Note: Some of these suggestions may not be workable at supermarkets while we’re under the restrictions of the COVID-19 emergency.
Earth Week thought: Let’s work on reducing the plastic in our kitchens.
Wait, stop, don’t run away. I’m not advocating the disposal of every plastic item in your home. But I am going to point out some ways to reduce (and not buy) of some of the food-related plastic in our lives: namely, plastic bags and plastic wrap.
I admire those amazing folks who are giving up all plastic of every kind. I’m not that saintly by a long shot. But — I do think we can all do a little bit to help reduce the use, and thus the non-recyclable disposal, of so much of the plastic that comes our way via the food we buy.
One afternoon many years ago at work, I wandered into our break room and saw several chairs and tables stacked with what looked to me like clean, clear large plastic zip-lock bags. I asked a co-worker what was going on.
“Oh, we were using those for counting money,” she said. “Now we’re done, so we’re throwing them all out.”
What?? My hair stood on end. These were brand-new, perfectly good, reusable bags.
“I’ll be glad to take them off your hands,” I said innocently, and started scooping them up.
“OK,” she said dubiously, then added darkly, “But you must never, ever use them for food.”
“Sure,” I agreed, fingers crossed. And I spirited them all away.
Folks, I’m still working from that plastic bag stash, and it’s been at least 20 years. I know I don’t get brownie points for still using plastic, but my point is — I haven’t bought a plastic bag for lo these many years. I’m still washing and reusing these bags. Do they eventually end up in a landfill? I’m afraid so, once they’re torn and tattered beyond repair. But when I think of all the bags I haven’t bought, I hope that counts for something.
So Step 1: Please wash and reuse your heavy-duty plastic bags (that is, if they’re not ripped or full of unwashable gunk or germy meat juices, which is another topic entirely). If you don’t feel comfortable using them directly on food, then use them as secondary wraps on other foods. (A bag over a bag, for example.) Then wash ’em and use again.
Step 2: Use some of those bags instead of plastic wrap. I have saved back some large plastic food bags — like those that contain bread in two-loaf packages — and use them to cover casserole dishes in the fridge. Some are large enough to cover a 9×11-inch pan, others can handle an 8-inch square dish. And yes, I rewash those bags too. Sometimes to prevent them from getting dirty, I will put a sheet of wax paper over the food before sliding the dish into a bag. Bread bags also do double duty as a first or second wrap on any loaves that go into the freezer. (Or turn them inside out and use as produce bags. See Step 4.)
Step 3: The liner bags from boxes of cereal and frozen waffles make excellent freezer bags, too. It finally dawned on me that these sturdy bags, which I use to steam roasted peppers, are also good for storing portions of raw meat or other food in the freezer. Just use a twist-tie or binder clip to keep them shut (and maybe put them inside another plastic bag. See Step 1).
Step 4: Put the brakes on acquiring those flimsy plastic fruit and vegetable bags. When I see shoppers pulling yard after yard of bags off the rollers in the grocery store, my heart just sinks. I’ve written before about how I keep reused and/or rewashed fruit and veggie plastics in an empty facial-tissue box and bring it into the store with me. I reuse those bags — which usually don’t get dirty, just wet — after turning them inside out at home and letting any moisture dry out. (And I owe my friend E’Louise an apology for scoffing many years ago when she told me she washed her plastic bags. Enlightenment came slowly to me.)
I also make sure to stuff several produce bags into each of my reusable cloth grocery bags when I replace them in my car trunk. That way if I forget the tissue box, I still always have a few bags on hand for an impulse purchase of fruits or veggies, and I don’t need to take any new ones home. OR — here’s an idea the supermarket checkers will love — maybe you don’t need to acquire a bag for every item. A cabbage, a bunch of bananas, a couple of potatoes, one cucumber — they don’t need bagging.
I know these steps aren’t going to save the world. I do avoid buying foods that are packaged in too much plastic or in plastic that isn’t recyclable. But I think it’s very difficult to ask people to give up all plastic just yet.
I feel that if I can keep from buying plastic bags and wraps, that I am doing my small part to help keep the Earth a little bit greener and cleaner. I hope I can persuade some of you to join me in making these small changes. Lots of small steps can add up. Let’s each do what we can, yes?
(c) 2020 copyright Laura Groch