Tomatoes wrapped in plastic

Are you struggling to break free of plastic in your kitchen?  For many of us, the kitchen is the hardest room to reduce plastic. Come on in for some simple ideas.

Hi there! I’m so glad you stopped in today to talk about reducing plastic in your kitchen. My philosophy on Honest + Simple is to avoid comparing ourselves with anyone else or setting the bar too high.

So I’m not advocating for you to adopt all these ideas at once — that would be overwhelming. Instead, choose one or two simple things you can do to get started and give yourself credit for taking a step in the right direction.

And remember the benefit: when you use less plastic, you produce less toxic waste and you may be reducing your exposure to unhealthy chemicals.

Note: If you have mounds of Tupperware or Rubbermaid in your cupboard (I sure do!) — it makes sense to replace it, especially if they’re older containers with BPA. But today we’re focusing on single-use or limited-use plastic, i.e., the things that get used once or a few times before getting tossed.

First, Why is Plastic so Bad?

Plastic is EVERYWHERE in our lives, so we’ll probably never be plastic-free. But we can all take baby steps to reduce plastic. Here are some good reasons why it’s worth the effort:

  • Plastic is made from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal –  the same materials burned to produce power. This requires large chemical processing plants that emit pollutants into the air we breathe.
  • Some plastics contain chemical additives and when heated in the oven, microwave or dishwasher can leach toxins into our foods. BPA is the biggest culprit for this. While many food storage containers sold today are BPA-free, if you still use older ones, you may be exposed to these toxins.
  • Even if you put acceptable items in your recycle bin, only about 9 percent of plastic worldwide is ever recycled.
  • Most plastic ends up in our landfills, where it can take hundreds of years to break down. For example, a plastic water bottle can take up to 450 years to biodegrade.
  • When plastic breaks down, it doesn’t fully decompose. It turns into microplastics — tiny particles that find their way into our water, soil and air – and sometimes back into our food supply.
  • Millions of animals are killed by microplastics alone every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. Nearly 700 species are known to have been affected by plastics.
    Read more: Yale Experts Explain Microplastics

And Now…Six Simple Steps to Reduce Plastic in Your Kitchen

  1. When grocery shopping, try to choose items without plastic packaging. The goal is to bring home less plastic to start.

Many food and cleaning items in our grocery stores are over-packaged in unsustainable ways. Does a box of tea bags need a plastic overwrap?  Can you buy fresh tomatoes loose and forego those little baskets or black trays and plastic wrap? Is your peanut butter available in glass jars instead of plastic? 

It’s all about shopping with an eye toward unnecessary plastic packaging.

Here are a few more ideas to reduce the plastic you bring home from the store:

  • Buy from bulk bins, if you can — using your own containers from home.
  • Shop at a local farmer’s market with reusable bags.
  • Look for refill stations or stores near you.
  • Buy larger bottles of dish detergent and other cleaning products, reducing the number of plastic bottles you bring home over time.

Note: While some of us are able to shop carefully to avoid extra plastic, this isn’t a possibility for everyone.  Try not to let eco-guilt get the best of you, especially if you have limited access to options, are on a tight budget or don’t have a lot of extra time to look for more earth-friendly packaging. Just commit to being more mindful and do what you can.

Produce in reusable mesh bags

2. Bring reusable produce bags to the grocery store.

You may already be shopping with reusable cloth shopping bags. But how about those thin plastic bags in the produce section? When you’re buying loose green beans or fresh cherries, for example, you’ll need something to get them to the checkout and then home.

But instead of automatically reaching for those thin plastic bags, think ahead to bring your own reusable produce bags. For more details on this, check out my post on how to Reduce Plastic with Reusable Produce Bags.

3. Replace your kitchen sponge or plastic/nylon scrubby pad.

Your typical kitchen sponge — usually made of polyvinyl chloride — is bad for the environment because it has a short lifespan and can take hundreds of years to biodegrade once it reaches a landfill. Even before you throw sponges away, they shed microfibers down the drain which can reach our waterways.

You have many choices when it comes to replacing your sponges — though some are more eco-friendly than others, so you might need to do a little research. Here are a couple of options to help scrub stuck-on food particles from your pots and pans:

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Check out more posts on reducing plastic

3 Ways to Reduce Shampoo + Conditioner Bottles in Your Bathroom

How to Recycle Soft Plastic (And Why You Should)

4. Reduce your use of plastic wrap for leftovers and food storage.

It’s so easy to reach for the convenience of plastic wrap for leftovers and other food storage. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably relied on this solution for years without giving it much thought.

Well, one option is to switch to glass food containers, but that’s an investment — I haven’t done it yet myself. Even with glass, we all know there are times the size of the container just doesn’t work; sometimes you just need a simple way to cover or wrap food.

Here are a couple of plastic wrap alternatives to consider:

silicone food covers
Silicone suction lids can reduce your use of plastic wrap.
  • Bee’s Wrap: This is a fabric wrap typically made from muslin, beeswax and resin. With the simple warmth of your hands, you can create a natural seal over a bowl or around a piece of cheese, for example. The wraps can be washed in cool water and re-used.
    (Note: Bee’s wraps are not recommended for direct contact with meat.)
  • Silicone suction lids: These come in different sizes (shown above) and seem like an easy way to cover bowls and containers instead of reaching for plastic wrap. They can also be used in the microwave as a splatter screen.

    As a side note, silicone is widely promoted as an earth-friendly alternative to plastic. In some ways it is better, but my research suggests it’s not 100% off the hook in terms of being environmentally friendly. We won’t delve into this now, but I might explore silicone vs. plastic in a future post.

5. When dining out, bring your own “doggy bag” containers instead of taking the plastic or styrofoam trays provided.

takeout food in styrofoam container

If you eat out at all, you’ll probably end up with styrofoam trays of leftovers in your fridge (hello…huge portions!). Not all of them are made of plastic these days and some are recyclable (look for recycle #6).

But why even go down this road? You won’t know in advance if the restaurant uses recyclable containers. Also, if the container ends up with a lot of food grease, you shouldn’t be putting it in the recycle bin anyway.

It’s easy to bring your own glass or other containers — even your trusty plastic Tupperware or Rubbermaid. I haven’t tried this one yet, but it’s at the top of my list. I have friends who bring their own containers and they say that restaurant staff has never balked at the idea. They get it!

6. If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, ditch disposable K-cups and tea bags with plastic.

For coffee lovers

We all know there are lots of ways to make your morning brew. This is for you if you’ve chosen the convenience of disposable K-cups® in a Keurig-type machine. They’re just so darn easy to use and in our house — we each have our favorite flavors and caffeine levels.

But non-biodegradable K-cups have been a huge problem cluttering up our landfills for years. It wasn’t until late 2020 — after years of trying to address this — that the Keurig company finally started selling 100% biodegradable K-Cups.

If you’re using true K-Cups, however, you still need to check if your town’s recycling program accepts them. Not all do. AND if you use a generic pod like we do — there are no assurances whatsoever that they are recyclable.

Your best option is to switch to a reusable pod filter. You fill them with ground coffee and they fit right into the machine…so there are no more small pods to throw out every day. Plus you’ll be saving a ton of money! (You’ll need to do a little homework before buying a reusable filter since not all of them fit all machines.)

For tea lovers

I love coffee and I love tea! Again, I usually choose the convenience of tea bags vs. brewing my own from tea leaves. But I had no idea until a couple of years ago, that many tea bags contain microplastics that actually leach into our tea.

Briefly — many brands use a plastic called polypropylene to seal their tea bags, so they don’t come apart while you’re making your brew. This plastic can’t be recycled and isn’t biodegradable.

Some companies have switched to a material called PLA (polylactic acid) — which is a polymer made from plant sources; but so far as I can tell, these tea bags can only be commercially composted.

For now, let’s keep things simple. If you’re looking to avoid plastic altogether, the best option is to brew your own tea from loose-leaf tea. If you want the convenience of tea bags, consider these brands which claim to be plastic-free:

  • Clipper Tea
  • Lipton (Depends on the specific tea you choose)
  • Pukka
  • Republic of Tea
  • Traditional Medicinals

Note that tea companies change their manufacturing practices all the time and it’s often difficult to tell from their websites exactly what goes into their teabags. If you’re an avid tea drinker, you might want to dig deeper into this.

Which Idea Will You Start With?

So that wraps up today’s suggestions to reduce plastic in your kitchen. I tried to steer clear of the more obvious swaps we’ve all been hearing about for years — like getting rid of plastic water bottles and straws. But if you’ve already done those things, give yourself credit, too. Remember that every small step adds up!

Now it’s your turn. Which one of the above suggestions are you ready to try? Do you have one of your own to share? Please leave a comment to let us know.

Pinterest Image showing plastic recyclables in bin

I am not a licensed nutritionist, medical professional or cosmetics expert. The information provided on Honest + Simple is for general informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food + Drug Administration and are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Before making decisions about your health or other concerns, please consult a qualified professional and do not rely on this website for medical advice.

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