Reducing Platic Use Part II: The Kitchen

Since I’m off work this week, I’ve finished some projects: I got glass containers for bulk purchases, bought a couple buckets with Gamma lids (they cost a quarter of the Amazon price at Winco!) for mixing and storing various cleaning solutions, mixed a dry batch of laundry detergent (I’m actually washing my first load of sheets with it right now), and made my saran-wrap alternative with cloth and beeswax. I only made one set (one large and three small) so far, so I can do a side-by-side test of the wax-coated cloth vs. saran wrap on the pumpkin pie tomorrow. I went a little heavy on the wax, but it’ll wear off eventually, and I’ll do better next time.

But for a few purchases to be made, I’m making good progress on what I set out to do in my last post.

Now I can start on the hard stuff: food.

Think about your last grocery trip; how many products did you buy that were wrapped in plastic or an unrecycleable material? Milks, yogurts, meats, even nuts and greens come in excess packaging, and if you’re looking to get something premade, the waste multiplies.

So I did a search, and the results were depressing. There simply aren’t that many items available in non-plastic containers. What I want most is plain Greek yogurt in a glass container, but I don’t see that anywhere. I did, however, find a dairy that still sells its milk in glass bottles, and, lucky me, they sell their milk at my local Sprouts. I’ll pay a $1.50 deposit and get that back when I return the glass to the store. I hate milk on its own, but I do like cream in my coffee (which they sell in pints), and I can use their bottled milk to make my own yogurt. I’ve never made yogurt, but it looks like the basics are simple and it just takes trial and error to get the consistency and tartness right. At first I thought I’d need some machine, but it looks like a pot, a starter, a container, and some cheesecloth (I like thick yogurt) are all I’ll need. Unfortunately, I saw no non-carton offerings of soy milk, my go-to milk for cereals and cooking.

I should be able to bring my own containers to the butcher at my market for meats. At the very least, if I get my meat from the butcher, it’ll be wrapped in butcher paper rather than plastic, so that’s something. I’m not sure of the variety, though, and I’m picky about what kind of living conditions and diet my meat had. I may no longer be a vegetarian, but sixteen years of vegetarianism doesn’t die easily. And what about less popular meats? Smoked meats? Cornish game hens? Are these available without packaging? I guess I’m going to find out.

Vegetables pose another problem. I love salad, especially when there’s a variety of greens, but I’m only one person, so buying a bunch of each type of green leads to considerable food waste. The alternative has been to buy those pre-made green mixes that come packaged in plastic. Worse, I sometimes buy premade salads from Trader Joe’s. I think the only way I can manage the amount of greens I want with little packaging is to go to a farmer’s market. There’s one I pass on Thursdays after school; when I don’t have meetings, that may be my best bet since it wouldn’t requre a separate trip.

The biggest problem is all those gluten-free premade foods. Breads, pizza dough, snacks… They certainly make my life easier, but they aren’t sustainable. I need to buy bulk gluten-free grains from Winco and learn how to make my own gluten-free goodies. That will take time, so it may be a while before I’m successful, but it’ll be worth it.

The good news is, there are easy choices, too. Pasta sauces come in jars that I can wash out and reuse to purchase bulk beans, grains, pastas, peanut butter, and coffee. I can save my current glass jars of oil and refill them with the bulk oils at Winco. Once I have enough jars (I’m thinking ten should do), then I can try my hand at making sauces from scratch. Glass is certainly better than plastic, but the goal here is to use less overall.

These changes aren’t going to make my shopping 100% plastic-free. For one thing, I can’t and won’t force my husband to take this journey with me, and he cooks the bulk of our dinners. That said, he’s talked about wanting to get his meats from a butcher and he loves the farmer’s market, so it’s not like he’s making a bee-line for the most heavily packaged and processed items or anything. Also, I know I’m going to want items that I simply can’t find without a plastic lining. If I try to make my goal 100% plastic-free, those items will become more and more tempting until I throw this entire project to the wayside and chow down on ten cases of heavily-packaged Udi’s snickerdoodle’s. Knowing my own tendency to resist restrictions, I’m setting a goal of about 75% reduction in plastic consumption for the household. I think that is both reasonable and sustainable, and if some months I manage 85% or even 100%, well, that’s just a bonus.

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