Tips to reduce the use of plastic in your kitchen

Every year we dump 10 million tons of plastic into the ocean and solving this problem requires regulatory measures. But there are many ways consumers can help.

Cutting boards, non-stick pans, mixing bowls and even tea bags – plastic can hide in the kitchen. That's what Jessica Brinkworth, an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, realized when she began looking for ways to reduce plastic use in her own kitchen after her workplace will also begin to do so.

Although most of the waste in her lab is unavoidable (plastic plays an important role in her research on medical sterility), she still feels uncomfortable.

This discomfort becomes even more profound in his own home, where he knows that plastic is "largely for convenience."

"Large plastic particles are a global problem because we wash them onto the coasts of other countries, where plastic bottles hinder coastal nations' access to food and kill them," he said.

Much smaller plastics, such as micro and nanoplastics, which are smaller than a grain of rice, “present a completely different challenge.

Many plastics are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with the release and use of insulin, which can lead to obesity and reproductive health problems.

Every year we dump 10 million tons of plastic into the ocean, killing one million marine animals each year. This type of plastic can enter our bodies through the food we eat (most seafood contains microplastics) and the way we cook. Paula Chin, senior consumer policy advisor at World Wildlife, said: "Plastic pollution is one of the clearest signs of the environmental crisis we face, as microplastics can be found in both the highest and lowest mountains. depths of the oceans.

“They are also found in our bodies and it is estimated that every week we eat the equivalent of a plastic credit card.”

Brinkworth said solving our plastic problem will require regulatory action and extensive coordination by federal and global governments, but there are important ways consumers can make a difference.

“We produce many things in our kitchens that are dangerous for the environment and society.
But the reason we have it in the kitchen is because we have access to it,” he said.

"One of the greatest achievements of the plastics and oil industries has been convincing us that this is a personal responsibility."

However, Brinworth points out that the climate crisis is already underway and many people will not be able to survive while they wait for innovative plastic recycling solutions to save the world.

It encourages those interested in combating plastic pollution to reduce, reuse and recycle, but most importantly, say no when possible.

"Consumers can most effectively take control by trying to influence change in government."

Here are tips from Brinkworth and other experts on how to reduce and eliminate plastic waste in your kitchen.

Avoid buying plastic

Plastic is everywhere in grocery stores—think cellophane wrapping on sliced ​​mushrooms, milk cartons, and packages of sliced ​​meat. It's difficult to completely avoid these problems, but Chin says "there are ways to reduce costs."

According to her, the first and most important way to achieve this goal is to simply buy less.
"Make wise choices and avoid buying products you don't need, and when you do, look for products made from natural, long-lasting materials."

The more you cook from scratch, the less plastic you'll use in packaged or prepared foods (think of all the plastic used to package frozen vegetables, pre-cut foods, and frozen dinner containers).

When purchasing not only food but also kitchen items, Chin recommends first asking yourself if you need something and then trying to reuse what you already have before looking for "selections that contain recycled materials."

This will not eliminate the health risks associated with plastic, but it could have a significant impact on the environment.

According to a 2021 report from the World Economic Forum, reusing just 10% of plastic products could prevent nearly half of annual plastic waste from the oceans.

If you're not already in the habit of taking your own bags to the grocery store, start there and consider adding your own reusable bags while you're at it.

But shopping at traditional supermarkets isn't the only option: a growing number of zero-waste stores are popping up across the country (where you can bring your own containers or use plastic-free containers available in-store to take home enough lentils or bunches of broccoli you'll use) and many farmers markets allow shoppers to bring glass jars or make their own bags, so there's no need to bring plastic containers.

Depending on where you live, you can even replace plastic milk cartons with glass bottles (and rekindle the nostalgia of the milkman's visit) by opting for a milk delivery service.

Cooking without plastic

You might not think there's that much plastic in your kitchen if you only think about clear packaging, but almost every home has at least some plastic kitchen utensils. Think cutting boards, mixing bowls, nonstick (Teflon) pans, spoons, blenders, or food processors.

According to Brinkworth, plastic devices can release large amounts of micro- and nanoplastics, especially if we heat, crush or mix them.

Earlier this year, scientists at North Dakota State University published a study showing that shredding plastic cutting boards can release millions of microplastics each year.

Another recent study calculated the amount of microplastics released when using plastic bowls, blenders, kettles and non-stick pans.

Best way to avoid this?

If possible, replace plastic utensils with metal, glass, or wood, Brinkworth advises.

But be careful when looking at wooden or bamboo utensils that you think have glue holding them together.
Even the glue used to seal tea bags can release billions of microplastic particles.


Plastic packaging has one of the biggest impacts on the environment: we only use it once and it can take around 1.000 years to decompose in landfills.

And plastic packaging (like cling film, sandwich bags, and candy wrappers) accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste that ends up in the ocean.

It's so convenient that it's hard to imagine a good alternative, but Brinkworth encourages consumers to try reusable alternatives.

The price of reusable food wrap can be high, so Brinkworth and her family created their own.

It's pretty simple: Cut a piece of cotton fabric to the right size, place it on a baking sheet in the oven, brush it with beeswax (Brinkworth recommends adding jojoba oil for a more flexible wrap), and bake for two or three minutes.

If all of this seems too complicated, you can purchase reusable beeswax wraps at many grocery stores.

Brinkworth says the reusable cling film is easy to clean, but will begin to peel off over time.
"Honestly, for most people, the easiest solution is to just use glass jars," which can be found at many thrift stores for about a dollar each.

Overall, switching to glass jars (or glass containers if that fits your budget) is better for the environment and your body.

Plastic containers can transfer cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals to foods.

Cleaning without plastic

If you think you've cleaned plastic from your kitchen, the prevalence of plastic in your cleaning routine may surprise you.

Dishwasher capsules have the worst reputation (polyvinyl alcohol containers do not spoil in water purifiers), but if the inside of the dishwasher is plastic, microplastics will escape after each wash.

According to Brinkworth, very few dishwashers have plastic, but he recommends investing in a stainless steel interior if you can afford it (or hand-washing it if life permits).

Handwashing won't remove all the plastic from your kitchen either: if you use dishwashing liquid, chances are it's in a plastic bottle.

Luckily, some brands have started selling dishwashing liquid and dishwashing liquid in cardboard containers.

Most sponges are also made of plastic, but as demand increases, more and more stores are selling natural sponges and kitchen cloths.

This can be a good alternative to remove plastic from your body and prevent it from reaching wastewater.