fourteen ways to reduce plastic in your kitchen

It would be truthful to admit that this last year, things have slipped in our household when it comes to the use of plastic. It wasn't one big change, just a gradual thing and it feels we're not that far off to being back where we started a few years ago.

So, I'm taking small, consistent steps to get back on track with buying groceries and household items with consideration.

It can be a daunting task going 'plastic free', so rather than focusing on your entire home, why not choose one room in the house, or single part of your life to tackle. That might be all your cleaning products, your packed lunch you take to work, your beauty products or the kitchen. 

I spend a lot of time my kitchen, and cooking is a big part of our family life, so it makes sense for me to start here. I like a challenge, a goal to stick to and the research that goes into these things, of course, the focus wanes over time, but hopefully new habits remain. 

Here are some things I'll be trying over the next few months in an effort to do my bit in reducing our impact on this place we call home. 

sustainable plastic free kitchen swaps

  1. Shop locally 

    There are so many benefits to shopping locally, supporting your community, fewer food miles, excellent quality, and often an easier route to reducing plastic. Of course, it may not be as convenient, and you may have to plan your week a little more, but shopping locally gives you an opportunity to choose from multiple vendors meaning you can make choices where to buy your food with reduced plastic in consideration. If, like us, you're lucky enough to have a local farmers market, one weekly trip gives you access to all your favourite suppliers and you'll be able to work your way around choosing produce from stalls offering plastic free options. It also helps to build a relationship with the producers, they will get to know that you always bring your own bag, or like to have your sourdough wrapped in a beeswax wrap for the journey home. 

  2. Join a veg box scheme

    I am a big Riverford fan, they are owned by their staff and lead the way in organic and ethical farming practices and we have a box delivered each week. Shop around, find a box which works for you, you may even have some local schemes around too. I have no doubt, you'll notice that most of the vegetables (if not all of them) arrive plastic free. Be sure to keep on top of your box, I chop and change mine to reduce food waste and plan our meals around our box. It takes planning and time, but once you get into the habit it works well. I always leave a couple of meals a week with manoeuvrability, in case we fancy a takeaway, or to use up leftovers.

  3. Plan ahead

    I love nothing more than sitting down on a Sunday evening with a pile of cookery books and a cup of tea, deciding what we may want to eat for the week. Planning ahead means you can factor in things like what's arriving in your vegetable box and what top up products you may need. It's possible to get the balance right between being organised, without taking the spontaneity out of life! Plan just a few meals for the week, making sure to leave room for takeouts, or eggs on toast when you can't be bothered to cook. It's also worth having a few larder recipes up your sleeve for days when the fridge is bare but supper still needs to be on the table. A veggie chilli is my go-to, tins of tomatoes, lots of beans and a jar of red peppers if fresh ones aren't in the fridge make a delicious family tea.

  4. Make your own snacks

    This is on my 2021 new year's resolution list. For me, when buying plastic free I can be organised about suppers and cleaning products in the kitchen, but where I always fall down is snacks. Packets of biscuits, crisps, flapjacks for packed lunch boxes and the like seem to always come in plastic. I'm trying harder to find recipes of things I buy often and make my own. Cookie dough you can store in the freezer and bake off, oat cakes, a healthy flapjack recipe, granola and the like. Why not try to find alternatives of the things that always end up in your shopping basket.

  5. Save your jam jars

    A collection of screw top jars will come in handy each and every day. Use to store leftovers in your fridge rather than plastic containers, fill with snacks to take on walks with you or as a packed lunch instead of plastic zip lock bags, take to your local refill store to stock up on dried goods like pasta, lentils, beans and raisins. It's handy to have a stash, and when buying your jarred goods, consider the size of the jar too - buying empty jars are expensive, so sometimes it can be worth the extra few pennies on the produce to get the perfect jar, for instance, I always buy things like gherkins and olives in really large jars, the jars are so useful! Of course you don't want to buy more than you need, so make sure if you do this it's for things that last a long time or that you'll definitely use.

  6. Make your own beeswax wraps

    I haven't bought cling film for YEARS, and am always surprised when I see people put it in their basket when I'm out shopping. Replacing cling film is one of the easiest ways to feel good about reducing your plastic consumption. A beeswax wrap can be used to keep vegetables fresh in the fridge, to cover bowls, to wrap sandwiches in, to cover fresh pasta dough, you can even make pouches with them to take to your local refill store. The best I've used are these ones, however they are expensive and since they don't last forever learning how to make your own is a good skill to have. Plus they make useful gifts for friends and family, if I deliver brownies to a friends for instance, I always tell them to keep the wrap I've used to parcel them in. You can find my tutorial here.

  7. Invest in bowl covers

    Bowl covers can be used in many of the ways a beeswax wrap can, but the difference is, they will last a lifetime. If you're handy on your sewing machine, consider making your own using up fabric scraps or even an old bed sheet (there are loads of tutorials online, find one that works for you). Use them to cover food instead of cling film, they work on bowls as well as plates and platters. Plus, they look beautiful too, so when you're making lunch for friends, simply whip them off bowls to serve up delicious salads. They're also brilliant for those of you bread bakers for covering your dough while proving. And if sewing your own isn't for you, I sell them here at Object Story, handmade by my friend Jane using Merchant and Mills linen, they get softer and softer the more they are washed, and as time goes on, if a little hole arises, just sew it up. These are objects to be used, repaired and loved.

  8. Ditch kitchen roll

    Kitchen roll is one of those unnecessary things we have all come to have in our homes. When I first moved into my own (rented, of course!) home when I was 19 spending money on kitchen roll just seemed absurd, so I never did, just like I've never had a microwave. A stash of linens and cloths do the job, and you can use scraps of fabric, old t-shirts etc too. Have a pile of 'nice' ones, but equally have some crappy ones too you don't mind using to mop up spills and stains. If you have young children, it's a good idea to have a container (these ones are brill), add a couple of iches of water and some drops of lavender oil or tree tree, fill with your cloths and you have wipes on hand. You can use these to clean dirty hands and faces, but also your kitchen table. Just put them in the wash after and start again.

  9. Swap out your plastic brushes

    As your plastic dish brushes need replacing, replace instead with wooden ones, or those which you can get refills for. They last a long time, and if you store them so they dry quickly they won't go mouldy. And, when they are at the end of their life, you can put them in your green waste bin (make sure to remove any metal parts first and recycle these). The same applies for sponges which are often made of plastic, replace with copper scourers which are much softer than other metal scourers or a good strong pot brush will do the trick. 

  10. Refill your cleaning products

    Invest in nice ambers bottles with spray tops or pump lids, or even better, reuse what you have. Dedicate a bottle for washing up liquid (although, did you know can just use soap, like this one instead?), one for glass cleaner and one antibacterial surface spray. Then also dedicate a screw top bottle or jam jar as your refill bottle. So you'll always have the bottle you're using, then when it's say, half-full, use the screw top bottle to take to your local refill store and keep this on hand ready. It means you never have to run out before you refill. You can of course venture into the world of making your own cleaning products, here are some tutorials I have bookmarked to try.

  11. Make your own produce bags

    Having a pile of cotton bags in different sizes will always be handy, not just for plastic free shopping, but for snack bags, packed lunches, PE kits and the like. Take them with you when you do your grocery shopping and where you can, buy vegetables loose and put them into your bags. Net type bags are also brilliant for storing vegetables in the fridge too. My favourites are these, these and these. But, if you're good with a sewing machine, have a go at making your own, here's a tutorial I've used to make my own drawstring bags and here's one for bento bags.

  12. Find a plastic free dishwasher powder

    It's frustrating when you buy dishwasher powder or tablets in plastic bags, or when the tabs are individually wrapped in plastic too. Sainsbury's sell a plastic free version, but my favourite are Ecoleaf which I can buy from my local whole foods store in my town. Fully plastic free. You can also replace rinse aid with white wine vinegar.

  13. Create a plastic free kit

    This is something I'm going to do as soon as I finish writing this journal post! Gather all your plastic free items, jam jars, product bags, market baskets and the like and create little kits. One for the car, one to keep by the front door and one for your bag which you take with you everywhere. Just like we've become accustomed to bringing a mask out with us at all times, the same should be said for a shopping bag, these net ones are my favourite, they're made of cotton so can be washed easily, they scrunch up really small but have a magic Mary Poppins style ability to expand and hold a huge amount.

  14. Subscribe to the ethical consumer

    Lastly, and something not exactly related to a plastic free kitchen, but something I wanted to mention all the same. The Ethical Consumer is a brilliant online resource if you want to delve deeper into the brands you purchase from. There are plenty of free resources, but even more if you choose to subscribe ~ you could share a subscription with your family members or friends to make it more affordable. An excellent way to learn more about the brands that find their ways into your home as well as to back up your principles.

Most of these suggestions you should be able to achieve on a small budget using what you have, I hope I've given you some ideas to get started with and perhaps some sewing projects. But, if your budget allows and you want to invest in long-lasting products to help you on your quest to a plastic free kitchen, I've created a collection of some of my favourite objects. 

Shop our collection of objects for a more sustainable kitchen. 

February 18, 2021 — Alice Paling