Making your fridge plastic-free does take time and effort, but if you have a good grasp on what zero waste living actually is and can apply some of these sustainable living tips, you will be well on your way!
In 2018, Environment and Climate Change Canada put out a call to innovators to create more sustainable food packaging because “Research shows that food packaging waste comprises approximately one-third of all Canadian household waste, and only 20% is recovered for reuse and recycling".
The TINY proportion of our waste that actually gets recycled makes me want to find ways to adapt our own household behaviour, like composting for example. The government request for innovation goes on to note how problematic ‘flexible pouches, wraps and bags’ are for recycling, which I’m assuming is brand-free code for ‘zip locks, saran wrap and produce bags’. Honestly, these items can easily be reduced, and even eliminated!
How to make your fridge plastic-free: shop at your farmers market
Make a point of going to your local farmers' market with a meal plan before the commercial grocery store. Farmers Markets often can have less packaging for produce, making it easy to get what you need in season and without plastics. I realize not everyone has access to these, but if you are in a position to find one in your area, give it a go!
Pack your own cutlery if you are planning on eating and bring a reusable container in case you have leftovers. Use an old pillowcase for bread.
Ask about organic, in many cases small farms can’t afford the cost of third-party certifications and many of them do implement organic practices and don’t use pesticides, so ask.
Bring small bills.
Don’t be afraid of the ugly duckling, we tend to shop for the best-looking produce, but sometimes that odd-looking tomato or potato tastes better and (in some cases) is cheaper.
Get there early and buy in bulk, you can always freeze what you don’t use. Shop around to compare price and quality. Try something new each week.
Another benefit to shopping locally is you get to eat seasonally. Eating like this helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that come from shipping food all over the world. Strawberries should not be available in Canada in the winter. You can also avoid those tiny pesky plastic stickers found on produce by shopping at a farmer's market.
With the winter coming fast in the northern hemisphere, farmers' markets are harder to come by. So, it's to the grocery store we go!
When shopping at a grocery store and trying to be plastic-free, keep these things in mind:
Starting in the produce section. First thing is to look for naked food, this is food that has ZERO wrappings on it, like bananas. I use my mesh bags for heavier items like yams, potatoes, apples etc. Mesh bags will make life easier for you at the checkout because the cashier can see through the bag easily. For items like leafy greens and mushrooms, I use my muslin bags. You can find these second hand or on trade App’s like @bunz_official
A lot of stores have deli-type sections like olive bars. Perfect opportunity to use your glass jars. These types of bars also offer things like beans, artichokes, dolmades, marinated Gigante beans and mushrooms, grilled artichoke, Cornichons, Marinated Mixed Mushrooms and much more.
Cheese- shop for this at the cheese counter and use your own container. You don’t need to get the tare in this section as the cheese is pre-weighed and then placed on the container, you can stick the price on your own jar. The same goes for the meat section, the meat is weighed and placed in the jar with the sticker on top, making it easier for the cashier to see it.
For baked goods, shop the pastry section where there are bins packed with bagels etc. instead of buying them in plastic packaging.
I want to stress that you may run into trouble in some grocery stores when you are trying to do this. It’s ok it happens.
If you get a no, this is the perfect opportunity to start a conversation with the shop owner or manager. Remember you are a paying customer, you actually have a lot of power. Most places want to make their customers happy! The more we speak up the more things will change, we want to enact a broader positive influence on the places we shop so, remember:
Always be polite. Be as clear as possible about what you expect.
Understand that it is their right to refuse your reusable containers.
Bottom line: SUPPORT SHOPS AND BUSINESS THAT SUPPORT YOUR CHOICES AND LET OTHERS KNOW ABOUT THEM
How To Make Your Fridge Plastic-Free: Pack the Reusables
Reusable bags are oh-so-bomb. Yes, if you forget them, it’s inconvenient. But I have the ultimate solution: forget your bags, inconveniently stash everything in your pockets/purse/hood, struggle on home, laugh at yourself by watching this grocery bag sketch. You’ll never forget your bags again!
PRO TIP: I have forgotten my bags many times, so I started writing “BAGS” on my grocery list, it helped a lot! LOL!
My favourite discovery of all time is reusable produce bags that are mesh, seal with a drawstring, and are stretchy. Unfortunately, the stretch is because they’re made of polyester, which contains micro-plastics and isn’t doing us -nor the environment- any good. This doesn’t mean I will be getting rid of my produce bags: I already own them, and it would be wasteful to throw them out to sit in a landfill. However, if you don’t have produce bags, consider a Canadian company like these, since their bags are made of organic cotton, and also mesh without stretch.
Tips on how to use your reusable bags:
Empty bags completely after use
Wash all bags regularly.
Use bags that are easy for the cashier to fill
Open bags that fold up into themselves while you are waiting in line. Don’t make the cashier wait for you to open them.
Types of bags:
Compact: Small enough to shove in your pocket.
Comfortable: With a long handle you can sling over your shoulder.
Self-contained: Rolls up into itself or a built-in little holder bag.
Big and strong: Can carry a heavy load of library books or groceries.
DON’T take free bags at events, you know the ones they hand out for free crap we don't need. They are normally cheaply made and in many cases contain plastic (polyester).
In the supermarket use cloth or mesh bags for apples, plums, peaches, pineapple, avocadoes etc. When you get home you can remove them and put them in the proper storage spot.
You can also use PAPER BAGS in the supermarket for mushrooms or dates, these can go right in the fridge, or you can reuse the paper bag to store onions and garlic. Paper bags help keep the moisture away and the produce fresh.
If you eat meat, source it en masse.
First, did you catch the “if?” Recent research shows that worldwide, we need to ease up on meat and sugar consumption. The Planetary Health Diet is an eating plan that is healthy and comes from sustainable food systems- determined based on research from 37 scientists around the world. Shifting towards a plate that is half fruits/veggies and half-plant proteins, oils, and whole grains have an added benefit that packaging can be simplified: vegetables and fruit come in peels, and plant proteins like lentils can oftentimes be purchased in bulk.
If/When you do eat meat, learn the differences between buzz words like ‘cage-free’, ‘natural’ and ‘grass-fed’ vs. ‘grain-fed’. To avoid plastic meat packaging, find a stainless steel container that can be tared at a butcher shop, and purchase in larger quantities if it is a trip that’s not in your regular grocery shopping routine. Did you know you can freeze meat without plastic?
How to Store Store Veggies Without Plastic
Nature gave fruits and veggies peels for a reason: they can live in the nude!
My Plastic Free Life has a comprehensive guide to storing veggies both in and outside your fridge, but here are a few plastic-free options to get you started:
- Put herbs in a mason jar:
- Trim the stems
- Pour in just enough water to cover the first inch or two of the stems
- Close the lid.
- I like to rinse the herbs after I pick them from the jar, but you can salad spin them prior.
Exceptions: Thyme, oregano, ginger: these can be put in a paper bag in the crisper.
- If you’ve got half a lemon, or need to cover a bowl, replace saran wrap with beeswax
Wax wraps are made of beeswax, tree resin, jojoba oil, and integrated into organic cotton and hemp cloth. It’s adhesive, reusable and can wrap around anything that likes to keep breathing (i.e. all our fresh food!). These wraps last approximately 1 year, then biodegrade, compost or can be used as a firestarter: they are made of wax, after all!
Yes- Freeze jars!
We know that mason jars can make great takeout containers, coffee mugs, pantry storage, fridge-savers, but have you ever considered freezing food in them? Yes, you can!
When you fill the jar, leave at least 3 cms, since freezing causes the liquid to take more space.
Enjoy the bounty of benefits:
- Avoid chemicals like BPA, PVC, and phthalates by switching to glass
- Easy to collect glass jars from other purchases (i.e. pickles, salsa)
- Glass doesn’t absorb flavours, so easy to maintain and keep clean in between uses
- Most importantly, going from the fridge to the freezer when you know you can’t finish all those leftovers will prevent food waste!
Use your fridge properly
Use your "crisper" drawer in the fridge. It's humidity-controlled and will keep your food fresh without having to use plastic. When you place certain foods in plastic it makes them spoil faster by producing ethylene gas. You want to make sure that ethylene gas can escape and putting it in plastic will prevent this from happening. Try using your plastic Tupperware in other ways.
Food like these produce ethylene gas and should be kept naked:
Food that is sensitive to ethylene gas:
- Collard Greens
- Green Beans
Store fruit and veggies on the counter. Store things like potatoes, garlic, etc. in a cool dark place.
I watched the film Just Eat It years ago and picked up this amazing tip: Create an “Eat-me-first” bin or basket for the fridge! Label it: “Eat-me-first”.
Add sad-looking produce and foods approaching their “best before” dates. Find recipes online that incorporate bin items.
Here are some other simple rules to follow:
I store most of my fruit at room temperate on the counter. If you buy fruit remember to eat it within a few days. I keep bananas away from everything!
Store artichokes, carrots, and celery in bowls of cold water in the fridge.
Store avocados, strawberries, figs, and any other berries in a paper bag.
Store beets, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, green beans, and radishes in open glass containers covered with a damp towel in the fridge.
Store cauliflower, herbs, and cherries in closed glass containers in the fridge.
Store broccoli rabe, corn, snap peas, spinach, and cut melon in open glass containers in the fridge.
Store greens in closed glass containers covered with a damp cloth in the fridge.
Store cabbage, eggplant, and spring onions right in the fridge crisper.
How to use Glass jars and glass boxes:
Can be used to store lettuce or spinach or other more delicate greens. The same goes for food that can easily bruise, like mushrooms. They are easy to clean and stack in the fridge and are perfect for leftovers.
Silicone bags and stretch lids: I love these for leftover and off-storage. They stretch over a bowl really well making them very easy to use, wash and store.
Fabric bowl covers are also soooo good!
Shopping for bulk items will also help your fridge be plastic-free
First, you need to find a bulk shop near you. Type "bulk bins in my area" into Google and see what comes up. You can also take a look at this APP.
Get to know the bulk section, more and more we are seeing bulk options in bigger grocery chains. Sometimes they are more limited in what they offer. If your bulk section needs work, you might have to shop for those items in another store. Health food stores typically have good options.
I know bulk shopping is a privilege and if you don't have access to one, it's okay. You can try zero-waste online shops.
There are other ways to have success. Buy items that come in glass, aluminum or cardboard. And also think about what you might be able to make yourself, eg: Hummus, guacamole, nut milk etc. There are a ton of recipes online. If you must buy plastic, look for the number 1 or 2 on the container, these have higher recycling rates.
Another tip, if you buy yogurt, don’t buy 6 single little plastic containers, rather buy a large container that you can divvy up at home. This way you are only thrown out one container, not six.
Remember you are working towards simplifying your life, buying less means you save more money and when you apply these tips you tend to eat better as well.
Bulk buying helps to reduce food waste as well. It allows you to buy just what you need, therefore reducing any leftovers that might sit in the cupboard and ultimately go to waste.
And think of this: purchasing oatmeal from the bulk bins saves 5 times the waste of its packaged equivalent.
To bulk shop, you will need glass jars, like mason or weck jars. You can also use muslin bags, there are great to dry goods like beans and nuts, you can leave the items in the bag when you get home or transfer them to glass jars.
There you have it: ideas and inspiration to cut the plastic in your fridge, and make good use of your purchases.
Buy the following items in compostable packaging, baking soda, flour, bamboo to the bushes (make sure to remove the bristles first if they are synthetic) and butter wrappers.
Buy the following in packaging that can be recycled, vinegar, wine, beer, condiments and hydrogen peroxide.
Final thoughts on making your fridge plastic-free
We’ve covered a lot of ground, I want to remind you that perfection is not possible!!
Set yourself up for success. That means keeping reusable shopping bags and mesh bags (for produce) on hand all the time. Reusable shopping and produce bags are essential when you are trying to reduce waste at home. Plastic bags are literally choking the planet, globally we consume nearly 1 trillion of them a year. You DO NOT need to buy these, use what you have. An old pillowcase makes a great bread bag. I recommend having at least 5 of each.
If you don’t have that many (most of us do) then you can buy them secondhand or you can look on trade APPs and websites.
All of these tired and test tips will have you well on your way to a zero-waste kitchen!
How do you make your fridge plastic-free? I'd love to hear from you, please share in the comments below.
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