colorful wooden spoon

Reduce 80% of kitchen plastic

My kitchen and bathroom were two primary sources of plastic. On any day, I could walk in and see plastics on every counter, cabinet, and shelf. Reusable and non-reusable plastic items were everywhere in my kitchen: storage containers, mixing bowls, strainer, cutting board, utensils, water bottles, sponge-holder, plastic wrap, grocery bags, and sandwich bags.

Living completely plastic-free wasn’t reasonable at this stage, because my smaller kitchen appliances like my blender and juicer have plastic components. However, I made it a goal to reduce at least 80% of the plastic in my kitchen. This wasn’t hard at all!

I noticed two main perks of transitioning to primarily glass. First, everything seemed cleaner. Have you ever put red sauce or spaghetti into a plastic container, only to have it forever stained and ruined? This doesn’t happen with glass. Everything that I have stored in glass containers has washed clean.

Second, glass is more versatile and has made my life more convenient and minimalist. Is it a large glass storage container or a glass mixing bowl with a lid? Do I need to use a regular ceramic bowl if I can just eat out of a glass storage container? The less dishes I use, the less there is to clean! Because I don’t have a dishwasher, this was ample motivation for change.

I started substituting products one by one. I perused stores and researched alternative options. It’s expensive to replace kitchenware, so I was careful to think through use-cases and the longevity of products. After a year and a half, I accomplished my goal. Below are some areas on which I focused.

No plastic wrap

It’s so convenient. This was one of the last plastic items to go, because I couldn’t find the right replacement. I used about a roll of plastic wrap per year. It was another tube taking up space in my kitchen, and the single-use plastic broke my heart every time. The solution? Wax-covered cotton cloths. The heat from my hands gently warms the wax to mold the cloth and form a seal around the object. It rinses clean in plain water and little friction.

Substitution score: 9

Reason: missing one point because the pre-cut cloths aren’t flexible in size like a roll of plastic wrap. However, I bought a pack of three different sizes, which helps.

No plastic storage containers

These were the first to go, and I never looked back. I bought three single-compartment glass containers about the size of a bowl. In fact, I often use them as bowls. This way, I leave any leftovers in the bowl and simply cover it with a lid. I also bought 3-compartment containers with built-in silverware for meal prep. I formerly had an assorted set of mini plastic containers that would clatter around in my lunchbox, but these were difficult to keep track of and were a pain to clean.

Substitution score: 9

Reason: missing one point because glass is heavier and risks breaking

No plastic strainer

I had a fun green strainer with large holes. I also had a smaller stainless steel one that could be held with one hand. I donated the green one because it was still in great shape. Sometimes, I miss my large strainer, but I like being able to hang the small stainless steel one on the wall.

Substitution score: 10

Reason: Why did I ever think I needed plastic?

No plastic cutting board

This was also bright green like my plastic strainer. A friend accidentally set it on fire while cooking on my stove, and I smelled the burning plastic before I saw the small flame. It wasn’t any more durable than my new wooden one. I now have a beautiful board made from acacia wood that looks appealing when left out of the cupboard.

acacia wooden cutting board with knife

Substitution score: 10

Reason: The memory of burning plastic.

No plastic cooking utensils

Plastic ladles, spatulas, tongs, and an ice cream scoop are a few of the things I parted with. I had been wanting to do this for a while, particularly because I noticed the edge of my plastic spatula wearing and peeling off over time. Where were these plastic bits going, I wondered? Probably into my food. Now, I use wooden and metal utensils.

colorful wooden spoons

Substitution score: 9

Reason: need to be careful not to scratch my cast iron pans with metal utensils

No plastic miscellaneous items

stainless steel heart-shaped herb stripper
  • Measuring cups
  • Ice cream scoop
  • Herb stripper
  • Tea infuser
  • Etc.

Substitution score: 9

Reason: metal measuring cups are heavier, although easier to clean. Metal ice cream scoops get cold quickly…

No suction-cup sponge holder

I went through several different sponge holders, and none of them lasted more than a couple years. The suction cups would start losing their shape and stick, and then the holder would dangle from side. I now have an extendable stainless-steel rack that lays across the top of my sink. It also holds a rag and cleaning brushes.

Substitution score: 8

Reason: it will last a long time and is easier to clean, although it still has a plastic component. I will probably drill holes in the bottom of the utensil holder because it tends to hold water.

No plastic mixing bowls

I had a nice set of three bowls. I liked them, but I also wondered about the scratches they developed after years of use. Again, where were these bits going? Into my food. My mom happened to give me a large glass bowl with a lid when she was downsizing her kitchen. I found myself reaching for it on many occasions, and now it serves as a mixing, storage, and salad bowl.

Substitution score: 10

Reason: much more versatile than my old bowls, and the textured glass looks nice as a serving bowl.

Less plastic 1L sandwich bags                                     

These were tricky and one of the last things that I’m still phasing out. I kept purchasing them in a pinch for travel-on liquids while flying. A little frustration led me to realize that even bags that are supposedly disposable can be rinsed out and reused. Why I hadn’t I thought of this before? Then, I finally remembered to purchase a clear reusable bag to keep on hand for last-minute packing.

Substitution score: 9

Reason: inconvenience of rinsing out the bag (actually, rinsing is fine but drying it is challenging)

Less plastic grocery bags

Did you know that most aren’t recyclable? I didn’t. My under-sink cabinet was full of plastic grocery bags, stuffed inside of each other. I reused them as trash bags in my bathroom, but not as fast as I was bringing them home.

I finally got my plastic bag population under control by purchasing two reusable polyester bags. While there are more natural fabrics such as cotton and hemp, I decided that I needed something extremely light and packable or else I wasn’t going to use them.

Substitution score: 9

Reason: Length still isn’t quite right: not quite a handbag and not quite a shoulder bag

No single-use produce bags

This was the hardest change. Green produce bags are by every fruit, veggie, and bulk food imaginable. It was so convenient to tear them off the and go on my way. I was taking home at least 5 new produce bags a week. Early on, I thought about using reusable mesh bags instead, but produce doesn’t last as long while exposed to air. And that’s the genius of plastic bags- you can store produce in the same bag that you take it home. So, any solution required a 2-step process: one, getting the produce home, and two, storing it in my fridge so that it lasted longer than a day.

Step one: transporting produce home. I first considered extremely lightweight and strong polyester bags that wouldn’t require cashiers to enter a tare weight. Some mesh is even so fine that cashiers can scan the barcode right through it. While appealing, it seemed to replace one problem with another. Plastic is plastic, and I didn’t want to go just halfway with another non-biodegradable material. I decided on a variety of sized cotton bags with metal pull.

red apples in reusable cotton bag

Step two: storing produce in my fridge. The crisper drawers work decently well for some things, but not for saving herbs that I often bring home. I accidentally left fresh mint sitting exposed on the top shelf in my fridge, and when I frantically remembered it a day later, it was too late. I then considered dedicated herb containers, but those had too specific of a purpose and couldn’t be easily used for other foods. Narrowly-served products and containers only result in the need for more products and containers. For this reason, I decided to go with general glass containers that can be stacked or used for baking. I chose glass over opaque materials, because I need to see what’s inside. If I can’t see the contents, I forget to eat it, even if the bag is right in front of me.

Substitution score: 6

Reason: I’ve eliminated the need for single-use produce bags, but the new 2-step process requires an additional step when I get home of transferring the produce from the cotton bags to the glass containers. Some cashiers are also unfamiliar with the process for entering tare weight, which can awkwardly slow down the checkout line

Less plastic bottles

I had smoothie containers, a tumbler, a bottle with a popup spout, an insulated bottle with a pullout spout, and a few more nameless ones that I must have received for free. I keep one plastic bottle with a trail cap for biking, but everything else is glass or stainless steel. I have a 22 oz glass bottle for general use, a ceramic-coated stainless steel liter for work, and two glass smoothie bottles (21 oz and 32 oz) with removable sleeves.

glass smoothie bottle in sleeve
My morning smoothie with ~ 15 ingredients

Substitution score: 8

Reason: My water tastes better, but I broke one of my smoothie containers six months after purchasing it. It’s a new habit to be more careful with glass and to place it further back on my counter top.