Although 72% of consumers are dissatisfied with the amount of plastic waste in their homes, many do not act because it’s inconvenient or they lack sufficient knowledge to do so. Set yourself apart by reducing plastic use. A few easy changes in the kitchen and how you buy groceries, plan meals, and store food can reduce your plastic waste significantly.
Plastic pollution is a global issue that affects all of us with significant impacts on the environment and our health. Plastic waste is often not disposed of properly, leading to pollution in our oceans, landfills, and even our drinking water.
The OECD estimates that 22% of plastic waste is mismanaged globally, leaving a higher risk of polluting the environment. Even if the plastic waste is collected, 68% of the waste is either incinerated, which produces significant CO2 emissions, or sent to a landfill where it will take hundreds of years to break down.
Start in the Kitchen
Reducing plastic in our daily lives can seem like a challenging task as it’s hard to know where to begin. With so many plastic products and packaging around us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Where should we start and what do we use instead of the plastics we eliminate from our lives?
The kitchen is a good place to start because it’s where we use and discard a lot of plastic items. From food packaging to single-use cutlery and plates, we generate a significant amount of plastic waste every day. The problem with these items is that they are often used once and then thrown away, ending up in landfills or polluting our planet.
Here are five simple steps you can take to start reducing plastic waste in the kitchen. Take it step-by-step and don’t be discouraged. Nobody is perfect and every plastic item you replace with a sustainable alternative makes an impact.
Impactful Steps To Reduce Kitchen Plastic Waste
1. Invest in a Water Filter and Reusable Water Bottle
Americans throw away 22 billion plastic bottles every year, a significant portion of which comes from bottled water. Not only does bottled water contribute to environmental pollution, it’s also a big expense. Americans spend $16 billion on bottled water every year that sometimes even comes from their local water supply, where they could get it at a fraction of the price.
Investing in a water filter liberates you from the need to rely on bottled water for safe and good-tasting water. You can also save money in the long run, as the average annual expense of bottled water easily surpasses the yearly cost of a water filter. At the end of its filter capacity, make sure you look for a proper recycling solution for your water filter to reclaim the materials and keep them out of the landfill.
Pairing your water filter with a reusable water bottle can make an even greater impact. If you take your bottle on the go, you can fill it for free at home and also make use of the many refill stations that are available publicly, eliminating the need to buy bottled water for good.
2. Ditch Plastic Tableware and Utensils
Are you planning your next big barbecue? Admittedly, there are times when using disposable products for outdoor events or large gatherings can be practical. If that is the case, avoid using single-use plastic plates and utensils. Choose compostable items made from bamboo instead, which can decompose after the event.
Another alternative you can try is BYOT (bring your own tableware). In past barbecues when we didn’t have enough reusable tableware for the number of people invited, we simply asked our friends to bring their own plates and utensils. It worked surprisingly well and we didn’t even have to unpack our disposable bamboo items. Now we always do it and have the bamboo items as a backup.
During holiday seasons, planning for a sustainable meal is especially impactful and you will immediately notice the difference.
3. Use Reusable Shopping Bags
While some states, cities, and countries have already introduced bans on them, single-use plastic bags are still ubiquitous. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags every year — more than 300 bags per person. What’s astonishing is that those plastic bags are only used an average of 12 minutes, making them the perfect starting point to reduce your plastic waste. By using reusable shopping bags, you don’t just reduce your kitchen plastic waste, you also won’t have to worry about ripping grocery bags again.
Making a cotton bag can produce about 150 times the CO2 emitted to make a single-use plastic bag. So, make sure that you invest in a bag that you will use enough times to offset the emissions associated with making it. And don’t forget the plastic produce bags. Much of the produce in the average supermarket is available without packaging. By investing in reusable produce bags, and choosing loose produce where possible, you can make an even greater impact.
Depending on your shopping behavior, it can make sense to start with one to two big shopping bags and three to five produce bags. Just keep them in a bundle by the door to make sure you won’t forget them.
4. Change Your Takeout Habits
The coronavirus pandemic resurrected single-use plastics in the hospitality industry, and previous victories in eliminating plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, and other single-use plastics from restaurants were soon forgotten. According to a study in Nature Sustainability, food containers and cutlery are now among the top three items causing ocean pollution. By making small changes in our food takeout and delivery habits, we can help reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up polluting our planet.
There are a few simple things to consider. First, for takeout, many restaurants allow you to bring reusable containers or bags to the restaurant to carry your food. Alternatively, look for restaurants that offer more sustainable takeout containers made from materials such as bamboo or paper. If your favorite delivery restaurant doesn’t offer sustainable packaging, you can still urge restaurants to reduce the unnecessary waste. Simply decline the plastic-packaged condiments or use the comment field in your delivery app to tell them “No cutlery needed.”
5. Sustainable Food Storage
Plastic has the tendency to release harmful chemicals when exposed to heat, fat, and prolonged usage. As a result, it’s a good idea to avoid storing food items in plastic containers. Additionally, reheating food in plastic containers or trays, such as those that come with pre-packaged frozen meals, should be avoided.
Fortunately, switching to containers made of glass or stainless steel is a simple solution as such containers are readily available. They can be used to store food in the fridge, cupboard, or even the freezer, if you leave enough room for the food to expand while freezing.
When it comes to wrapping food, cling wrap is not the only option available, and there are more sustainable alternatives to consider. For example, silicone or cloth food covers can be used to securely cover food containers and keep food fresh in the fridge. Additionally, reusable beeswax wraps and sandwich bags are an excellent replacement for cling wrap in various situations. These alternatives can also save you money by being reusable.
Making Progress Requires Commitment
Let’s embark on a journey towards a brighter and more sustainable future by taking a crucial step to reduce plastic waste in our kitchens. With small yet impactful changes, we can significantly minimize our environmental footprint and pave the way for a cleaner planet.
Prioritize reusable items, steer clear of single-use plastics, and opt for plastic-free packaging while shopping. Every small action counts and together we can make a remarkable difference in reducing plastic pollution.
About the Author
Lars Jansen is the co-owner of SWOP – shop without plastic, a zero-waste online shop and blog. He is passionate about protecting the environment and educating people about plastic pollution.
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