Like many of us, I'm on a journey to reduce my plastic use, at home and otherwise. For this month's blog, I decided to narrow down the focus to ways we can all reduce our plastic use in the kitchen. Something that along with reducing food waste I am very passionate about and always learning ways to improve on!
Most of us try to do the right thing most of the time - we recycle as much as we can and many of us compost our food scraps - but plenty of plastic packaging is still creeping in to our waste bins, and eventually into landfill or worse, our oceans. So, don't you agree it's time to rethink our plastic use?
"Unless we act, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight)." - www.take3.org
The Facts Are Overwhelming
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes.
- Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
- These facts were taken from http://plasticoceans.org/the-facts
Like a lot of people, you may not really think about what you're putting in the bin. But now more than ever, when we have all the facts at our disposal, and access to a world of information and resources to help us do the right thing - it's time to take control of our future - because it's in our hands.
Once we understand what we are really throwing out, it becomes quite easy to break old buying habits and make new ones.
My biggest piece of advice is - Keep it simple, keep it practical! It doesn’t have to happen overnight – but by slowly changing one thing at a time and making new and better habits – you will end up making a big difference.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” – John Muir
The hardest part can be getting the whole family on board. So start with simple steps. Once you master one habit, then move onto the next. I get stuck sometimes and end up with a plastic bag I really didn’t want – when this happens just reuse it as many times as you can and remember don’t be too hard on yourself - all you can do is your best, so keep on doing your bit and trying as hard as you can within your own situation.
Firstly – if you are on a mission to remove plastic from your kitchen – I don’t recommend throwing it all out. Reuse what you can first – for example those plastic sandwich bags can be washed and reused several times. If you have a lot of soft plastics that can’t be reused and you are planning to throw them out – drop them off to a Redcycle bin near you.
Let's talk about glass as a great plastic alternative!
At home we have slowly phased out old plastic containers and replaced them with glass - glass is a fantastic way to store food and is an efficient resource that is not made of petrochemicals like plastic. The older your plastic containers the more likely they are to be leaching toxins into your food. We have retired many old plastic containers to the garage where they now hold nails, nuts/bolts etc – you could also use them for storing pegs, pet toys, stationery, the list is endless. As a last resort they can be recycled.
We mostly use ball mason jars and also jars we have saved from buying pasta sauces/kimchi/pickles etc. Glass will never leach nasty chemicals into your food! Did you know you can even freeze certain foods in glass? Not all glass handles thermal stress the same, so we recommend mason ball jars and Pyrex glass containers (they do have plastic lids but still an excellent product that will last you years) – we have never had a problem with these and have found them perfect for freezing:
- Vegetable scraps for making stocks/soups
- Soups/pasta sauces
- Herbs/citrus zests
Don’t freeze any bottles with a thin neck and always leave about a 3cm gap at the top of the jar when freezing liquids as they will expand.
PLASTIC - it's a human addiction, and it's time to rethink it.
I am really passionate about using our power to ‘refuse’ - aka limit the need to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – prevention is key. So this means refusing processed/packaged foods as much as you can. I know it’s impossible to avoid plastic altogether all the time – no one is 100 percent perfect at this – but you can opt to make small changes such as making your own bulk snacks instead of single use plastic wrapped ones.
Always check your cupboards before going shopping! I can’t stress this enough. How many times have you doubled or even tripled up on items already in your pantry? We have all done it. It doesn’t just mean more unnecessary packaging but it often leads to food waste as well. It pays to plan ahead and buy only what you need.
Avoid those plastic sandwich bags as tempting as they may be! Replace these with beeswax or vegan reusable food wraps. If you use the sandwich bags for freezing – consider replacing with a good quality set of glass storage containers in different sizes. If you do have some in the cupboard that you need to use up, remember you can wash and re-use if not using for dairy/meat.
You CAN live without plastic cling film – stock up on reusable food wraps or other alternative wraps! If it’s not there to use, you will amaze yourself at how easy it is to live without it! We use large beeswax wraps to cover food in bowls – and depending on what it is we often just store it in a glass container or even pop an upside down plate over it. There is also a fantastic product I’ve started using recently that replaces cling film, baking paper and foil and can be reused for years! It’s called Agreena wrap and made near us in the Yarra Valley, VIC, with 100% approved food grade silicone it can be safely used in the freezer, fridge, oven and microwave.
Limit takeaway as much as you can – not only will this save on your pocket – it will also save the environment. Look, I understand takeaway is super convenient and fun, just limit the amount you buy and reuse the containers a few times.
Switch to stainless steel or glass water bottles.
- The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle as there is in the container.
- Fact taken from http://plasticoceans.org/the-facts
Plastic water bottles are one of my pet peeves – I would only suggest purchasing one if you have forgotten your reusable water bottle, have asked the café for a glass of water and they have refused, looked for a bubbler…basically tried every possible way of getting water before you purchase one!!
Invest in a reusable coffee cup! We sell the most gorgeous ceramic travel cups that have been handmade by a local ceramist. They make a beautiful gift for a loved one, or just for you! If ceramic cups aren't your thing, there are plenty of glass, stainless steel or other varieties available - so you won't struggle to find one. I know of workplaces where the staff have all put in money and bought their coffee cups in bulk - this could be a great initiative for your workplace or business to get on board with.
BYO reusable shopping bags and produce bags! Keep spares in your car or at the front door. If you have a handbag, the little fold up pouch bags are perfect for this. I get that it’s convenient to grab the plastic bags in the produce aisle but you can also go without a bag altogether for larger loose items or purchase some reusable bags. When I’ve been stuck I’ve also pinched some mushroom bags for little items like chillis...which isn't so bad, right? Plus, I composted them ;)
Don’t buy or accept plastic straws or cutlery – I recommend using glass or stainless steel straws at home – I even keep a glass straw in my handbag and I must have used it hundreds of times now… to me that’s hundreds less straws in landfill or floating around in our oceans harming marine life.
Cook in bulk and love your leftovers ! Each time we cook, we aim to make enough for 2 nights and if possible at least one lunch. Love your leftovers – check out love food hate waste facebook page for some great tips and recipes for using up leftovers. This is a great way to not only save money but also cooking in bulk can equal less packaging - and best of all you can take your leftovers to work in your reusable container!
Shop in bulk wholefood stores – Just because you're shopping at a bulk food store doesn't mean you have to buy in huge bulk amounts! The point is that they source the food in bulk and therefore avoid excess packaging waste and food miles. Shopping at a bulk wholefoods store also means you can bring your your own jars or containers and purchase exactly the amounts you need. No excess waste in packaging or food! It also saves your pocket - you will often find bulk stores cheaper than shopping at the supermarket because you're not paying for the packaging and branding that companies charge for.
Use reusable kitchen wipes - made from hemp, bamboo or cotton that can be washed and reused instead of the throwaway wipes.
Phase out plastic kitchen scrubbers and replace with a bamboo/compostable one – some supermarkets sell them, but if your local doesn't, you can purchase them online or at some health food stores.
Make your own cleaning products. This will eliminate the need to keep purchasing plastic spray bottles/pump bottles – I invested in some glass alternatives that I refill with DIY cleaning recipes. Some handy items to have on hand for your natural cleaning recipes are essential oils, castile soap, white vinegar, distilled water (all except essential oils can be purchased in bulk). I’ll be doing a separate blog post on this down the track with some of my top tips/recipes, so look out for this! Making your own also means avoiding any nasty toxins.
You can also see if your local health food shop or bulk food store lets you BYO bottles to refill.
Make fresh squeezed OJ or fruit juice or simply eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It's healthier and saves on plastic!
Buy fresh bread in paper bags or package-free from the bakery and BYO bag.
Try going without a bin liner and lining it with newspaper instead. You can purchase biodegradable bin liners, but it is possible to go without. You don’t need to line your recycle bin just rinse it out when it gets dirty – some people collect recyclables inside a garbage bag and place this direct into their recycle bin – not only will this waste plastic, but the recycling center can’t open bags – it will go directly to landfill.
Don't forget your compost bin too! If you choose to line your kitchen compost bin, try lining it with newspaper or recycled paper and not a plastic bag. The bag will most likely end up in your waste bin. An added bonus to using paper is that it will be an extra source of carbon for your lovely compost!
In summary, we all need to be working together to reduce our use of these single use plastics. They are not the answer and like I've demonstrated above, alternatives often exist. Use your voice to make change - ask for your drink to come without a plastic straw, refuse the bag, ask your favourite cafe to think about bamboo cutlery or reusable straws. There are little things we can all do, every day, to make single use plastics a thing to reflect on, not a thing to rely on.
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