Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Plastics Are Bumming Me Out

Last week at an after-work reception, I met Lisa Boyle, the co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition.  We talked about food when we met, not plastic.  At home, I looked at her card and thought, "I'm actually really good about not using plastic."

That may be a true statement, but it weighed on me like it may have been uttered from a space of denial. I'm a fairly responsible consumer, I don't drink many bottled drinks, I have a stainless steel water bottle, I shop at the farmer's markets with my own bags, how much more Southern California can I be? What's in my kitchen that is plastic?

Well, just about everything. Even worse, silicone heat-safe spatulas are invaluable to me while baking. They do everything, and well. Uh oh.
I flip and scrub my vegetables with plastic.

There's a lot I don't know about plastics, which means there's a lot to be skeptical of. Plastics are combinations of chemicals leaching into your food, including the new BPA-free varieties, which by the way I rushed out to buy. Plastics are not recycled nearly as much as paper and glass, and if you take a stroll on the beach you can view just one of their environmental costs. I could go on. My motivation to single out plastics is more to reduce my exposure to chemicals than to save beaches, but if you believe in harm reduction theory, it doesn't matter how you get to reducing your habits, it's just that you do, somehow.

I told Lisa I was writing this post, and she sent me to Beth Terry's website, My Plastic-Free Life, which chronicles a household reducing plastics and is a resource for replacing those things with non-plastic solutions. From there, I put together the below.

My biggest plastic culprit? Yogurt containers. I eat a lot of it, and haven't found it sold in glass.  So, this week, enter a yogurt maker that comes with glass jars. Yes, it is a plastic appliance, but this solves a big plastic food container problem (see: fear of ingesting chemicals, above), and, bonus new fun project, I'm going to learn how to make yogurt. If you're a friend, you're going to be receiving some yogurt in the future.

Then, on to three categories.
Easy:
Trader Joe's over-packaged produce aisle. Gone.  Snack foods, gone, she said, after absentmindedly going downstairs for a single-serve cup of applesauce in between paragraphs. True story. Lunches, a one-time buy of a stainless steel lunch kit: found here. Carry my stainless travel mug around religiously, done. Refuse straws when I'm out, done.
Hard:
Where to store the leafy greens that I buy all the time? Baggies and cling film? What replaces those?
Next to impossible:
Occasional-use plastics like my beloved OXO salad spinner where I store my greens, and the silicone utensils. Those work really well for me, and it seems counter-productive to get rid of an item to consume another item that works similarly.

Dear readers, help! What does your kitchen plastic consumption look like? Tell me about some of your plastics, and some of the things you do to keep plastic out of your lives. I want all the dirty details.
Et tu, honey bear?

21 comments:

  1. I've just recently been thinking about this, especially with the baby on the way. I really want to rid my kitchen of as many plastic containers as possible. Like you said, though, some things are hard--like spatulas.

    That yogurt maker looks awesome.

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  2. Yes, plastics can weigh heavy on the recycler's mind. Luckily, I found out we could recycle plastic, just separate the filmy plastic from the hard, then visit the local recycle center (also, luckily just a half mile away). That certainly does not mean I have become lax about the plastic presence. I love the fact my garbage is reduced to over half of what it used to be. I still carry my stainless cup with me and stainless utensils (yes yes they have those corn base ones at all the to go places, but it is still trash-to-be), and bring my own left over container (when I remember) to the restaurants when I know I there is a chance of to go/leftover food. Though to carry and/or remember to do those simple gestures, means slowing down a wee bit, and make that effort. Honestly, it is simple to do, making it a habit somehow, like always leaving a reusable bag in the car for sudden shopping. Also, love giving reusable stuff for gifts.

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  3. We got rid of much plastic about 2 years ago -- replaced *most* of our storage containers w/ glass, and began using canning jars for homemade yogurt, etc.

    But I still have little plastic cups for the kids' snacks, and they use nalgene to-go cups (with 3 kids, we still lose to-go cups -- it hurts, bad, when it's a $25 stainless one). We never heat our plastic, I hand-wash it and bypass the dishwasher, hoping to fend off the leaching of unstable particles.

    I'm also trying to move completely to wooden and stainless utensils -- but like you, I have a couple of spatulas that I won't let go. I no longer use them for hot foods, but love them for scraping out the food processor.

    Great post -- it's a constant conundrum, for us.

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  4. This is a sticky wicket so to speak. I went for the stainless steel water bottles, only to learn from a student's science fair project that the stainless steel ones harbor waaaaaay more bacteria. (dark, warm place). I have thought about getting rid of my plastic storage containers- first because I'm sure they have bpa- although I never microwave, and second- because I too am concerned about plastic. There are tempered glass storage containers that I've thought about switching to, but then the plastics go right into the landfill..Which is worse?
    I think at the root of this we Americans need to address our highly consumptive lifestyle.
    While staying in a tiny apartment for 2 weeks in Paris- I didn't use 1 plastic container, nor did I use plastic wrap. A family of 4 did just fine with a dorm-sized fridge. Why? because we walked to the market every day and got fresh food to make for dinner and breakfast. Even over the Christmas holiday when I stocked up the little fridge because the markets were going to be closed for a few days- no plastic. We did fine. No leftovers, but we didn't need them.. Here we drive everywhere, and in an effort to drive less we buy more food at one time, and struggle with storage. I'm not sure which is worse....
    I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I thought silicone was different than plastic.. I would not be able to live without my silicone spatulas and sauce brushes...
    As for yogurt- I've made yogurt in glass jars sitting in hot water in my cooler (Plastic, but not a unitasker) overnight... it's very easy. When your yogurt maker wears out down the line, it's a pretty easy solution using stuff you already have..
    bottom line- it would be awesome to go back to pre-plastic days, but it would be hard for all of us. Impossible for many. good luck moving towards less plastic and thanks for posting about such an important topic.

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  5. Greens. Storage for those are hard for me too. I have a large white rabbit as a household pet and he eats a healthy handful of greens every day so I have to keep them on hand and I can't always get to the store every day. What keeps them best is keeping them wrapped in wet cloth towels but to keep the towels moist I put them in a plastic container. Maybe there is a substitute for this but I haven't found it. The drawer in the bottom of the fridge is too cold and things freeze in it. My massive amount of Christmas cookies also get stored in plastic containers although I line them with wax paper before packaging in tins and glass jars to give to friends. In my dry climate (Colorado) some plastic seems to be necessary but at least it isn't disposable. I wish I could remember what my mom used to keep cookies in, but that was in Illinois where it is more humid. I hear you all about the plastic and silicone spatulas; I buy old wooden handled rubber ones if I see them at thrift stores but there aren't many.

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  6. I applaud this article for bravely taking a look at how to reduce the use of plastics in the kitchen and in food packaging. Plastic, especially disposable plastic (like bags, wrapping, straws, utensils and bottles) is taking a great toll on our environment and on our health. Take a look at this news report about journalist Angela Sun's new documentary Plastic Paradise for some shocking footage : http://www.kitv.com/video/27505565/detail.html .

    Also, don't be fooled by the "BPA Free" plastics. A new report shows that almost all plastics, even those that are BPA free, leach estrogenic compounds into our food and drink - especially when the plastics have been stressed a bit under normal wear and tear like dishwashing or exposure to heat or sun. Check out a summary of this report at www.myplasticfreelife.com under the title "BPA Free Does Not Mean Safe."

    The good news is that as food lovers, we will only benefit from watching our plastic consumption! Once you start to avoid plastic packaging, you will start to buy whole foods more than processed foods - and hit the farmers markets and co-ops with your canvas bags! Instead of wasting money on bottled water and sugary drinks, you will fill up your reusable bottle with some nice tea or filtered water before you go out. I prefer a glass bottle in a silicone sleeve to prevent breakage. Check out www.lifefactory.com.

    Reducing our personal use of plastic, especially those that are used only once or a few times, and supporting legislation to reduce single use plastics and packaging will greatly improve our food. Not only will we limit the plastics that get into our oceans and contaminate our seafood, but we will protect our packaged food from getting poisoned with the chemicals in the plastic containers. California has a bill proposed now to ban polystyrene packaging (polystyrene is a kind of plastic -the name Styrofoam is trademarked by Dow Chemicals) for food since it releases a powerful neurotoxin, styrene, into food and drink. To find out more, please visit www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org and friend us. We will keep you informed!

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  7. I'm of the mentality that you'll go absolutely crazy if you try to eliminate everything from your life that is going to kill you. My motto is: you just do the best you can. For me, I don't like using a lot of plastic -- mostly because I don't like the thought of filling up landfills. I am also a sucker for yogurt, but I try to buy it in the large tubs and then I save the container and re-use for freezing stock and other things. Maybe its not perfect, but its not a single use plastic container any more. I love the idea of cloth sandwich baggies (but come on, I'm going to put that 1/2 an onion in a ziplock. can't deal with onion smell in my whole fridge). Its funny, I'm a Portlander and maybe I should be more extreme about it - but like I said, I take it one step at a time. If I use a ziplock, I wash it and reuse it. I use cloth shopping bags. I have mostly glass storage containers. Its a start, right? But, there's no way I'm getting rid of my spatulas. Not yet anyway. :)

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  8. oh yogurt is really easy to make with out a yogurt maker! You just need a glass casserole dish and a warm oven. here is how..

    : heat up 950 ml of milk just before it boils. let it cool down a bit, until it feels lukewarm to the skin - like you can put your finger in it for a 5 seconds. add 2 tablespoons of natural yogurt at room temperature and mix. I place my 2 tablespoons yogurt in a glass caserole 30 minutes before to make sure it is room temperature. I just smear it all over the bottom. turn on your oven at 80º C for about 2-3 min and turn it off. set it in the oven for about 1 hour – 1 hour and 1/2. check back on it to see if the oven is still warm. if not just heat it up another 2 min. Check back as often as you can. now, just let the magic (which is like saying the fermentation) happen overnight (or for 12 hours). in the morning transfer your yogurt to a sterilized jar and put it in the fridge. Take our 2 tablespoons into a small jar to keep for your next batch.

    also, for your clincfilm issue: Abeego flats are the greatest thing ever. see this post about them, http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/abeego

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  9. also, sorry I am a sharer, mostly all your veggies and fruit are ok on the counter. the only thing that goes in my fridge is corn that has been removed from the cob. for your salad green, just a bowl with a tid bid of water works great, just let them stand up and they will be good - not for weeks, but 4-5 days or maybe longer. Once you have cut into them, a airtight glass jar on the counter works wonders too. I have had a head of iceberg lettuce on my counter this way over 2 weeks. If there is no bacteria getting in there they just seem to last. Some foods you should not store right next to each other too.. but ill just refer you to this article I wrote about that http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/food-storage

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  10. Check out ecobags.com
    Has cotton reusable produce bags.
    yea!

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  11. I store my greens in large Pyrex dishes (with plastic covers...oh well). They're 4 or 5 quarts, I think. Wash and dry the greens and keep them in the bowls and they'll last a week in the fridge.

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  12. Pssst, the best yogurt doesn't need warmth at all! Check out mesophilic culture. Works at room temperature overnight, no extra appliance needed! I switched to bamboo cooking utensils instead of silicone and make my own cleaning concoctions. I find less plastic works best in conjunction with a less consumer-driven mindset. Look to NOT buy, not just buy differently.

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  13. It's fantastic to see folks thinking hard about their use of plastic. But as I talk about in my new book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, it's also important to recognize that not all plastics are created equal - some really are more of a problem than others. Yes, worry about the hard clear polycarbonate (#7) -- which is the plastic that has BPA; and vinyl (#3) -- which leaches phthalates. But personally I'm not so worried about the polypropylene (#5) yogurt containers or polyethylene (#1) sandwich bags -- at least not for health reasons. Don't get me started on the problems with plastic waste and pollution! That recent study showing even non BPA plastics leach estrogenic compounds had a lot of problems with it, not last being that the authors had a financial stake in the outcome, so while I think it's suggestive, I am also taking it with a grain of salt. Happily, because I love them too, I've never seen anything to indicate any problems with those silicone spatulas.

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  14. I asked my mom one time what they used when she was a kid. That's a good question to ask. One thing she said was they had glass bowls with lids that they stored leftovers in. You can buy waxed paper baggies (look just like plastic ones) for sandwiches and other things. The thing about plastic is that it is a wonderful thing for making durable goods. The problem is that we view most plastic as disposable. Recycling only assuages our guilt. Most plastic containers will state that they contain "up to" some percentage of post consumer plastic. That can mean as little as 1%. The overwhelming majority of plastic does not get recycled.

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  15. You are right, there is a lot of plastic of all sorts in the kitchen but the worst, in my opinion, is the bathroom. My skin cream used to come in a glas container which was switched to plastic a few months ago. Everything else is made of plasctic. I could change my hairbrush but... as it is here, is it smart to put it in the garbage and buy another one? I don't think so. The next one will be made of wood but how long does a hairbrush last? The present one is at least 5 years old and will probably last even longer.
    For the yogurt, it's much easier: make your own. 1st you buy a top quality greek yogurt and you mix it with one quart of top quality fresh milk. 2nd you fill this mixture in small glas containers. 3rd: you heat your oven to 50°Celsius. 4th you put your preparation in the oven and leave it for one hour. 5th you turn the oven off but you leave your yogurt in it for ten to twelve hours. 6th you save one container to make the next yogurts.
    Following the yogurt you use in the beginning and your oven the temperature and time can change a little bit (10%).
    Sorry for my probably strange English, I do not use it often enough.

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  16. I've been eyeing all the plastic in my kitchen lately too. I've made yogurt using my dehydrator before and it was super easy. I've even heard of people simply using a warm jar wrapped in a towel overnight or some such thing. Or a crockpot. Lots of ways to get it done without a special yogurt making machine. Or so I've heard.

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  17. My family is into our third week of waste-free living and it was at the beginning of week two that I decided I am going to slowly replace all the plastics in our home. I started in the kitchen with packaging, putting food into canning jars (which were starting to accumulate after the winter of eating canned goods) and just purged everything else I thought I could live without (the dish drying rack was replaced with a towel, plastic utensils, plastic cups, etc, etc, etc). We are having a garage sale next weekend to try and find more loving homes for the plastics.

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  18. I'm on the same path, and it is definitely tough to get some of those plastics out of the house. Re: storing fresh veggies - I have found that if I wrap veggies & herbs in a damp cloth napkin or towel, then put it inside a ziploc plastic bag, they say good for weeks. I haven't yet tried this inside a glass storage container. But the plastic bags don't get dirty, so I reuse them over and over. Plus, I recently discovered that you can recycle plastic ziploc type bags along with grocery bags in the recycle receptacle at your grocery store, which makes me feel better. Hopefully as time goes on and this becomes more and more prevalent, new products will come along to help us with this issue (and hopefully they won't turn out to be worse, in the long run!)

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  21. I hide the plastic zipper loc bags from hubby so he uses them less. This summer we visited Spain and Danon came in adorable glass jars. I took some home with me. I have a long way to go when it comes to reducing plastics. I'm a work in progress. I like your straw refusal idea. My 3 year old's sippy cups are the bane of my motherly existence at the moment.

    I just read three of your posts in a row. Luring me in. Now back to work...
    Michelle

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay positive!