Practical tips to reduce plastic in your pantry and easy product swaps to ensure a plastic-free kitchen.
The kitchen is one safe that is in use every single day. It is also one place in your household that is most frequently updated with fresh supplies. Thus, making any changes in the kitchen requires more time and effort. Plus, since this is a space used and accessed by all members of the family, any changes here need the support of everyone.
When thinking of a plastic-free kitchen, our minds immediately think of glass jars to stock up supply, beautiful aluminium storage bins and wooden cutlery. Images on social media have definitely set the tone for what an aesthetically pleasing plastic-free kitchen should look like. But as stated earlier, a kitchen needs to be practical and organised first. Aesthetics come second.
Thus, our guide to creating a plastic-free kitchen focuses more on practical tips that ensure a sustainable system you can operate in the long run. Of course, no change can happen overnight, so we have broken the process into easy steps. Our guide also has plastic-free product swaps that you can make in the kitchen and slowly eliminate plastic from this space.
How to move towards a Plastic-Free Kitchen?
This step-by-step guide is a basic framework. Feel free to go further in detail or pick the steps that suit you’re household. It is not about getting the process right, it is all about finding what system best fits your needs.
1. Use & Reuse the Plastic You Have
Starting your plastic-free journey does not mean that you throw out all the existing plastic you own. We do not want to add more to the existing waste problem. Thus, step one is to keep using what we have.
Plastic is a very durable and long-lasting material. These factors were the reason you bought plastic items like containers in the first place, so continue using them. Increasing the life cycle of any product we own does not add to our carbon footprint.
For plastic items that are not so durable like takeout containers, cutlery, water bottles or plastic bags; think of ways to reuse them. Carry your own plastic bags when you go shopping, clean the cutlery and use it for parties. Reusing is a great way to extend the use phase of a product and stops them from ending up in landfills.
2. Reduce the Entry of Plastic in your Kitchen
Now that you are using the plastic you already have, the need to add more plastic items may have been reduced. Thus, the next step is to stop letting plastic items enter the kitchen and homes. when heading out shopping, carry your own bags and water bottle. Going to eat out? Carry your own container to bring back any leftovers. Having guests over? Think of using existing cutlery or borrow more from your neighbours.
Rethink ways to reduce the use of plastic. The market is filled with alternatives, so look them up. If it is hard to reduce consumption of plastic packaged goods like chips packets or biscuit wrappers, then focus on one type of plastic.
Try to cut down on single-use plastics and then slowly move to find alternatives to frequent use items like food packaged in plastic wrappers.
3. Look for Refillable Options
The kitchen is home to many products that are replenished frequently. Think liquid dish soaps, milk packets, soft drink bottles or even food packets. Instead of choosing products that will add to your plastic packaging waste, think of refillable alternatives.
Find a liquid soap shop that allows for refills or create your own at home (bio-enzyme). Instead of milk packets, opt for a milk service that delivers in glass bottles and refills them. Similarly, instead of buying food items like rice or flour that come in plastic packaging, think of buying it lose or shopping from a store where you can take your containers for a refill.
4. Slowly Age out Plastic Items
Steps 1-3 were all about using what we have and finding alternatives. The next step is to slowly age out plastic items. Once you see durable plastic items like containers, cutlery or bottles wearing out, send them to a recycler.
For your next replacement purchase, buy a plastic-free item. Each product has a wooden, steel, aluminium or glass alternative. These may not be as cheap or lightweight as plastic but they definitely do not take a heavy toll on the environment.
5. Re-evaluate & Keep Finding Better Solutions
Slowly and steadily you have curated a plastic-free kitchen. But this is a journey that needs constant retrospection. There are new, better alternatives entering the market each day, brands offering options for particular problems and products that are far away from the use of plastics. Read about them, try and share feedback.
Create a network of like-minded individuals who can help in your research. You don’t even have to look far. Get your family, neighbours, friends and society members involved so that you can together find solutions and alternatives.
5 Plastic-Free Kitchen Swaps you can make today
Now that we have a basic framework in place to reduce plastics in the kitchen, let us look at daily use plastic-free product swaps you can opt for.
1. Single-Use Plastic Items like Bag & Bottles
As discussed earlier, single-use is one type of plastic that we need to attack and eliminate first. Think about all the sources of single-use plastic that enter your kitchen. Polybags from a grocery run, water bottles from when you forgot to carry your own, wrappers from biscuits or bread packets.
Now star targeting the ones that are easy to avoid first. Make sure to not just carry your own cloth bags and water bottle but also refuse if anyone offers it. With just these two simple acts of refusing and reusing your own, you stop a lot of single-use plastic from entering your kitchen.
For trickier items like plastic wrappers, bread packets and pouches- start looking for plastic-free alternatives. Or a weekly baking session might help reduce plastic packaging consumption as well as a good activity to spend time on.
2. Reusable Food Storage Bags
Food items sold in plastic packaging can be another source of plastic waste from the kitchen. You can minimise this by using reusable food storage cloth bags.
Cloth bags are lightweight, can easily store items like dal, rice and seeds. You can also carry them when going shopping and easily replenish them with new produce. Cloth bags can also be used to store fruits and vegetables.
Get your reusable food storage bags from the Earthist right now!
100% breathable, ecofriendly and sustainable fabric (Pack of 5)
(Also available in pack of 10)
3. Steel or Glass Containers
When on step 4 of your plastic-free kitchen journey and looking for new containers, think steel or glass. Glass can be tricky material since it is easily breakable and dangerous if you have small kids in the household. But it is very effective in storing dry kitchen items like masalas or oils and pickles.
Steel can be a good replacement for big plastic storage boxes. It is durable just like plastic, not too heavy and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.
4. Beeswax Wrap
What is the one essential item in your kitchen that helps food stay fresh longer and avoid damage? Cling Film. But cling film is made from plastic which may be saving your food from getting spoiled but at a huge cost to the environment.
Cling film is made using polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) type of plastic which is water-resistant. While this solves a very specific problem in the kitchen, cling film is hard to recycle. And even when the plastic wrap is recycled, it’s costlier than using virgin materials. When it ends up in landfills or incinerators, both PVC and PVDC can release a highly toxic chemical called dioxin, says the World Health Organization.
The solution: Beeswax wrap- which works exactly like a cling film but can be reused. After use, you can simply wash them with cold water and mild soap. Once dry, it is ready to use again. With proper care and regular use, beeswax food wrappers can last up to a year. When your wrap has worn thin and soft and is having difficulties attaching to itself, you’ve reached the end of its useful life in the kitchen. You can now cut your wrap into strips and add them to your compost.
Here are a few recommendations to shop beeswax food wrap from:
Beeswax Food wrap
by Bare Necessities
(includes 3 sizes- S,M & L)
Reusable Beeswax Food Wrap
by Urban Creative on Brown Living India
(includes 2 Large)
Lil’Wrap – Reusable Food Wraps
(includes one Large & one Medium)
5. Replace Teabags with Tea Leaves
Wondering why teabags are on this list? Teabags contain a mild film of plastic which gets released into our beverages. According to a recent Canadian study at McGill University, steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano plastics into a single cup of beverage.
Entry of these nano plastics can be controlled by making the switch back to lose tea leaves. Of course, teabags offer a wide variety of flavour options to choose from but several brands now offer the same variety in loose tea leaves as well.
If you are a coffee addict then try to buy your coffee in a bulk glass jar packaging rather than individual plastic packets.
That is how you build a plastic-free kitchen. Slow steps, product swaps and constant evaluation will help ensure that this system stays in place. Just because a product or service is widely available in the market does not mean that is the only answer.
A plastic-free kitchen does not have to be perfect, it needs to be practical. Dig a bit deeper and find answers that are sustainable.
Sanjoli is currently working as a Content Strategist and has a Master’s degree in Fashion Journalism. She has contributed to publications like MensXP, Mindless Mag and Sustain: The Mag in the past. Conscious Charcha is her way of learning more about sustainability and spreading the word about a sustainable lifestyle.