So, last issue we tackled the plastic situation in your bathroom. Time now to move onto a slightly more involved project: the kitchen. Not only will you be helping the planet, you might just keep a little bit of the nastiness out of your food, and thereby out of your very own body. Plastic leeches from containers (and plastic wrap) into what you eat, a process accelerated by any acidity in the food, heat and/or the wacky powers of your microwave. So you’re better off saving plastic storage containers (if you have them) for the freezer and fridge. Store your food in glass or ceramic — instead of stretching plastic wrap over your food, just set a plate or bowl atop the plate or bowl holding the food. A dinner plate makes a great cover for a largish bowl, with the added bonus of stackability — unlike Saran, you can pile another dish atop your plate/cover.
One of my personal bugaboos is the plastic scrubber sponge that most folks use to clean their dishes. They catch and hold food particles and, of course, they’re plastic. Make sure any sponges you use are plain cellulose (aka woodfiber) and in lieu of plastic scrubbers try a loofah. These all-natural wonders (they’re made from gourds) are most often sold in pieces as skin scrubbers — I buy whole loofahs, fibrous tubes 16-20 inches long, and cut them into pieces to use for cleaning dishes, the sink, floor, tub and anything else that needs a good scrub. Buy them at Sahadi or other Middle-Eastern groceries, or order direct from the farm at Localharvest.com, for $3 to $8. Each one will last you as long as 5-10 plastic scrubbers, so cost savings are significant. And just throw it in the compost when you’re done (you DO compost, don’t you?).
Most appliances these days are made largely of plastic — the next time the coffee maker conks out, why not replace it with a glass-and-metal French press, or a stainless steel percolator? These simpler options lessen your electricity usage, and will never stop working — if your glass carafe breaks, you can always replace it. For appliances like mixers or blenders, consider thrift stores or antique shops — older appliances are built like tanks, and can be had for a fraction of what new ones cost. I love my 1930s waffle iron so much it has a name (no, I’m not telling), and I swear it kicks the butt of newer models, waffle-wise.
For other utensils, make a point of choosing wood as much as possible. Biodegradeable, and not as energy-intensive as metal, wooden spoons, forks, cutting boards, bowls, even plates and cups, are easy to come by. They’ll last a long time, and again, can go right in the compost. Which doesn’t count as garbage at all, you know.
Of course, the biggest plastic issue in the kitchen is the disposable one — all those plastic bags, boxes and wrappers that your food comes in. There’s the bag from the store, of course, but I’ve already lectured plenty on the evils of plastic shopping bags. If you’re not bringing your own bag, my friend, you’ve got some catching up to do. Time to turn a critical eye to the groceries you buy. I saved every piece of plastic I normally would have thrown out over a period of two weeks, and found the following: many of my favorite foods come in plastic wrappers — blocks of tofu, fake sausage and cheese, for example. I can buy my tofu in bulk, in a reused bag, but can’t find plastic-free veggie sausage. Some cheese shops and many greenmarket cheesemongers will wrap your cheese in paper, but supermarket cheese… plastic city (which is also bad for the flavor). Don’t buy snacks and crackers that come in heavy plastic jars or boxes, ditto peanut butter, jelly and pancake mix, which I recently saw packaged in a giant plastic jar. WTF? Seek out plain paper packaging, and buy bread from the market or bakery in a paper bag (or your own cloth tote). Bulk bins at health food stores or co-ops can provide unwrapped pasta, grains, dried fruits and much more. Fill up old take-out containers, or cloth sacks, and take them back over and over. Co-ops are also great sources of bulk liquids, like oil, soy sauce, vinegar, shampoo and dish soap. Refill! Refill!
At this rate your garbage stream should be dwindling fast: what doesn’t go into the recycling and compost should amount to a small bag or two every week. It may seem like a little step, but once you realize how much plastic comes in and out of your life, you’ll see it’s possible to make a real change. •