I’ve always been a plastic bag re-user, a choice founded in environmentalism as well as frugality. Reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic is a naturally easy mindset if you are economically concerned and interested in sustainable living. While making the most of the many plastic items that cross my doorstep is almost second nature by now, it was not until recently that I began my journey in earnest towards a plastic-free kitchen.
Like all good things, this journey to eliminate plastic in my kitchen began with getting curious. I wondered about all the little mystery plastics I encountered like milk jug tops or other tiny plastics that are too small or weird to recycle, but were ending up in my kitchen. I did research on the origins of such plastics, specifically synthetic polymers and polyester, and wanted to know more about when plastics came into common use in the household. I discovered that it was largely a Second World War era phenomena. I asked my mother, who was born in 1939, and her peers, if they remembered what they did for food storage when they were younger before plastic was so common. They had memories of eating fresh foods stored in glass in the fridge, storing unwashed eggs on the counter top for weeks on end (most eggs have a protective membrane that keeps them fresh), keeping freshly baked breads in wooden bread boxes, and wrapping fresh produce from their mothers’ kitchen gardens in damp cloth towels.
Armed with this knowledge, I set out to try to rid my kitchen of plastic. I didn’t rush to throw everything plastic away, but I started to make conscious decisions that would eliminate additional plastic items from accumulating in the kitchen. I didn't feel it was sustainable or cost-effective to just toss my non-recyclable but still usable kitchen objects in the garbage simply to achieve an instantaneous plastic-free aesthetic. Instead, I slowly began to establish steps for a plastic-free kitchen that worked for my lifestyle. First, I eliminated buying or acquiring single-use plastics such as produce bags and cling film. Then, I made decisions to recycle my existing multi-use plastics like resealable storage containers as they reached the end of their usefulness and to replace them with non-plastic alternatives like glass jars. Today, my kitchen is approximately 85% plastic-free. My journey, which started with questions and research, has continued steadily forward as I look for creative solutions to going completely plastic-free. Believe it or not, the process to ditch plastic can be a fun challenge! Here are ten changes I have made and that you can easily make, too.
1 - Store fresh produce in damp linen towels or bags. Did you know linen is naturally anti-microbial? When you replace your single-use plastic storage bags with linen you are not only reducing waste, you are also keeping your food fresher and cleaner!
2 - Use a ceramic plate as the lid for your bowl of leftovers. This is a simple and brilliant way to eliminate cling wrap.
3 - Store cheeses in beeswax wraps, butcher paper, or even glass jars. Store meats in waxed or butcher paper whenever possible.
4 - Bake your own bread in small batches and store it in a bread box or a linen bag. Try out a slow-rise, no-knead bread recipe because it takes so little hands-on time. Buy bread at the farmers market or bakery, ask for no plastic, and wrap bread in a linen storage bag or towel instead.
5 - Buy dry goods in bulk whenever possible. Bring your own containers for bulk goods to the store. Great solutions for containers are cotton or linen bags, re-useable glass containers, or paper bags.
6 - Shop for foods that aren't packaged in plastic. This is a tough one! Look for items that don't need packaging at all or things that are packaged in recyclable or re-useable materials like paper boxes, paper bags, cans, or glassware.
7- Use less plastic in your freezer. Invest in some re-useable glassware designed for cold storage. And did you know you can freeze leftovers in glass mason jars? Leave plenty of head room in the jar and refrigerate well before putting in the freezer. Warm up the glass slowly when you remove it to thaw so it doesn't crack.
8 - Look for stainless steel, ceramic, porcelain enamel, or cast iron pans that are more durable and not coated with plastic derivatives that make them non-stick. Choose wooden or metal utensils instead of plastic items for stirring your foods.
9 - Instead of disposable paper products or polyester fiber napkins, buy napkins that are 100% natural fiber like our linen and cotton napkins. Linen napkins dress up any table!
10 - Give up single-use plastic garbage bags. Yes, you heard me! It's easier to give up garbage bags if you use a smaller garbage bin, recycle as much as you can, buy items with less packaging waste, and find ways to compost produce waste. When you're going plastic-free, you'll already notice less packaging waste in your garbage stream and you will be making choices that decrease your waste volume, so why not use a smaller can? With smaller garbage bins, you can even re-use paper grocery bags instead of buying new plastic garbage bags. You can also choose to just set the whole garbage bin by the curb and rinse it out later instead of using a separate plastic liner! And, of course, finding a way to compost makes the garbage bag dilemma even easier because you will have less messy, wet food waste to deal with (and composting is a whole separate blog post!).
Enjoy the journey! Comment and let me know your favorite tips for going plastic-free!