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It’s crazy to think about how much we rely on both plastic and aluminum in our kitchens, and we don’t even realize it. From cookware to utensils to food storage, plastic and aluminum seem to sneak in everywhere. The thing is, these are some of the worst materials to put in contact with your food.
Also read: Let’s Un-Plastic Your Bathroom, Shall We?
Get plastic & aluminum out of your kitchen
Did you know that most plastics still contain harmful chemicals that can leach into our foods, even if the plastic is labeled as BPA-free? This is especially true when we heat the plastic, either by placing it in the microwave or by just putting hot food in it. Acidic foods and repeated washing can also break down plastic and contaminate whatever we store inside.
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 that aluminum can contaminate our food even more readily when we cook with spices. And like plastic, we can accelerate its leaching by scratching it, 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, wood, 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.
NOTE: Cookware is such a big topic that I covered it here: Your Guide to Healthy (And Not So Healthy) Cookware. To skip the article and head straight to the punchline… opt for ceramic cookware over metal (including cast iron and stainless steel), whenever possible.
1. Swap plastic wrap for 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?
2. Swap single-use snack bags for 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.
3. Swap plastic containers & aluminum lunch boxes for stainless steel
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. You can snap these stainless steel lunch containers together, which is convenient.
And if you need to keep your food hot or cold for a few hours, you can’t beat a good stainless steel thermos. If the lid doubles as a soup or coffee cup, check that the inside is also stainless steel. BPA-free or not, the plastics can still leach particles into your food or drink, especially when it’s hot.
4. Ditch the plastic containers for glass storage jars
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.
5. Trade plastic sponges for plant-based scrubbers
Supermarket sponges are often made from plastic polymers (polyurethane and polyethylene, for example), and those labeled as antibacterial 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 don’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.
6. Get your spices from the bulk bins
Instead of buying spices in unattractive plastic containers, consider getting them from the bulk bin and then displaying the spices as part of your décor. They look beautiful. I bring 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 an inconvenient time suck.
7. Say ‘no’ to plastic and aluminum cooking utensils
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 has been independently 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.
You can condition your wood and bamboo utensils — as well as cutting boards and bowls — so they last longer by simply rubbing in some food grade mineral oil every so often.
8. Forgo the single-use sippers for reusable drinking straws
It’s estimated that nearly half a billion plastic straws are used and discarded every day. What’s more distressing is that too many of them end up in our oceans and have been found in the bellies of turtles, birds, whales, and other sea life. That said, the kids don’t have to give up straws entirely and neither do you. Bamboo, stainless steel, and glass straws are all beautiful reusable option. The glass straws are pretty sturdy, but you can store them in a soft protective pouch to be extra safe.
9. Ditch the fruit & veggie bags for 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 (like cabbage or celery bunches) since they’ll need to be washed well anyway. (Organic or not, how many hands have touched the produce before you have? And how much pollution did they collect in that 18-wheeler on their ride to the supermarket? Just sayin’.)
By the way, the non-mesh linen bags are also great for packing bread from the deli counter, as well as nuts, rice, and other dry goods from the bulk bins.
10. Replace plastic ice cube trays for stainless steel or silicone
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.
11. Trade party disposables for compostable picnic-ware
I’m not a fan of using those flimsy plastic picnic cups and white paper plates and bowls. I can sometimes smell the chemicals in the cups and those stark white dishes are bleached with chlorine. For healthier and more eco picnic and party-ware, choose compostable plant-based materials instead.
12. Bottles & tumblers
No plastic-free article would be complete without bottles & tumblers right? Here are my glass and stainless steel picks for plastic-free and aluminum-free alternatives.
And the list goes on
There are probably dozens of other plastic and aluminum items in your kitchen that we haven’t covered here. And I’d bet they all have healthier and more eco-alternatives. Take a quick audit of your kitchen collection, and if you discover others that you’d like me to add to this list, give a shout by tagging @Greenopedia on Facebook or #Greenopedia on Instagram.