When you think about a plastic-free kitchen, what’s the first thing that pops to mind? “Why do I need a plastic-free kitchen” right? But how many plastic products are lurking in your kitchen right now? Probably an astonishing amount.
Like most kitchens, it’s hard to find one part of the kitchen that doesn’t have some form of plastic in it. The reality is that plastic is killing our planet and polluting our world at an alarming rate.
Plastic is a standard part of everyday life, and it’s easy to forget that its journey doesn’t end the second we’re finished with it. The good news is that each of us can do something about it. How? By reducing our plastic consumption, especially in the kitchen.
Going plastic-free is not as difficult as you might think, but it will take some work and planning. This article will show you how to turn your kitchen plastic-free with practical steps that you can easily follow. We’ll cover everything from buying groceries to food storage to water bottles, and how you can reduce your plastic consumption overall.
When was plastic born:
Humans have been using naturally derived plastics for longer than they may imagine. Plastic is a word that originally meant “pliable and easily shaped.” In 1862, Alexander Parkes introduced the world’s first-ever plastic made by man at the London International Exhibition. He named it Parkesine, which we know as celluloid.
John Wesley Hyatt invented the first synthetic polymer in 1869 in response to a New York business offer of $10,000 to anyone who could create a substitute for ivory. In 1907 Leo Baekeland developed the plastic that we now know today. He named it Bakelite.
The plastics industry came in as a response to the need created by World War II and was used to create everything from helmets to body armour, parachutes, and ropes. Over the years, modern plastic started being considered safe, inexpensive, and clean. It has replaced steel in cars, wood in furniture, paper and glass.
Why plastic is a problem:
We cannot deny that plastic is incredibly useful in modern life, however, its widespread use has become a real threat to the environment. The production and disposal of plastic generate greenhouse gases and hazardous waste, which harm our environment.
Different molecules make different types of plastic, giving them distinctive properties and chemical structures. Plastic products often break down into small fragments called microplastics that can pollute ecosystems and harm living organisms.
Mountains of plastic trash have been found everywhere in the world’s oceans. Predictions have suggested that by 2050, the plastic in the world’s oceans will exceed the fish that live there. Most plastic comes from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, which release toxic emissions that threaten vegetation, and human and animal health. If you’ve ever burned plastic, you’ll know that awful smell that gives you a choking feeling which is no surprise now that you know that plastic contains oil which gives off toxic fumes when it burns!
In 2021, a study estimated that we likely consume between 0.1 to 5 grams of microplastics per week. Microplastics have invaded our air, ocean, drinking water and food. To avoid future health hazards, we need to intervene by recycling plastic the right way.
Believe it or not, some plastics are not recycled despite being recyclable and put in a recycling bin! Recyclable plastics are typically downcycled rather than fully recycled. What does this mean? It simply means that the plastic is of lesser value and cannot be recycled again. When plastic waste becomes recycled into a more valuable product, such as clothing or shoes, that is called upcycling.
How can we combat plastic pollution?
There is an urgent need for new and alternative approaches to prevent and limit our wasteful habits. According to Plastic SA, finding solutions and developing the best environmentally sustainable applications to recycle plastic is top of the agenda. Infrastructure plays a massive role in recycling; however, certain plastic materials especially materials that are mixed such as wax-lined coffee cups, and plastic trays in food packages cannot be recycled because of the lack of equipment. Another issue that affects South Africa and has a negative impact on its environment is human behaviour. When you don’t separate plastic in your households before being moved to a central place for recycling, it will end up in a landfill or the environment.
Below we’ve put together a list of ways to reduce plastic in your kitchen.
Here are some easy ways to go plastic-free in your kitchen:
- Cut back on or eliminate these items from your grocery list:
- Plastic water bottles (fill up a reusable container instead)
- Plastic condiment containers (like ketchup and mayo)
- Plastic takeout containers (like Styrofoam or plasticware)
- Replace single-use plastic storage products with reusable ones that won’t leak toxins into your food as Bisphenol A-free (BPA-free) plastics do:
- Use glass containers for leftovers instead of disposable ones like Ziploc bags or Tupperware containers. They’re more environmentally friendly and safer for eating since there’s no risk of BPA or other chemicals seeping into your food as there would be with plastic versions!
- Get a stainless steel or glass water bottle instead of one made out of plastic, so you don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals getting into your drink when it comes into contact with the outside surface of the bottle.
- Avoid appliances with plastic (non-stick pans etc):
- Non-stick pans can be great if made from durable materials like clay or stainless steel. Unfortunately, most non-stick pans on the market use some amount of plastic which is something to keep in mind when shopping for new cookware.
- Stop using plastic produce bags:
- Just like grocery bags made from plastic, the plastic you use to hold carrots or potatoes is unrecyclable in most recycling sites. Instead of gravitating towards pre-packaged produce, consider buying in loose form or taking your own reusable produce bags to pack your produce in as you shop.
- Package dry foods in glass jars:
- Glass jars are great containers for packaging your dry goods such as pasta, rice, rolled oats, grains, legumes, sugar and salt. The great advantage of using glass is that it creates an oxygen and moisture barrier so that toxins don’t filter into the food.
We know that trying to make sustainable choices can feel daunting. There is a lot to consider, but you don’t have to be part of the problem—be part of the solution! While it is not possible to eliminate the use of non-biodegradable packaging, we can certainly reduce the amount of food packaging waste we throw out every day. Hopefully, these tips will prove helpful for you in living an environmentally conscious lifestyle. Creating a better tomorrow starts today.
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- How can we reduce plastic pollution? (no date) Caltech Science Exchange. Available at: https://scienceexchange.caltech.edu/topics/sustainability/plastic-waste-pollution (Accessed: November 17, 2022).
- Chairs, C.E.C.C. (2019) 5 practical ways to reduce food packaging waste, Campus Environmental Center. Available at: https://utenvironment.org/2019/03/22/5-practical-ways-to-reduce-food-packaging-waste/ (Accessed: November 17, 2022).
- Ray, N. (2022) The Ultimate Guide to your plastic-free kitchen blog journal: Available at: https://andkeep.com/blogs/journal/the-ultimate-guide-to-your-plastic-free-kitchen (Accessed: November 17, 2022).
- GrrlScientist (2022) Five ways that plastics harm the environment (and one way they may help), Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2018/04/23/five-ways-that-plastics-harm-the-environment-and-one-way-they-may-help/ (Accessed: November 28, 2022).
- Ray, S. (2021) We are consuming up to 5 GMS of plastic every week – in our water, apples, fish, beer, ThePrint. Available at: https://theprint.in/opinion/we-are-consuming-up-to-5-gms-of-plastic-every-week-in-our-water-apples-fish-beer/730790/ (Accessed: November 28, 2022).