There's a lot going on in this pic, but I think it all fits under the same umbrella. ⛱️
Starting from the bottom and foreground, we have the sandwich wrappers and snack bags. The sandwich wraps are so great because, as you can can see, they open up and make a placemat. They wipe clean pretty easily. Yes, they do have some plastic on them, but use the rule of cool and you're good. I have several different kinds of snack bags - no strong preference - they all get thrown in the washing machine. Some people are big fans of bento boxes, and I'm all for that, but sometimes you just need a bag. The main benefit of these guys is obviously avoiding the use of ziplock bags, which are designed to be used once and discarded (though, I have been known to wash, dry, remove ziplock and recycle with other plastic bags at the grocery store).
In the middle of the picture is a green triangle and a blue-green ball. These are quesadillas and a 1/2 eaten apple wrapped in my new Etee wraps. These guys replace plastic wrap or foil and work great! They wash up easily and are compostable when they are no longer useful. I definitely need more of them!
Speaking of plastic wrap, the round guy in the back right of the picture is what we use in the microwave instead of wrapping stuff with plastic wrap. It is made of plastic, so you need to be careful that your food is not touching it. It's main benefit is keeping your microwave clean without producing more single-use plastic garbage.
Lastly, I've got a bag of lentils and a bag of shredded cheese. It's true, they are in ziplock bags, which is not ideal. I'm open to hearing about alternatives here! We shred blocks of cheddar and mozzarella because it's cheaper and also because they put additives in the pre-shredded stuff to keep it from going bad to quickly. Who needs that?! We buy dried beans and batch-soak them. After rinsing and draining them, we put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, we put them in freezer bags. The benefits here are avoiding BPA-lined cans, saving money, and making it easy to use what we want and store the rest.
Water bottles and travel mugs.
Ok, this one is mostly for out-of-the-kitchen, but then again, many people use bottled water in their homes. Bottled water does serve a purpose and plays an important role in specific situations - after a natural disaster such as a hurricane or when water supplies are not safe for consumption (looking at you, Flint, Michigan). But outside of those situations, tap water is best. It's got the fluoride your teeth need, and the price is right. Tap water must meet many requirements to be considered safe, but bottled water has no such regulation. You don't really know what's in there.
Best case scenario: bottled water is sometimes tap water from another location! You are paying a premium to have tap water bottled up and shipped to your area! While the bottles themselves are recyclable, many do not end up getting recycled, and remember the fossil fuels needed to produce those bottles, ship them, and then recycle them.
Lastly, if you do use bottled water, remember that these bottles are designed for single use. It's tempting to refill that bottle and continue using it, but the plastic starts to break down and soon you are consuming endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA.
I shared a picture of my very loved water bottle to remind you to bring your water bottle everywhere! Most people own a reusable water bottle, but they don't carry it all the time. How about when you go on vacation? Check out the portable water bottle in the foreground of the picture - it's perfect for throwing into your suitcase. While you can't bring a full bottle of water with you through security in the airport, you can bring an empty one. Fill it up at the water fountain at the gate. What's more dehydrating than air travel?
I had to show my travel coffee mug for a similar reason. Most people own one of these, but do you keep it in the car? How often do you make an unplanned trip to the coffee shop? Once again, bring it with you when traveling - especially on car trips! Is it just me or does everyone drink more coffee when they're driving?
Paper cups from coffee shops are a major contributor to landfills. Commit to using your travel mug more often and we can make a difference together! ❤️🌎
Containers, of course! Tupperware has been around since the beginning of time, it seems, and it is very convenient. Especially for those of us with kids, who wants to risk broken glass? But, I'm here to tell you I've been using glass containers for several years, and the only person who has broken any of them is me.
I won't say "never" to plastic, since it is really handy. My rule of thumb is any food that isn't hot and isn't going to be hot - like leftover salad or cut up fruit - can go into a plastic container. Putting hot food in a plastic container or heating it up in the microwave can release chemicals from the plastic into your food. Of course, not all chemicals are bad, but we know that some are (see my video on Endocrine Disruptors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRbDhIY-xJ8). So, it's not a matter of being paranoid, but being careful. Also you want to check the integrity of your plastic containers. As soon as you see any cracks or evidence of wear, it's time to get rid of them (hopefully they can be recycled).
There are so many options for glass containers these days, so shop around for something that meets your needs. They can be expensive, so replacing your plastic containers with glass over time might be a more realistic approach. Make sure to look for something with a well-securing lid - that is my biggest complaint with some of my glass containers (especially if you are taking leftovers to work/school). If you are concerned that your container still has a plastic lid, you are not alone. The best approach to dealing with those is make sure your food (while it's still hot), does not make contact with the lid. Obviously if you have your container in your lunch box, it may get tossed around, but as long as the food is cold, touching plastic should be ok.
You'll notice I have some metal containers in the picture as well. These can be great too, and less expensive than glass. Be sure to avoid acidic foods, as those foods can interact with certain metals causing leaching of the metal into your food.
Finally I've got glass jars for storing dry goods like nuts, beans, popcorn kernels, etc. The benefit of these jars is to reduce reliance on the hard plastic containers these items might come in. While those containers can be recycled, they still use a lot of fossil fuels when they are produced and then again when they are recycled.
Everyone knows about reusable shopping bags - if you don't have several bags full of bags somewhere in your home, garage, or car, I don't know who you are. So, why are so many people not using them? My guess is the people I see walking out of the grocery store with plastic bags probably have reusable bags somewhere, but not in their car when they need them. So, a couple of tips:
1. Store your reusable grocery bags in your car
2. Take them into the store with you!
3. As soon as you unpack the groceries, put the bags back in your car or in a place nearby so you'll remember to put them in the car next time you take a trip
4. Keep your grocery bags clean by washing them and using them only for groceries
On this last point: I'm a big fan of using reusable bags for any kind of shopping - clothes, household products, hardware store, etc. But you've got to be careful about contaminating your food items with a dirty bag. So, separate your bags per use and wash regularly either by hand or toss into the washing machine.
PS - Check out the pics below of the super handy bag that folds up small enough to store in my purse!
Ok, the other item in the first picture below is a produce bag. I definitely need more of these! I love these bags because those plastic produce bags are a nuisance and too flimsy to reuse for anything. Cut down your plastic waste by using a washable produce bag!
Last point here is that even with all my efforts to reduce usage of plastic bags, they find their way into my house everyday. Did you know you can recycle clean, dry plastic bags at the grocery store (and theoretically, anywhere that gives them out)? It's true, so if you end up forgetting your reusable bags, like everyone does, recycle those plastic bags on your next trip to the store.
Over the course of the past 10 years or more, I have be working on developing more sustainable practices at home to reduce waste (including recycling). I have also been on a mission to swap out cleaning and personal care products with safer versions (products that limit exposure to environmental toxins).