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  • Jenny Hill

Reducing Plastics in the Kitchen

You may have heard that this month is Plastic Free July. This is a great month-long challenge encouraging people to take any action, big or small, to reduce their use of single-use plastics. If you are a joiner, there are lots of ideas, support, and even a quiz to help you get started and keep you motivated at the Plastic Free July website.

How hard can it be to focus on this for 31 days?  In 2022 I participated and did indeed find it challenging, as you can read about in the Plastic Free July Scorecard: Kind of Ugly blog post. 

But since I tried the challenge, I’ve found it has gotten easier for me personally to do without single-use items like drinking straws–although it’s sometimes hard to remember at restaurants to let the server know ahead of time NOT to bring a straw with the drinks. And I often travel with my own silverware and take out containers now, thanks to the great example of HDT’s executive director, Quinn, who shares her tips and hacks in this blog.

New discoveries of how plastic is present in our food and water – and ultimately in our bodies– seem to surface every week in the news. Reading about everything from phthalates to PFAs (AKA forever chemicals), as outlined in this Consumer Reports article, can frankly feel grim.  However, now is not the time to get overwhelmed, but to take action.

So for today, let’s focus on the kitchen. “My kitchen, my rules” is a popular sassy saying found on plaques, oven mitts, and dish towels. Maybe you don’t own your own kitchen, but you certainly own your individual actions while in any kitchen. 

As we like to say at Happy Dancing Turtle: Start where you are. Sierra magazine offers this approach in its “Your Plastic-Free Kitchen” article: “Pick and choose what works for you. Don’t stress about removing all plastic all at once: Doing something is better than nothing.”

So here is a list of things you might try. Pick what seems like low-hanging fruit for your daily life and see how it goes.

  • Adopt glass jars. Canning jars may be readily available in your circle of friends and family, or you can purchase new ones. But even if they aren't, the Sierra article points out: “You can clean out old spaghetti-sauce or jam jars to give them a second life. If filling with something hot, pre-warm the jar and fill it on a conductive surface, like a cutting board, to avoid cracking.”

  • Move to a wood or bamboo cutting board instead of plastic. Sierra recommends moving away from plastic cooking utensils also. You may be most comfortable buying cutting boards new, but check out thrift stores or rummage sales for non-plastic utensils.

  • Skip plastic bags for fresh produce. The Sierra article mentions drawstring bags which can be washed and re-used. If you shop at farmers’ markets, you may have seen people who bring their own box or basket. Since produce will be washed at home anyway, how you bring it home becomes less important.

  • For a plastic wrap alternative, check out fabric coated with beeswax-coated fabric. It’s great to cover bowls or wrap up sandwiches or other food stuff such as cheese. Yes, this is another possible purchase, or try it as a DIY project.

  • Are you a tea drinker? This is another area where plastic may have snuck in. “...either the bag, which could be nylon or other manmade material, or the seal at the top, which might also be plastic. (Tazo, which is owned by Starbucks, uses trace plastic in its seal.) According to studies, when plastic tea bags are brewed in hot water, microplastics are released,” explains the Sierra article. So a great alternative is to buy tea in bulk (which often saves you money and generates less waste) and use a tea ball.

Plastic Packaging and Recycling Plastic FAQs

As you consider making small changes to your kitchen routines, some questions may arise. I’ve found Green America, a non-profit group whose mission is to use the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society, has some great responses. It’s empowering to think we vote with our dollars, and all of our buying decisions together really can have an influence.

One question Green America addresses is plastic packaging at the supermarket. As we covered above, two strategies are bringing your own container or shopping at a farmers market which has minimal packaging instead. Green America offers this third idea: “If it’s a product you love, contact the company asking for non-plastic wrapping. Your consumer voice matters!” Look for a website listed on the label or an 800 number. Hate the phone? You can probably find a contact email on the website.

Another question that’s probably come up for many of us is whether plastic is less toxic as it ages. Does Tupperware (or any other brand of plastic container) become harmless after a certain period of time. Green America’s response is:

“It’s probably time to toss your Tupperware and other very old plastic containers. Dr. Larry Silver, medical advisor for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment wrote that the older the plastic container, the greater the leaching activity. The same is true for non-food-grade plastics too, like shower curtains, which shed phthalates more as they age, especially when encouraged by heat and moisture—like your food containers—according to Mike Schade at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.”

Green America says plastics that are scratched up or cloudy should be disposed of. And they recommend keeping newer containers out of the microwave and dishwasher as well as avoiding storing acidic or greasy food in plastic of any age. 

And not to heap on the bad news, but it must be said that in many communities, the ability to recycle plastic is limited. Even in places where a wider range of plastic is accepted for recycling, new information says that the hazards of the process of recycling plastic outweigh any potential benefits. Many groups, like the nonprofit Beyond Plastics, are advocating serious reconsideration of the production of many types of plastic.

Thinking Is Great, Doing Is Even Better

If nothing so far feels workable in your life, here are even more options–the Plastic Free July Calendar has 31 days of things you can try to minimize plastic in your daily life. Give it a look and then give something a try. Remember, everyone’s small steps add up to big changes.


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