I know we have all been craving spring this month, but the rain just won’t let up! Ugh. I’m over it and my green thumbs are starting to itch and I want to plant some herbs and flowers soon. Oh well, it is just not meant to be, and as a result, I have had a fair amount of time inside this month to work on some projects for Cedar Coast clients and myself including getting my kitchen back in line.
Do me a favour. Walk into your kitchen pantry and take a look around. What do you see? Packages I bet. A lot of plastic and cardboard packages of food. I’m not sure when it became normal for our food to be stored in plastic bags or cardboard boxes with little plastic windows, as if they need a little peak of the outside world, but here we are.
I can go on and on about the potentially harmful nature of our food products being snugged up against plastic for months on end, but truly the science isn’t that great to create a great argument against it that will stand up to heavy criticism. However, I do advocate for plastic free kitchens for another irrefutable reason. Pollution. Soft plastics are one of the most difficult items to be recycled because they are often an unknown amalgam of resins. For instance zip style sandwich bags are two different types of plastics which contaminate eachother when melted down, and therefore cannot be recycled. Many municipalities just don’t even have the option to recycle them, depot or roadside.
According to Stanford University “One ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 Kwh of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million BTU’s of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.” which is fantastic, but I’m talking about the plastics that cannot or will not be recycled such as those for coffee, pasta, croutons, chips etc. Not to mention produce bags, bulk food and spice baggies and non-paper tea bags. In fact the use of single-use plastic packaging, has grown from 120,000 tons in 1960 to 12.7 million tons in 2006.
So the solution I’ve come up with is a plastic free kitchen conversion. It can be done within a day by myself, or if you’re feeling up to the task, over a weekend or week if you’re up for it. These conversions include the audit of your pantry and grocery needs and removal of plastic food containers and packaging. Finally, the replacement of harmful plastic storage containers for day to day leftovers and fridge storage. I bet you would be surprised to know that majority of your dry goods can be purchased in bulk such as granola, pasta, protein powders, spices, baking ingredients, candy, snacks and even bath salts. Organic and conventional options abound! Very very few things are packaged in our home simply because I changed the way I shop and how I store things. And once the system was in place, I never really noticed a difference.
The first thing you will need is a plethora of glass containers of varying sizes. This is where an audit of your pantry comes into place, so you know just about how many of each size you need. My favourite place for jars is Ikea.
They have a variety of sizes, styles, and means to fasten (twist lids or wire bail.) These jars will be the vessels for you to store your pantry goods. This is a list of all the items we purchase in bulk form from our local grocery store and now (just recently opened near me) Bulk Barn.
There are several ways to transport your bulk items too and from the grocery store including light-weight mesh bags which can hold both your fruits and veggies and larger bulk items like seeds, nuts, and granola’s. Secondly there are thin linen bags which are great for powders or finer grains like protein powders and rice. And since you are going to ask, no I don’t find that my powders leak through the fabric.
Next, you want to recycle or donate your existing stockpile of plastic tupperware. You know that drawer in your kitchen where you can’t find a lid for 50% of the containers and nothing completely fits? Yeah. That drawer. When I go into a client home I donate the entire pile and start fresh.
Depending on the size of your family and their needs, you will need to buy 2-5 sets of new glass containers. Deciding what you need will depend on the number of family members you have, whether they take lunches with them to school or work or if they eat out, and how much food preparation your household does. This is key because I store my half-used peppers, onions and various leftovers in these same food containers, so you are going to want enough to cover both needs because you are NO LONGER GOING TO USE PLASTIC WRAP!
How exciting is that notion?! Okay, so well, maybe not that exciting for everyone, but it still is great for me after all these years. We will talk about plastic wrap options next, but hold tight.
So which containers should you buy? Well I love the Anchor brand round containers. Normally you can buy them at stores like Canadian Tire, Bed, Bath & Beyond and other home stores. They are ALWAYS on sale, so if they aren’t wait a day and they probably will and they are on sale for 4 sizes for $6.99! That’s a steal!
So we’ve got bulk food containers, leftover and lunch food containers, and vegetable/fridge food storage containers covered. Next we can move on to plastic wrap, zip-bags and bread bags. These can all be replaced by reusable options which may or may not be plastic based depending on your personal preference. To me the importance falls on not creating as much waste and less about exposing my food to plastics. However, I don’t like to microwave or heat my plastics, so I have only two of these kinds of items.
The first are bags for storing my bread and buns. We, and when I say that I mean my husband Steve, bake our own bread and buns and therefore need something to store them in and preserve them. We have a three pack of Bread Armor bags which have lasted us now 3 years. Once you use them you just simple wash it out and reuse!
There are options which are both plastic and fabric to replace zip-bags such as these from Russbe and Evercoast Handmade. I mostly use the fabric-fox bags, however for some slightly messier items like celery and peanut butter or whatnot, I prefer the plastic ones. PS. Did I mention that the Russbe bags are dishwasher safe? Yeah they are! You’re welcome 😉
“But what about the bowls?!” You cry. Fear not. If you have the desire to cover your bowls of salad or leftovers with plastic wrap, they make a reusable analog for you. I am a fan of CoverBlubber. Though I don’t personally own any, I did use my lovely Mother-In-Law as a guinea pig and purchased her a set of these intriguing BPA free rubber covers. Sue thought they worked fairly well, though were a tad bit tricky to spread over wider bowls with one hand or wet hands. Fair enough!
Although they are super strange to look at, they do make a great alternative to plastic wrap. Thanks for taking one for the team Sue!
I personally use Beeswax Wraps made by Evercoast Handmade to cover my bowls and find them very easy to wash and reuse! Plus they smell amazing, so who doesn’t like that. Both the CoverBlubber and Beeswax Wraps are not microwaveable, so please don’t try it. My preferred method of covering something to be microwaved is simply just putting a plate over top of the bowl or plate to keep the steam in.
Plastic utensils? There is an easy replacement for those as well. Try bamboo utensils as an alternative which are safe for all surfaces like Teflon and ceramic so you don’t have to worry about scratching anything. We also own some silicon covered spatulas and whisks which have lasted a very long time.
Well, there you have it! There are some very simple ways to reduce the amount of plastic you generate or consume in your kitchen. It doesn’t have to be a transition completed all at once, but a refreshing one once you do! But remember to try and donate the items you are discarding in order to keep them out of the landfill for as long as possible and to give someone who could use them access to quality goods.
Environmental sustainability in the home is a learning experience and a goal to work towards. I read earlier today someone rebuking the movement to ban plastic straws saying that straws were just a minuscule portion of plastics found in our oceans, and I agree. However, I feel as though the straw has become a sort of mascot for the movement to do away with one-time-use plastics in general. Straws are a great example of how we as a society have normalized the amount of time, effort and resources to create an object which has a use-life of less than 15 minutes. One-time-use plastics are a financial weight for companies to carry without any value added, meaning they swallow the costs of plastic stir sticks, straws, cup lids, cutlery, takeaway containers etc and are expected to not pass that cost on to their customers as “its just the cost of business”. But making these changes as a whole is in many ways a teaching opportunity.
So, is this system perfect? No, absolutely not because many people cannot afford to transition to an plastic free kitchen all in one go or at all. But for those of you who can shouldn’t let that stop you from generating unnecessary plastics, because as we normalize this new kind of sustainability it will become second nature and the new normal for younger generations.
So, off you go! I challenge you to make one change in your kitchen this week, and don’t forget, Cedar Coast is more than just a blog! I do kitchen and pantry conversions for those of you living in Vancouver and the surrounding area of Metro Vancouver, Kelowna and the Sunshine Coast! If you are interested in becoming a client of Cedar Coast Sustainability, contact me today!