In celebration of Earth Day 2019, we have 12 easy ideas on how to reduce plastic in all things surrounding food!
You may have been hearing a lot more about waste minimization in recent years, but haven’t quite jumped on the bandwagon yet. Since a lot of people want to help the environment but don’t really know how to make a difference in their daily lives, we are excited to teach you how to reduce plastic waste in 12 ways that are super easy and don’t take a lot of time or money. (In fact, some of our tips will help you save money!)
Before we get into our great ways to reduce waste, we want to explain WHY it is so important to use less plastic, not only for our own communities, but for every future generation.
What’s the big deal about plastic?
Now you may be wondering, why is plastic important? Well, one of the main reasons is because plastic takes anywhere from 400 – 2,000 years to decompose into a natural substance. Since people didn’t use a whole lot of plastic bags back in year 19 to 1619, humans don’t know what it is like to have hundreds of years worth of plastic build up. In fact, since the mass production of plastic has only been during the past 80 years, having the largest collection of ocean garbage currently be twice the size of Texas is rather frightening!
Facts about plastic use
In addition to its lifespan, plastic is such a serious environmental threat because of how much we use on a daily basis. These are just a few facts:
- Worldwide, tens of millions of metric tons of plastic are created every year, and much of it is single-use items like straws, that end up in landfills or oceans.
- Throughout the world, people buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute.
- Americans throw away 100 billion (yes, BILLION!) plastic bags every single year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture!
Doesn’t recycling help reduce pollution?
Now, if you’re thinking, “But, hey – I recycle!”, unfortunately that doesn’t help as much as we would hope. You see, recycling programs don’t always recycle the plastic they receive for a number of reasons. Also, the United States had been sending a huge amount of recyclables to overseas dumping grounds in China, but cannot do so anymore. That means that the majority of plastic, paper, and glass that you set aside in your nice blue bin is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is burned. And, horrifyingly, the toxic pollution from burned plastic mostly affects black and Latinx communities who live close to heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.
According to National Geographic, 91% of plastic is NOT recycled and an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year. That comes to basically 5 grocery bags full of plastic trash for each foot of coastline around the world! And, when plastic isn’t ending up in the stomachs of marine animals, it leaks chemicals into the soil and groundwater around the landfills it sits in for 400+ years.
Luckily, there are tangible (and easy!) actions that anyone can take to reduce plastic consumption and kitchen waste. Here are 12 of our favorite ways to use less plastic when you grocery shop, eat out, and cook at home:
12 Easy Ways to Reduce Plastic
#1 – Avoid Plastic Bags
Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That comes to about 307 bags per person, which is almost 1 bag per day! Instead of getting disposable plastic bags at the grocery store, invest in buying a few eco-friendly reusable bags that will last a long time. Don’t forget to keep some in your car (or messenger bag!) so you are never caught without them.
Yet, plastic bags don’t only come into play at the checkout line. These mesh bags are for produce and oh-so-conveniently have their tare weight printed on the bag’s label. This lets the grocery clerk subtract the exact weight of the bag so you aren’t charged extra. (For a more budget-friendly option, try these reusable produce bags.)
#2 – Replace Plastic Wrap
Plastic saran wrap goes from covering a bowl to being tossed in the trash, often in a matter of hours. So, instead of buying rolls over and over again (and cutting yourself on those hazardous metal edges!), try getting these silicone Food Huggers that basically last forever and these Beeswax Food Wraps that last a whole year when using them several times a week.
#3 – Carry in Containers
Instead of having your restaurant leftovers packed up in doggy bags, bring your own containers. Also, bring them along to your local deli counter to get sliced meat and cheese put directly inside. If you put a couple containers in your trunk, then you will always be ready to avoid waste even in the most impromptu situations!
#4 – Cut the Cutlery
Even if we do bring our own containers, share a meal so we don’t have leftovers, or simply have no leftovers because YUM, a lot of casual restaurants use plastic forks, spoons, knives, and even the occasional spork. To prevent those one-time-use utensils from ending up in a landfill, keep some reusable cutlery in your car or purse / bag. This bamboo set includes a fork, knife, spoon, chopstick trave, straw, toothbrush, cleaning towel, cleaning brush, and a cotton carrying case!
#5 – Bulk Up
Bulk purchasing can really help you reduce your plastic footprint! Instead of getting packaged food that comes in bags or boxes (that will undoubtedly have a plastic bag inside it), visit your grocery store’s bins of grains, nuts, legumes, etc., with these cotton bags that also have the tare weight on the labels.
#6 – Say Goodbye to Snack Packs
Another eco-friendly practice is to stop buying individually packaged meals and snacks. Using our bulk buying tip above, you can get larger quantities of your favorite snacks (which is also way cheaper!) and then pack your goodies in small containers or reusable bags like these silicone bags or these PEVA bags. Also, when you pack a lunch for yourself or your kids, it is easy to use a bento lunch box like this one.
It’s a great idea to keep a couple of your snack packs in your car or purse / bag so you don’t purchase any when out, too.
#7 – Have Your Glass Make a Comeback
After you use up a jar of pickles or jam, you can reuse it instead of putting it in your blue bin and hoping it will actually get recycled. With a glass jar in hand, you can hit up any local grocery store that has a machine for grind-your-own peanut or almond butter.
Just make sure you weigh the jar at home using a kitchen scale, then write that tare weight directly on the jar (or use a sticker) so the clerk can subtract it from your total.
Additionally, once you use up a spice, bring its glass container for a refill at the bulk spice bins.
#8 – Bring Your Own Bottle
According to EarthDay.org, Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles every year, which averages to every person using about 13 bottles per month. Of those bottles, only about 23% are recycled. So, by simply always carrying a reusable water bottle like this one around with you, you can personally save the environment from an average of 156 plastic bottles in just 1 year!
Make sure to bring your bottle to restaurants. Casual restaurants usually use plastic cups and even fancy eateries always give kids plastic cups and straws. With this BPA-free kids cup and straw or these stainless steel ones, you can help reduce the half a billion plastic straws that are used every day worldwide!
#9 – Save with a Travel Cup
Since the world uses 500 billion plastic cups every year, it’s already a good idea to bring your own cup to your favorite coffee shop. But, did you know you can get a $0.10 discount at Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee and a $0.20 discount at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf when you bring in a reusable cup for your drink?! Check out this cold + hot travel cup that comes with a stainless steel straw + straw cleaning brush so you can save money while saving the planet.
If you frequent local mom and pop coffee and tea shops, definitely bring your travel cup, whether or not you get a little discount. And, don’t forget to put your handy 7-piece metal straw set in your car so you are ready for all of your smoothie, shake, boba, cocktail, and iced tea needs!
#10 – Make Use of What You Take Out
Believe it or not, take-out orders account for around 269,000 US tons of plastic waste entering our waterways and oceans. As much as we want to be friendly to the earth, we will inevitably get takeout sometimes. So, when you do get disposable plastic containers from your favorite take-out restaurant, try to use them for as long as possible.
To both extend a container’s lifespan and prevent chemicals from leaching into your food, definitely avoid microwaving them. A great way to put them to use is for storing some of your bulk shopping, homemade frozen dinners (check out how here!), or non-food items like crafting supplies, hair ties, or nails and screws.
#11 – Raise the Bar with Bar Soap
When you cook up a storm or do the dishes, it’s always nice to be able to wash your hands right at the kitchen sink with a nice smelling soap. The next time you need to replenish your kitchen (and bathroom!) soaps, don’t get liquid soap that comes in a new plastic container every time, even if you buy in bulk.
Rather, bar soaps are the way to go – they last longer and create less waste. Try this colorful vegan set, keep the kitchen citrus theme going with this soap, or support your local artists who make delicious-smelling soaps by hand!
#12 – Choose Compostable
All of our tips so far will tremendously reduce the amount of plastic that is being tossed into garbage cans, but this last tip will help you throw away any cooking waste in an eco-friendly way! These compostable trash bags are perfect for all your cooking needs, coming in 2.6 gallon, 3 gal, 4 gal, 6 – 8 gal, and 13 gal. Even our trash bags don’t have to stick around into the next century!
Earth Day Challenge
Hopefully our list of easy tips has gotten you pumped to start making a difference. So, why not ensure all that energy gets funneled into action with our plastic challenge? Don’t worry – it only has 2 simple steps!
- Observe – Take inventory of just how much plastic you are throwing away in 1 week’s time. You can do this in your head, or make a list of common plastic waste and just add a tally mark next to it every time you throw something away in that category. (Yes, you can do this on your smartphone and save some paper!)
- Act – For 1 month, try 1 new waste reduction tip from the list above each week. A great idea is to choose which tips you will try based off of the categories you had the most tally marks.
We also recommend that you share your #EarthDayChallenge choices on social media and tag us with #gogreenwithcooksmarts! We would also love if you send this article to anyone who loves the planet so the movement of using less plastic can keep growing as the world’s trash piles shrink.
Whether you have kids and want to help reduce straws, save money each time you get your coffee fix, or stop getting those little plastic produce bags every time you get apples, you can easily make a difference by implementing our waste minimization tips!
What are other ways you reduce your carbon footprint at home? Let us know in the comments below!
A little note:
Some of the above links are Amazon affiliate links, which means we earn a small percentage from those sales. We use this affiliate revenue to support the continued growth of Cook Smarts. Thank you!
As always, we’re here to help you live your best life in the kitchen and provide delicious memories for you and your family. If you sign up for our newsletter below, we’ll send you great cooking tips and resources that will help you raise your kitchen IQ and cook with confidence.