As you find ways to declutter and simplify your home, keep in mind that knowing what your possessions are made of is just as important as being in touch with how they make you feel.
Chances are, you’ve been hearing about the problems we face with plastics today. Not only are they made from non-renewable fossil fuels that can leach toxins into our food and water, but they are also being recycled less and less, which means most are ending up in our landfills.
Luckily, there are many things you can do to avoid bringing plastic into your home to begin with. Each month, we’ll be sharing some Unfettered Tips for reducing your plastic footprint with Simply Spaced readers. Let’s begin in the heart of the home, the kitchen.
10 tips to a plastic-free kitchen
1. The next time a kitchen item breaks, consider replacing it with a plastic-free version.
If you’re thinking of creating a plastic-free kitchen, no need to put pressure on yourself to replace everything right away. The most sustainable option is using what you already have before you buy something new. If items are still doing their jobs, keep them until they’re no longer of use. When they break, source a version that is made from renewable materials like metal, cloth, wood or bamboo instead. Try bamboo drawer organizers, metal cooking utensils, cellulose (plant-based) sponges, cloth napkins, and seagrass or wicker storage baskets.
2. Use and reuse your zippered plastic bags, then replace them with fabric or silicone versions.
There are many reusable silicone storage bags on the market to choose from that are safe to be frozen and even cooked with! Silicone bags last much longer and are less likely to leach like their plastic counterparts. The base material they are made from is silica (sand derived from quartz), which is commonly found all over the world. You can also find washable fabric bags with zipper or velcro closures, but they do not have as tight of a seal and are usually not used for cooking.
First, use up the plastic bags you already have to store anything from cold food items to art supplies to travel toiletries. You can even wash and reuse them over and over again.
When they’re ready to be retired, stuff them in a larger plastic bag and recycle the entire thing when the bag is full. Many municipalities will recycle plastic bags stuffed together as long as they are not floating around loose. If yours doesn’t, look around for a plastic bag receptacle in front of a local grocery store, and bring your retired baggies there.
3. Switch to glass storage containers (yes, even in the freezer).
Plastic leaches due to heat, fat, and duration, which means that plastic jar of peanut butter stored in your cozy pantry for the last few months is a no-no, as is heating up foods in plastic containers or trays that come with your pre-made frozen dinners. Making the switch to glass storage containers is a painless one, as they are easy to find these days. You can use the snap-top kind, or even large mason jars, both of which hold up fine in the fridge, cupboard or even the freezer! (Just leave an inch above your contents for the food to expand while freezing.)
4. Swap your plastic wrap for plastic-free beeswax wrap or cloth bowl covers.
With a few easy replacements, plastic wrap will become a thing of your past. Beeswax wrap, if you haven’t heard of it, is a waxed cloth that sticks to containers much like plastic wrap. It’s all-natural, plastic-free, can be reused over and over again for up to 12 months, and is compostable when you’re done with it. You can also find elasticized fabric bowl covers that can be washed and reused. Or, keep it simple by securing a kitchen towel or cloth napkin over a jar with a rubber band.
5. Ditch plastic kids’ plates and bowls and find metal or wooden ones instead.
Admittedly, plastic kids items can be hard to avoid, especially as they grow beyond babies, but it’s easy to make the switch away from plastic plates, bowls, and utensils. You can find wooden bowls and plates at thrift or import stores, and there are many metal options out there too. Our favorites are the enamel place settings you find at most outdoor stores. You know – the colored kind with white speckles? They often come in sets of plates, bowls, and cups, which means not only will you nix the plastic tableware, but you’ll be ready to skip the paper plates on your next camping trip!
6. Get to know your local bakers and farmers.
Buying locally almost always reduces your plastic footprint. Fresh produce, bread, eggs or meat from local farmers’ markets can be placed right into your own containers and bags, eliminating plastic packaging that will wind up in your kitchen.
For example, one of the hardest things to find in plastic-free packaging is sliced bread. Sure, you can find some round loaves and baguettes in paper bags at the grocery store, but the best place to get fresh, sliced bread is at your local bakery. Just bring your own reusable bag, have them slice it there, and when you get home, separate what you need for a few days, then store the rest in the freezer. You can wrap your bread in a couple layers of fabric, say a kitchen towel and a cloth bag, or in bees wrap if you have some handy. It should keep for a couple of months if it isn’t eaten up before then.
7. Make your own cleaners – and fill up what you don’t make yourself in bulk.
Sure, we’re a little biased around here as we love making our own cleaners, but making your own cleaning products is easy, inexpensive, and lightens your plastic footprint at the same time. Everyday sprays can be made with simple ingredients, such as dish soap or vinegar and water. To degrease and deep clean, add more powerful, natural ingredients such as borax and washing soda, which you can easily find at most hardware or grocery stores or sold as a set online. Be creative — add your own blend of essential oils to pack an antimicrobial punch and make everything smell oh-so-lovely.
Don’t want to DIY? Many kitchen cleaners, such as dish soap and dishwasher detergent often come bulk. Just bring your empty containers to refill at your local natural foods store.
8. Start an herb garden.
Have you ever noticed how many store-bought herbs come in plastic clamshells? Millions of little plastic containers are being produced and packed with a few sprigs of herbs so we can use them for one meal! Instead, grow your own herbs somewhere near (or in!) your kitchen. Have a windowsill garden with your most commonly-used herbs, or keep them on a patio or deck within reach. Say hello to fresh, flavorful herbs and buh-bye to unnecessary single-use plastic.
9. Compost—even if you think you can’t. Then lose the plastic bin liner.
We know, easier said than done, but many municipalities offer curbside green waste bins that accept food scraps as well as yard trimmings. If you’re not so lucky, consider a bin that fits in your backyard, patio or even under your cupboard! And if neither is an option, check out sharewaste.com to see if anyone in your area can take your scraps!
Once you divert your compostables to the compost bin, you are left with mostly dry items to recycle or throw away. With no wet garbage left, there is no need for a plastic liner for your garbage can. If you still feel like you need a barrier between your trash and the container, you can line your smaller trash cans with newspaper. Just toss it all into your curbside bin, bag-free, and pat yourself on the back. You’re one step closer to a plastic-free kitchen!
10. Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle – in that order.
Recycling is a wonderful invention, but it’s a flawed system. Did you know that in 2014, long before China stopped accepting our dirty recyclables, less than 10% of plastics were recycled in the US? Luckily, the problem with plastics is reaching the mainstream. Unluckily, we haven’t gotten to the root of the real problem, which is our collective disposable mindset.
Refuse: Before purchasing anything new, ask yourself if you really need it or if it will bring joy to your life. If the answer is no, walk on by!
Reduce: Consider reducing what you already have to create the much-needed mental, emotional and physical space that you crave.
Reuse: Instead of reaching for something that comes in “recyclable” plastic packaging, hand over your refillable cup, bag, container, whatever have you, and fill ‘er up. That’s one less piece of plastic to bring into your home.
Recycle: Yes! Keep recycling! The recycling industry is in flux, but we must keep recycling as it evolves. This is an important habit that should not be broken. Call your local municipality to be sure you know what is being accepted. This can change frequently, so be sure you stay current.
Creating a plastic-free kitchen is easier than you think.
Cutting plastic out of your kitchen is a gradual process that goes hand-in-hand with decluttering your space and simplifying your life. Start with just one swap and work from there. Try it, master it, then move on to the next thing. In short order, using non-plastic materials in your kitchen will become second nature, and you’ll begin to seek out other plastic items in your home that you can easily replace. What other plastic items in your home can you replace with a more sustainable alternative?
To learn more about the impact of plastic pollution, check out this article on SloActive.com.