It’s crazy to think how much we rely on both plastic and aluminum in our kitchens without realizing it. Did you know that most plastics – even those labeled as BPA-free – still contain harmful chemicals that can leach into our foods? This is especially true when we heat the plastic in the microwave or just by putting hot food in it. Acidic foods and repeated washing can also break down plastic, leaving you with contaminated foods and drinks. Ditto for aluminum.
Aluminum reacts easily with acidic foods such as tomatoes and lemons, for example. But it also reacts with seemingly mild foods, such as milk. Studies show the leaching of aluminum into our food increases even more readily when we cook with spices. And like plastic, we can accelerate its leaching by scratching aluminum, say, with a cooking utensil or a harsh scrubbing sponge.
Thankfully, there are so many easy swaps that’ll help us get rid of all this plastic and aluminum in our kitchen. Overall, the preferred materials are stainless steel, untreated wood and bamboo, glass, and ceramic. You’ve likely made a few of the below swaps already, but I found a few cool ideas that weren’t yet on my radar. Let’s take a quick look and see whether they were on yours.
Related post: Your Guide to Healthy (And Not So Healthy) Cookware
Beeswax food wrap
A great alternative to plastic wrap is this beeswax food wrap, made from organic cotton muslin, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. You can use them for all the same things you would use the clingy plastic stuff… to wrap sandwiches, save lemon or avocado halves, pack snacks, cover a mixing bowl, keep a loaf of bread fresh, or to store leftovers in the fridge. Whatever the case, there are no toxins to leach and the beeswax won’t react with your food. You can wash and reuse the wraps for about a year and they’re biodegradable, so you can compost them instead of tossing them. Pretty cool, right?
Beeswax Food Wrap
Zipped Silicone Food Storage Bags
Food-grade silicone storage bags can be washed and reused thousands of times, making them an excellent alternative to single-use snack bags. They’re free from harmful chemicals and additives and they don’t react with food, which means you can store everything from fish to tomato sauce without worry. They’re even dishwasher safe.
Silicone Food Storage Bags
Stainless steel lunch containers
Forget the aluminum lunchboxes filled with plastic baggies. Stainless steel is a healthier and more durable option and it works for both hot and cold foods. A couple of these snap together, which is convenient. And I’ve added a thermos option as well.
Glass storage containers
I always save and reuse my jars from my store-bought tomato sauce, olives, dressings… everything. I’m kind of obsessed actually. I use them to store leftovers in the fridge or to store dry goods (rice, beans, etc) from the bulk bin. I clean the labels completely, so the glass is crystal clear and I can display them as functional décor. (Citrisolve is my go-to for the sticky bits of the label that don’t easily peel off by soaking.)
If you don’t tend to accumulate jars naturally, you can also purchase them.
Sponges and scrub brushes
Supermarket sponges are often made from plastic polymers (polyurethane and polyethylene, for example), and those labeled as antibacterials are often treated with harmful triclosan. Just what you want to scrub your kid’s sippy cup with, right? Cellulose sponges are a better option, as they’re made from wood fibers and, when there are no added chemicals, they are biodegradable. I buy sponges where the scrub part is made from walnut shells, which sounds scratchy, but they actually won’t harm your pots and pans. For scrub brushes, I like wood or bamboo.
NOTE: Disinfect sponges and scrub brushes regularly by soaking them in a small bowl with white vinegar.
Reusable spice jars
Instead of buying spices in ugly plastic containers, consider getting them from the bulk bin and then displaying the spices as part of your décor. They look beautiful. I bring my containers with me to the market and ask the customer service counter to weigh them for me, so I can skip the plastic baggies altogether. It adds all of 30 seconds to my shopping trip, so it’s not inconvenient at all.
Cooking utensils and silverware
I have a few friends who still stir hot stuff on the stove with a plastic spoon and scrape the bottom of their pans with aluminum spatulas. Agh!! Uncoated wood, bamboo, ceramic, and (nickel-free) stainless steel are healthier options. Silicone spatulas and utensils are also a good option – when the silicone is food-grade and tested to be free from additives.
NOTE: It is NOT recommended to put uncoated wood and bamboo in the microwave or dishwasher. If a label says their wood or bamboo product IS safe for the microwave or dishwasher (or it does NOT state that it is NOT), there is a chance it may be coated with polyurethane or another chemical that you don’t want touching your food.
Reusable drinking straws
The kids don’t have to give up straws entirely and neither do you. Bamboo, stainless steel, and glass straws are all beautiful options. The glass straws are pretty sturdy, but you can store them in a soft protective bag to be extra safe.
Reusable produce sacks
I always cringe when I see people putting produce in those flimsy plastic baggies, especially when it’s something like oranges or avocados that mother nature’s already wrapped in a protective cover. I hate the idea of the plastic touching my food, but also, the waste is unnecessary. I use cotton or linen bags for smaller items, like figs or cherry tomatoes, and I skip the bag altogether for larger items. The non-mesh bags are also great for packing bread from the deli counter, as well as for nuts, rice, and other dry goods from the bulk bins.
Ice cube trays and ice packs
Plastic ice cube trays crack pretty easily, stainless steel and silicone do not. Pretty simple. Also, ice packs are great for keeping food cold in your stainless steel lunch box. You can make your own by filling a silicone baggie (above) with two parts water to one part rubbing alcohol (to keep the ice from melting too quickly). You can also add dish soap to make it feel squishy, like gel.
I’m not a fan of using those flimsy plastic picnic cups and stark white (chlorine bleached) plates and bowls. For healthier and more eco picnic and party-ware, choose compostable plant-based materials instead.
Bottles, tumblers, and sippy cups
No plastic-free article would be complete without bottles, tumblers, and sippy cups, right? Here are my glass and stainless steel picks for plastic-free and aluminum-free alternatives.