We’ve all seen the sad video of the turtle having a straw pulled out of it’s nostril, or been horrified by images of decaying birds and fish splayed open with little pieces of plastic filling their stomach cavity. And it probably provoked a sense of anger in us and stirred us to stop using plastic straws. But the ocean is far away and it can feel like the problem of plastic and beaches covered in rubbish is not our problem. After all, we recycle and throw away our trash responsibly in the garbage.
That’s the problem though. After we recycle that plastic or throw away that garbage, it’s taken away to the landfill where we can no longer see it and realize the impact that we’re making on our own environment. On the beautiful prairies of Alberta. When it’s swept away to the secluded landfill, we’re not able to visualise exactly how much garbage we’re producing. So let me tell you, it’s a lot! Albertans are disposing of more waste per person than any other province! At 1007kg of garbage per person, we are throwing away more than double the waste as Nova Scotia. So starting with the kitchen, let’s find some easy and not-so-easy ways to reduce the amount of garbage we’re making.
1 Identify the single use plastics: Before figuring out how to cut down on plastic in the kitchen, we need to figure out what kinds of plastic are being used. We all cook and eat a little differently so the kinds of plastic that I have a hard time avoiding might be something that you don’t even use. For example, I love bread. So much! So I go through about 2 loaves every week and every single loaf comes in a plastic bag. Which is why I’ve started trying to make bread, just like everyone else that is stuck at home… But bread bags may not be where you create the most plastic waste so do a little search around your kitchen a bit to see if any of these things are used regularly or are piling up. Or if you want to get precise try digging in your trash and doing a waste audit. Did you find?….
- Saran wrap
- Meat trays and wrapping
- Dish soap bottles
- Cleaner spray bottles
- Ziplock bags
- Keurig cups
- Sour pads
- Parchment paper
- Paper towel (no it’s not a plastic, but it’s only used once and then thrown out)
- Soda bottles
- Cereal bags
- Chip bags
- Granola bar wrappers
- Instant soup packets
- Veggie bags
- Coffee bags
2 Replace with reusable items or plastic free alternatives: Now that you’ve got a good idea of what plastics you use the most, pick 1 or 2 or even several that you’re going to improve on and do a google search for reusable alternatives. For example, if you decide to be intense and quit buying cereal and chips to avoid the plastic, you may end up making your own chips or switching to other kinds of plastic free snacks. If you’ve decided to go cold turkey on ziplock bags, you may find that containers work great for storing and transporting your food. Or if you want to use something that will keep the food more low profile, beeswax wraps work great for covering up or wrapping up food.
There aren’t always reusable options though, so the next best thing is to find something that will
3 Plan ahead: One of the trickiest parts about trying to go plastic free is the extra work involved is planning and preparing. When trying to avoid plastic use in the kitchen, grocery shopping becomes a landmine of plastic wrapped food and finding things that come package free can be a huge hurdle. So when preparing to go to the grocery store, it helps to have a grocery list and visualize what you’ll need to bring along.
- 5 Carrots (bring a produce bag to carry them in)
- 1 bunch of bananas (those can go straight into the cart)
- Rice (can I bring a jar to put it in? Should I buy it from the Bulk Barn?)
- Honey (grab some that’s in a nice jar that I’ll want to reuse)
- 10 Potatoes (grab 2 produce bags so they don’t get mixed up)
- 5lbs of ground beef (bring a container and go to the deli counter)
- Flour (for making my own bread. It comes in a paper bag too!)
- I should also bring in 2 of my own grocery bags to fit everything in
Total: 3 produce bags, 1 jar, 1 container, and 2 big grocery bags
It takes some practice but with repetition it becomes second nature. If you’re having a hard time remembering though, keep a kit in your car with at least 6 grocery bags, 5 produce bags, 1 or 2 jars, and a few containers. That way you can grab them on your way into the store.
4 Reuse the single use: There are some things that just don’t come plastic free. Yogurt, frozen berries, bread. But instead of throwing them away, try saving them and putting them to use again. Frozen berry bags are basically very sturdy ziplock bags that can be used over and over for lots of different things. Refill them with U-pick berries collected in the summer. Fill them with cooled down soups and stews to be frozen and eaten later. Cut up too-ripe bananas and freeze them for smoothies.
The same goes for ziplock bags. If you’ve still got a collection of ziplock bags, try to use them sparingly and wash them for reuse until they become damaged.
We’ve all had a grandma, or aunt, or mother whose fridge was filled to the brim with refilled yogurt containers. Although it can get confusing and you never know if you’ve actually got any yogurt left in the fridge, yogurt containers are a great way to reuse a perfectly good container again and save yourself from buying new ones. You can keep your food storage a bit more orderly by using pure acetone (found in the nail polish remover section) to wipe down the yogurt containers and remove the labels.
Eliminating plastic from the kitchen is a really tricky thing to teach since we all lead different lives, eat different food, and have different habits. But just start looking at your life and trying to notice what you’re using on a day to day basis. The more you look, the more you’ll notice that plastic has become a thing that has taken over our lives. We can hardly escape it anymore because it is used in everything! Everything is packaged in plastic film, containers, and bottles. It’s been useful in reducing the weight of goods that need to be transported, but its ubiquitous use is overwhelming our waste disposal services and our planet.
Being aware of the plastics is the first step. Looking for alternatives is the second step. And then actually putting in the hard work of replacing the plastics with more sustainable solutions is the third step. These steps don’t stop though.Unless we decide to live out in the woods and live off of the land, avoiding plastic is a continual cycle of effort and change. But don’t get discouraged! Every little change makes a difference even if it doesn’t feel like it. So thank you for jumping on this treadmill and making the choice to slowly reduce your plastic use as well!