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Plastic. It is seriously everywhere you look! Just on my desk right now (which is admittedly quite messy at the moment), these are the plastics: cell phone, cell phone case, supplement bottle, book (the cover), credit card, mechanical pencil, a handful of sharpies, and remote control. And that isn’t even accounting for the computer itself or the desk it sits on or the trash can beneath it. Yikes.

Do you think about the amount of plastic that you consume every day? I know that two years ago, it rarely if ever crossed my mind. But as I began moving towards a more natural, toxin-free lifestyle, I dug deeper into how much plastic we come into contact with on a daily basis and what that means for our bodies.

image by lisa_yarost

Recycling

But plastic is ok because you can recycle it, right? Well…no. Plastic does not break down easily, and less than 10% of the world’s produced plastic is recycled, which means landfills and oceans are full of plastic. There are seven different types of plastic, and not all of them can even be recycled. Those that can be recycled have to be recycled within their specific categories, and the sorting and processing is expensive and cost intensive. Instead of buying items that you think can be recycled, let’s look at some alternatives to the plastic we use every day.

Bags

The plastic grocery bags that you get anywhere from farmer’s markets to Walmart have been outlawed in India and parts of Europe. It is estimated that Americans use a billion plastic bags every year, and the majority of those end up in our water sources and in our landfills, harming and endangering wildlife.

The reusable grocery bag has become quite popular in the last few years. I try to always keep at least one in my car, and take multiple ones with me when I know I will be hitting the produce stand, farmer’s markets, etc. There are so many options for what kind of bags to use, including these canvas bags I saw on Amazon. I have also seen some tutorials on Pinterest on how to make your own bags from old t-shirts, bed sheets, etc. – that would be truly plastic free!

image by evelynishere

When buying produce, don’t use millions of the thin little bags to bag your produce. Most of your produce doesn’t even need a bag: bananas, oranges, avocados, onions, garlic…you get my point. If you do need a bag, say for Brussels sprouts or green beans, bring your own mesh bags like these or these. They are lightweight, washable, and you can tuck them in your purse or pocket on the way to do your shopping.

Ziploc bags are another area where you can trim down your plastic use. I know how handy Ziploc bags can be, for everything from waterproof protection to carrying snacks to storing leftovers – these things can be used for just about anything! When we decided we wanted to cut back on our plastic use, this was one of the first areas we cut. Instead, I invested in a handful of these bags and we use them for packing lunches and storing leftovers. They are easily washable, either by hand or in the dishwasher, and they are very durable. Just remind your little ones that these bags need to stay in the lunch box and not end up in the trash in the school cafeteria!

Food Storage

I have mentioned before how we store leftovers in glass containers like this Pyrex set. Admittedly, we are not 100% plastic free yet, but are so very close and I hope that after Christmas this year we will be able to fully ditch the plastic Tupperware/Rubbermaid containers. I have noticed in grocery stores that in the food storage area, there is a larger variety of glass containers, which is encouraging!

Dinnerware and Napkins

Disposable plates, forks, spoons, cups, and napkins are often prevalent in the kitchen of busy families. They make clean up a breeze, saving both time and (parental) energy. But are they the best option for your family or the environment? The reusable options today are endless. Essential Safe Products has some trendy and durable options for plates and cups, and just by doing a simple search on Amazon, you can find many options for stainless steel plates, silverware, and reusable cups.

Many families are also moving towards cloth napkins instead of filling their trash cans with the paper variety. They are a very frugal investment, and can often be found for pennies at yard sales or thrift shops (or ask your mom or aunt for one of their old sets)! Our contributor Joanna wrote this interesting piece on cloth napkins, including how to make cloth napkins an everyday occurrence and why cloth napkins are a wonderful practical option.

More About Plastic

Kate wrote about reducing plastic in other areas of the house today, so be sure to read all about that!

Are you looking for more information on plastics? I recently watched these two documentaries that do an excellent job of explaining the dangers of plastic: Plastic Planet and Bag It. Both of them can be found on Netflix streaming and at your local library:

How do you eliminate the use of plastics at your house? Which one of these would be the easiest switch for you?

This is the writings of:

My name is Jill, and I am the editor here at Modern Alternative Kitchen. I have been on a real food journey since July of 2011 and am passionate about food. I am a Jesus-loving, Bible-reading, kombucha-brewing, raw milk–drinking, real food–eating gal. I was born and raised in the Midwest, and after a 2-year stint in Seattle, we are back in the Midwest and expecting our first child in August 2013.

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post, Jill. I love the links and am looking forward to investing in some of the products. We don’t use reusable dinnerware as long as our guest count is under 20 (we have service for that many), I started using cloth napkins years ago, we use the glass Pyrex for lunches and leftovers. I always always have my reusable bags, and I LOVE my mesh produce bags my sister got me. Also, one thing you didn’t mention that we have done in our house is thrown out the paper towels; and I bought “huck towels” for spills, cleaning the house, etc. I love them.

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  2. Cloth pads, Diva cup
    reusable napkins, and tableware
    reuable bags
    I’d love to do family cloth but my family is not on board
    I don’t use paper towels but my mom does

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  3. What do you recommend for freezing food? I have been using ziplocs because I haven’t been able to find anything else.

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    • Hi Brittany! We freeze a lot of things like beans, broth, leftovers, etc. in glass mason jars (but be sure to leave head room). If it is a large item (for example, I have a large ziploc bag in my freezer at all times for bones and veggie scraps to make broth) then just make sure to use the same bag over and over and over again! I have been using the same ziploc for broth ingredients since we moved here over a year ago :)

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  4. This inspires me to ditch the plastic bags. My hall pantry is STUFFED with them. Sometimes people, in an attempt at Good Customer Service, double bag your items (like a liter of milk) when they don’t need to be. At least the paper bags can be used in our city to hold other mass recyclables like paperboard, newspaper and scrap/used paper. But those darn plastic bags are awful.

    My conundrum: Pet bags. I get the biodegradable ones, but biodegradable bags with kitty litter is just gross. Also we scoop two dogs’ poo weekly and it just goes into the trash, which I loathe. I guess we could create an in-ground compost for that but we use some of our postage stamp-sized city back yard for garden and I don’t know how that’d work. ***If anyone has thoughts on small yards/no yards and pet waste, please share! (And no, getting rid of our pets isn’t an option!*** Thanks. :)

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    • I am so with you Carrie! We really struggle with this issue as well, since we live in an apt and use 2-3 bags/day with our pup. We feel like it is such a waste, but not sure of a good alternative other than the biodegradable bags (which are better, just not best)! I look forward to the day when we have a house and the dog can go in the yard/woods and we just scoop up the yard once a week! Maybe others will have a better suggestion? …

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    • I’ve heard that some folks will pick up their dog/cat business and flush it in the toilet. I’m not commenting any further on that ;)

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  5. I have really cut back on plastic that comes into contact with food, and I try to always remember my re-usable grocery bags. I need to work on replacing ziplock bags, though–we use them much too often!

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  6. About seven or eight years ago, I started to use resuable bags befire they were common. My husband was in seminary in Columbus, OH and we lived near Kroger. To get to Kroger I would walk over a creek. (Alum Creek, if for those who know the area.) I liked stopping and looking at the water and what might be swimming in there. I DIDN’T like seeng stray bags caught in the vegtation and trash floating in the water. I mentioned it to my mother and asked her if she saw a large reusable bag at rummage sale to get it for me. In our apartment building there was a laundry room (which I think every lost sock, rag, etc., in the world went to hide behind the machines). I found a large canvas bag in the trash can. I took it and started to use it. (SInce I often walked to the grocery, unless it was really cold and windy or rainy, it got to the point that I would only buy what I could fit in my bag.)

    Anyway, if we don’t use resuable bags, we’ll get paper and use them for our recycleables. Plastic bags work good for dirty cloth diapers when we’re out.

    We use reusable containers for leftovers. Most of them are plastic, but they are recycleable and we do recycle what we can. Pyrex and Corning containers work good too. Most of my actual Tupperware came from my mom that she had excess of when I moved out (I was the last to leave), from garage sales, Goodwill, etc.

    We don’t use Ziplock bags. Most of the sandwich size bags we have we bought several years ago, just to have. I have some of the large freezer bags that I found in the box and rescued from the trash. I figured that they could at least get used before being thrown away. (We now live near a university town and I like to go “Treasure Hunting” the weekend the students move out. I did that when my husband attended Ohio University and remember going through neighbors’ trash with my mom when I was a kid.)

    My in-laws use plastic bags and paper plates, etc., daily. Yuck. (When I am there, I will use the plastic reusable plates. I cannot stomach the idea [pun intended] of eating off of trash. Which is one of the reasons I don’t eat at fast “food” businesses. They bring out the ceramic plates once or twice a year– THanksgiving and Easter dinners.) My MIL makes chocolate candy molds and buckeyes and things for Christmas. She puts them on said foam plates in a large Ziplock bag. We save the bags and reuse them when we can. When we upgraded our coffee, I got the idea to put the coffee bags in a large Ziplock bag I found in the cabinet. (My husband used to get the cappuccino mixes and I drank regular black coffee. However, he decided that he likes the flavored coffee, even with his flavored creamers so we’ve been buying that instead. I’ll still drink regular coffee when I want coffee on my own, or he will with the creamers. We buy the canned coffee for that.)

    I don’t use paper towels, but rags and wascloths. (Most of my rag drawer are rags that I cleaned out of my granmother’s rag bag six years ago when my parents, cousin, uncle and I were cleaning out their house.)

    We also use cloth diaeprs, but have disposable (from Whole Foods) on hand in case we are behind on laundry or we’re on a day trip. (We try and keep one in the diaper bag, too, just in case.)

    I really think that is it. I HATE waste and reuse what I can. Even most of our furniture is second hand and my clothes. Though I do splurge on occasion. The skirt I plan on wearing today I bought when my now 21-month-old was about five months old because I wanted something new post-baby. I not only paid more than $20 for it, but I didn’t buy it on sale. (Usually, I’ll buy clothes on sale and don’t like to pay more than $20, which I’ve only done a few times in my 35 years.) The shirt I’m going to wear I got out of a trash pile when the rental next to our house was evicted and the owners didn’t come for their stuff. (The dress on which I’ve received the most compliments I got from a sorority Dumpster at my husband’s college. It’s black and I guess it’s tube style, as it’s form-fitting and it folds without wrinkle, good for traveling, and I pull it out when I make my pastor’s wife appearance at funerals or just when I want to look skinny. It’s stretchy enough for pregnancy.)

    Anyway, I’m rambling. You just caught me on one of my favorite subjects. :-D

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  7. [...] Using Less Plastic : Modern Alternative Kitchen [...]

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  8. Great post Jill. My biggest challenge is what to use for freezing food. I’ve tried using glass jars and have had mixed success. Our freezer is an upright. With four of us using it things are forever falling out. If a freezer bag of produce falls out it’s not a problem, but when a glass jar falls it’s another story. My best solution for the glass is to keep it on the bottom shelf.

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    • Kristel,
      This is where Tupperware and Rubbermaid come in handy. I HATE the freezer-on-top style refridgerators. For one, I’m 5’11″ and I have to squat to get into the fridge the ten to 12 times a day I go in. Yet, I go into the freezer maybe once or twice. (Growing up, we had the fridge-on-top models.) Anyway, it’s a good thing I’m thin and somewhat flexible, because that helps. However, being pregnant and hungry, it wasn’t convenient. (I’m convinced that model was designed by a man who never had kids.) Anyway….. When I open the freezer door and something falls out, it rarely breaks.

      Most of the newer Tupperware has numbers on them. I noticed today while unloading the dishwasher that two of the “new” lids have the recycle 4 on them and the bottoms have a 5. (We also have a small chest freezer that my husband found on CraigsList.)

      My parents now have a side-by-side model that came with their house. (Ironically, they had one that came with their last house, too.) My in-laws have one too. I don’t like it as well as the fridge-on-top, but it’s better. My parents keep the things they use the most often, in both the freezer and the fridge, on the top shelves. They still have the old fridge-on-top model in their garage and an upright freezer as well. My husband likes the fridge-on-top model, but if we had to, we’d get a side-by-side. (For the 11 years we’ve been married, the fridge has come with the apartments, the house in which we lived during his pastoral internship, and even now, the parsonage that came with his first call.)

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  9. [...] Break Your Sugar Addiction (or reduce sugar intake!) Grow Your Own Food Make Your Own Food Coloring Use Less Plastic Preserve Your Own Food-There are many ways to preserve your garden harvest! (And here are special [...]

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