Hello Darlin’! Today we’re going plastic free in the kitchen.
As you read on you’ll find that plastic free goals lead to less thoughtless consumption, money savings, healthy meal prep, natural living, and more organization in your kitchen. Healthy kitchens, healthy lives.
A little backstory:
I remember the early days of living in my first apartment. Learning to really cook for the first time. I was so excited to use my brand new non-stick pans. Then, one night at dinner, everything changed.
My non-stick pan began to peel into my food as I was sauteing vegetables. The plastic lining or coating or whatever it is that makes it non-stick decided to have a dance party in the middle of my freshly bought organic produce.
If you’ve ever perused the kitchen aisles of a thrift store you’ll know that the majority of it is comprised of non stick pots and pans and plastic gear. Very rarely will you find a cast iron or copper pan.
There is a reason for this.
Cast iron is a quality item that lasts a lifetime. It gets passed down through generations. Scratched plastic bowls and scuffed non-stick pans…not so much.
Anyone who has ventured out to their curb the day after Christmas can relate to the massive piles of last year’s goods and empty gift boxes. It’s gross and irritating to look at, and it’s not until you realize that there really is no such thing as “away” that you start to understand what a massive problem it is. It’s happening on every block, in every neighborhood, every week.
I knew there had to be a more mindful way to live.
After discovering Sunset magazine’s video series on Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home I grew inspired. Her clean, bright, and organized kitchen had me in awe. More importantly, she was vibrant. Her enthusiasm and happiness that exuded from her was intoxicating. I was hooked.
If you’re still not convinced, I urge you to try the Action Steps throughout this article. Give it a shot and see how much it can truly transform and uplift your cooking and kitchen. Simply swapping out plastic free cooking utensils can lead you on an awesome journey to plastic free cooking.
Now I’ll share a dirty little secret.
I should let you guys know that our house is not zero waste. Nowhere near it. I want to give huuuuge props to those that are zero waste or even entirely plastic free because it is hard. Crazy hard. My husband and I have had nice zero waste plastic free daydreams for awhile, we’ve talked to friends and family about our goals, and we’ve purged and planned a ton, and it’s just never gotten to 100%.
Life happens. We’re not perfect.
The truth is that plastic is pretty much everywhere and it is a constant battle. I finally found peace when I realised that it’s all about the journey. Plastic free goals. Having a plastic free mantra. Making the best decision that we can in the moment.
So, we started with the kitchen.
Why start with the kitchen?
It’s pretty simple really. In most homes, the majority of trash and non-reusable plastic enters and exits through the kitchen. The average person throws away 4.3 lbs of garbage per day. Let’s change that.
Why should I stop using plastic?
It seems like plastic is everywhere these days, and it is. Even if you’re an avid fan of recycling you’re still contributing to a massive amount of waste, and unfortunately, it’s more than you think. Most plastics are extremely hard for municipalities to recycle, or they are simply refused by the recycling centers.
Maybe you are lucky enough to live in a progressive area that accepts a wide range of materials (Lucky you!). Unfortunately for everyone, the plastics that are remade into another item are more often than not turned into a single use plastic item that can no longer be recycled. It extends the lifetime of that resource, but it will still end up as waste.
The only way to escape this cycle is to remove yourself from it. Refusing plastic is the only way to ensure that you are not contributing to this ever growing problem. Certain metals, electronics, and composite items are extremely hard to recycle properly as well, so be wary of mindless consumption. However, since plastic is everywhere, this is a key item to start with.
Living with a plastic free kitchen is merely about reworking some daily habits until they become second nature.
Find your motivation. (5 min.) This little reminder and happy thought will keep you sane and grounded as you work through this guide. How do you envision your life when you finish these action steps? What do you really want out of this? What is the ultimate win?
Quick Win # 1: Stop buying plastic today. Be mindful of your consumer habits. A plastic free kitchen doesn’t have to be hard if your mantra is “No Plastic”. Look for alternatives like metal, glass, silicone, biodegradable packaging, and cardboard if possible. Glass jars are especially awesome when food shopping because they can later be re-purposed for bulk goods.
Examine your habits. (15 min.) Set a timer. Go through your trash and recycle. Create a list of disposable items in your kitchen and pantry. Be honest. Be ruthless.
Mini Purge. (1hr.) Go through your kitchen and pantry and purge. Remove any expired food, trash it! Any food in there that you KNOW you aren’t going to eat can be donated to a local food pantry if it’s still good. Consolidate any doubles, and think about how you could remove or transfer pantry or bulk goods from plastic into glass.
P.S. If you’re buzzing with excitement you can get a sneak peak at some stuff we’re going to talk about by visiting the Roots & Fire pinterest account. Be sure to check out the Zero Waste Home and Zero Waste Kitchen/Pantry boards.
Now, I’d like to address a few worries that many people have when they are first learning about zero waste.
Style & Space: “Bulk kitchen goods don’t match my kitchen style”, or “I live in a really tiny apartment and don’t have enough room for bulk food”.
Here’s the thing, we’ve all been in a situation where we have erred on the side of vanity even when we know the alternative might be a better moral or logical choice. It happens, we’re only human. The great news is that you don’t have to compromise style in order to achieve a plastic free kitchen.
There are lots of options for bulk food containers to match any kitchen, whether your style runs toward a bohemian look, cottage shabby chic, minimalist and streamlined, or rustic. Whichever containers you go with, I guarantee you that they will look 100 times better than any Captain Crunch box looking down at you from your fridge.
If you live in a smaller space you’re actually in luck. You may worry when you read the words “bulk food”, but we’re not talking about the highly packaged set of 25 ketchup bottles that you get at the big club stores. Quite the opposite. After my initial kitchen and pantry purge I gathered my dried goods from three separate areas of my kitchen. Upon transferring them into appropriate glass jars, I found that my large assortment of grains, pastas, dried beans, sugar, flour, and canned items now fit into a small hutch in the corner of my kitchen.
Now, instead of standing on tip toe to reach into the dark crevices of my cabinets, all my food is organized and out on display. Doing this has made meal time a breeze and at the end of every week I can glance quickly to see which items we’re running low on.
Access: “I don’t have access to bulk goods or a bulk aisle, I live in the middle of nowhere.”
This issue is tricky and one that I struggled with for awhile. Despite living in an area with a large assortment of “green” grocery stores I could never find one with a bulk aisle that suited my needs. If you live in an area where your main source of food runs more towards a Food n’ Stuff instead of a Whole foods I encourage you to look outside the box. You may not be able to reach 100 % plastic free in your kitchen, but the goal can still be a priority. Focus on purchasing items without plastic and buying only metal and glass. Take some time to peruse the ethnic food aisles where you already shop, frequently the bottom shelves host a variety of rice and dried beans in large canvas bags. Also, consider shopping in health food stores, ethnic food markets, and farmer’s markets, their variety might surprise you.
Time: “I don’t have time to bulk shop”, or “I’m always in a hurry and prepackaged convenience foods save me time.”
We’ve been there! With two young kids, two dogs, family requirements, weekly kid’s activities, and daily chores on top, some weeks can seem like we never have enough time. Personally, this was my biggest reservation. Any big change we make in our family needs to be a positive one. Like a lot of parents, I struggle with balancing all the needs of our family. Setting up a plastic free kitchen in our home has been a total game changer. Instead of running out multiple times a week to pick up forgotten items, and feeling uninspired to cook, our routine has simplified. Every week I glance at the glass jars in our pantry to see what we’re low on, and peak quickly in our fridge. I only shop for what we need that week. Gone are the days of spoiled produce and space hogging expired dry goods. We usually shop on early morning weekends before the rush and get a head start on our day. Once a week I’ll prep a few vegan items to freeze that I can easily add to a dish during the week.
Related: Zero Waste Pregnancy Essentials
As a further confidence boost we’re going to breakdown the habits of highly successful zero waste lifestyle gurus. Take a cue from these women trailblazers to stay motivated. Spark new ideas for your own plastic free journey.
1. They Experiment: Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home
Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home experimented with making her own butter, cheese, and makeup products. See what you like to make. Figure out what zero waste or plastic free means to you. Like Bea, I tried the baking soda and vinegar hair wash method with less than perfect results. While it didn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Sometimes living with less waste can mean making something yourself. Other times it can mean shelling out a few bucks for some bulk shampoo so you don’t drive yourself crazy.
2. Go Boldly: Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers
Shopping the bulk aisle the first time, navigating new farmer’s markets, and asking for a favour out of the ordinary can be daunting. Sure, you’re afraid you might make a fool of yourself, but life is an adventure. Next time you’re out and you want your coffee or leftovers placed in your zero waste to go containers, relax. Smile, be friendly, and patiently explain what you’re trying to do. Lauren Singer’s well renowned blog Trash is for Tossers has excellent tutorial videos on bulk food shopping.
3. Get Inspired: Ariana of Paris-to-Go
I love to search social media like pinterest and instagram for beautiful zero waste images. Clean and organized pantries inspire me to continue on my plastic-free path. Living zero waste is actually more of a modern rebranding of time honored old world traditions. Think of the way your grandmother lived and cooked. She most likely grew up without plastic during the majority of her life, yet she lived and thrived. Living waste free doesn’t mean having to go without or living an ascetic lifestyle devoid of modern luxuries. I’m inspired by old world kitchens ala Julia Child and Downton Abbey. Glass jars show off homemade preserves better than any store bought label. Paris-to-Go is a fantastic reference for calming spaces, luxury zero waste travel, and down to earth musings on what’s really important .
Now let’s transform your kitchen into plastic free!
So, you’ve committed to a plastic free lifestyle and performed a mini purge on your kitchen to examine ways in which it can be upgraded. Where do we go from here?
Now that you have an honest look at your kitchen, pantry, and trash I want you to complete four more action steps. They’re super simple, and you get to do a little shopping (or scrounging) depending on your budget.
Create a list:
Be honest about what you eat. There’s no point creating a lovely pantry full of lentils and brown rice if you can’t stand the stuff. This is about customizing your kitchen to fit your needs. Write down every item that you use and will continue to buy.
In our house, pursuing a plastic free kitchen has actually led to eating healthier and feeling more relaxed at dinner time. I found that once I stopped reaching for plastic goods the junk and convenience foods stopped making their way into my cart.
Source glass jars, cotton produce bags, and canvas grocery totes:
Look for jars at thrift stores, Walmart, Target, Farm n Fleet, etc. I have a wide variety of jars, larger ones for flour, sugar, and grains I bought at Walmart. Smaller jars were sourced at thrift stores for nutritional yeast, coffee, nuts, etc. Mason jars work well for cooked beans, soup stock, peanut butter, and other wet bulk items.
Some containers I simply saved after I finished using the product. Maple syrup, honey, peanut butter, vinegar, and olive oil glass jars were washed and the labels removed. Reusing my maple syrup jar instead of filling a new mason jar has ensured that I don’t end up buying too much and walking away with twenty-five dollars of organic syrup.
Transfer your food:
Transfer your packaged items into your new glass containers. This cleans up your kitchen, helps you take stock of what else you need to source, and provides incentive to continue with plastic free shopping.
Go for a test run:
Grab your weekly shopping list, produce bags, grocery totes, and head out to the market. Bonus if you recycle all of those plastic bags you’ve been saving once you arrive at the store. Use this trip as a test drive. Note what works and what you need to improve. On our first test run, we realized that we needed more grocery totes and produce bags, more glass jars, a wax crayon to mark bulk bin numbers, and a bread bag for the bakery.
WooHoo! You are almost plastic-free!
Below is a list of some common mistakes made by newbies. Or, I should say, some mistakes that I made during the transition to my plastic free kitchen. With any new habit, there are lots of ways that you can sabotage yourself before you find your rhythm. Here are the top three mistakes to avoid:
Create a System:
Newbie mistake number one? They forget their dang grocery bags and containers at home or in the car. Planning and purging your kitchen is all for naught if you don’t bring your tools with you! Create a system that works for your family. Put your bags and anything else you need by the door, or return them to your car immediately after grocery shopping. Keep them in the front seat next to your purse, or where you’ll see them, not in your trunk.
Prep for plastic free guilty pleasures:
Most habits die hard and fast deaths because you don’t account for the power your desire plays over your mind. I make great coffee at home, but I still crave a cup in my hand the second I see a Starbucks. My husband likes pop, even though it’s not super healthy or beneficial to buy a giant 24 pack for our home. Be honest with yourself, and prepare for little treats that make life worth living. A to-go coffee cup and reusable metal cup with straw are in our packs whenever we head out so we’re always prepared. Bonus, many shops even offer a discount when you bring your own cup.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed or distracted by endless options. Try to find one grocery store that serves you well, instead of driving all over town. Simplify a recipe that calls for 25 ingredients, chinese food, I’m looking at you. Instead, treat yourself to a night out instead of buying a fridge full of random ingredients you will only use once. Last week, I needed tomatoes, and while I prefer cute little cherry tomatoes in my salads, they don’t come package free. So I bought a large heirloom tomato instead. I could walk away feeling discouraged that I can’t have cherry tomatoes, or I could look at it as a challenge to try something new.
Prepare for guilty pleasures, little treats, to-go food, and restaurant leftovers. Cups, utensils, napkins, bento boxes, and straws are all available in sustainable options and are relatively easy to source. Take 15 minutes to prepare, and you’ll thank yourself later.
What do you think about going plastic free? Have you tried it before with success, and have some tips to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!