Although 72% of consumers are dissatisfied with the amount of plastic waste in their homes, many don’t act because it is not practical or they do not have sufficient knowledge to do so. Stand out by reducing the use of plastic. A few simple changes in the kitchen and the way you shop, plan your meals and store food can significantly reduce your plastic waste.
Plastic pollution is a global problem that affects us all with significant impacts on the environment and our health. Plastic waste is often not disposed of properly, resulting in pollution of our oceans, landfills, and even our drinking water.
THE OECD estimates that 22% of plastic waste is mismanaged globally, increasing the risk of polluting the environment. Even though plastic waste is collected, 68% of the waste is either incinerated, producing significant CO2 emissions, or sent to landfill where it will take hundreds of years to decompose.
Start in the kitchen
Reducing plastic in our daily lives can seem like a daunting task because it’s hard to know where to start. With so many plastic products and packaging around, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Where do 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 that’s where we use and throw away 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 get discouraged. No one is perfect and every plastic item you replace with a sustainable alternative has an impact.
Impactful steps to reduce plastic waste in the kitchen
1. Invest in a water filter and a reusable water bottle
Americans throw 22 billion plastic bottles each year, a significant portion of which comes from bottled water. Not only does bottled water contribute to environmental pollution, but 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 frees you from the need to rely on bottled water for safe, great tasting water. You can also save money in the long run, because the average annual expenditure of bottled water easily exceeds the annual cost of a water filter. At the end of its filtration capacity, be sure to find a suitable recycling solution for your water filter to recover the materials and keep them out of the landfill.
Pairing your water filter with a reusable water bottle can have an even bigger impact. If you take your bottle on the go, you can refill it at home for free and also use the many charging stations that are publicly available, eliminating the need to buy bottled water for good.
2. Ditch plastic dishes and utensils
Planning your next big barbecue? Granted, there are times when using disposables for outdoor events or large gatherings can be practical. If so, avoid using single-use plastic plates and utensils. Choose compostable bamboo items instead, which can decompose after the event.
Another alternative you can try is BYOT (bring your own dishes). At past barbecues, when we didn’t have enough reusable dishes 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 still do and have the bamboo items as a backup.
During holiday periods, sustainable meal planning is especially impactful and you will immediately notice the difference.
3. Use reusable shopping bags
While some states, cities, and countries have already banned them, single-use plastic bags are still ubiquitous. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags each year — more than 300 bags per person. What is amazing is that these plastic bags are only used on average 12 minutes, making it the ideal starting point to reduce your plastic waste. By using reusable shopping bags, you’re not only reducing plastic waste from your kitchen, you won’t have to worry about ripping up grocery bags again.
Making a cotton bag can produce around 150 times the CO2 emitted to make a single-use plastic bag. So be sure to invest in a bag that you will use enough times to offset the emissions associated with its manufacture. And don’t forget the plastic produce bags. Much of the average supermarket’s products are available without packaging. By investing in reusable produce bags and choosing bulk produce whenever possible, you can have an even bigger impact.
Depending on your shopping behavior, it might be a good idea to start with one to two large shopping bags and three to five produce bags. Just keep them in a packet by the door to make sure you don’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, polystyrene containers and other single-use plastics from restaurants were quickly forgotten. According to a nature sustainability study, food containers and cutlery are now among the top three causes of ocean pollution. By making small changes to our 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. You can also look for restaurants that offer more durable takeout containers made from materials such as bamboo or paper. If your favorite delivery restaurant doesn’t offer sustainable packaging, you can always encourage restaurants to reduce unnecessary waste. Simply refuse plastic-wrapped condiments or use your delivery app’s comment field to tell them “No cutlery needed.”
5. Sustainable food storage
Plastic tends to release harmful chemicals when exposed to heat, grease and prolonged use. Therefore, it is a good idea to avoid storing food in plastic containers. Also, avoid reheating foods in plastic containers or trays, such as those that come with pre-packaged frozen meals.
Fortunately, switching to glass or stainless steel containers is a simple solution because 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 film isn’t the only option available, and there are more sustainable alternatives to consider. For example, silicone or fabric lids can be used to securely cover food containers and keep food fresh in the refrigerator. Additionally, reusable beeswax wraps and sandwich bags are great replacements for stretch wrap in a variety of situations. These alternatives can also save you money by being reusable.
Making progress requires commitment
Let’s embark on a journey towards a better and more sustainable future by taking a crucial step to reduce plastic waste in our kitchens. With small but impactful changes, we can significantly reduce our environmental footprint and pave the way for a cleaner planet.
Prioritize reusable items, avoid single-use plastics and opt for plastic-free packaging when shopping. Every little action counts and together we can make a remarkable difference in reducing plastic pollution.
About the Author
Lars Jansen is co-owner of SWOP – shop without plastic, a zero waste online store and blog. He is passionate about protecting the environment and educating people about plastic pollution.