it still isn’t a great option by a long shot. Energy still goes into producing the product, toxins are produced in the process, and energy is required for recycling at the end of its life. Recycling plants are actually huge producers of toxic emissions, with dire health consequences for those who live nearby the plants. In short: reducing your plastic consumption is far, far better than recycling!
Are you going to take the Plastic Free July challenge? What are your tips for reducing plastic use in the kitchen?