Plastic Free July – Wrap UP: Reuse Where You Can

All of my Plastic Free July posts really focused on some of my biggest plastic uses that end up in the trash which means it was mostly centered around what I do in the kitchen. There are SO many other areas where we use plastics that end up in the trash and they are all areas that I’m working on trying to address, either by finding alternatives or finding ways to reuse what I have in other ways.

As someone who has way too many hobbies and does way to many projects, there are tons of ways I can reuse a lot of plastic that would otherwise be disposable. I’ve set aside a bunch of random smaller containers that I couldn’t recycle and didn’t want to trash with the intent to use in those craft projects. Some I intend to use for storage, others will be used with paints. All can be reused again and again as long as I take the time to clean them when I’m done. Old toothbrushes are amazing in helping me do that.

A few minutes with your friend Google and you can probably find at least 5 alternative uses for just about every single plastic item ever made. Just because it is the end of July, doesn’t mean I’m done working on reducing the amount of plastic I use. I’m just done shoving it in everyone’s faces for now. If I’m really lucky, these posts have maybe inspired someone to do their part or gave them ideas of ways they hadn’t come across just yet. I may post other plastic free posts in the future if I come across something I find particularly useful. Feel free to tag me in any ideas you come across as well. I’m always open to new ideas and options.

Plastic Free July – Part 6: Mesh Bag

One of the things that really started bugging me when I wanted to try and go more plastic free was the fact that I couldn’t get most any fresh fruit or vegetables without them either already being in plastic or having to put them in plastic after making my choices. The produce section isn’t the only place you have those rolls of bags for customers, but it is the one I tended to need the most, so of course I went looking for alternatives.

There are lots of choices when it comes to mesh bags, but my goal was to try to find the most ecologically friendly ones I could. That meant natural fibers and no plastic parts, which was actually kind of hard to find. I did find some and they have been working wonderfully. They are all cotton and have a metal locking mechanism for the draw string.

Mesh Produce Bags - Color Coded Tare Tags
Mesh Produce Bags – Color Coded Tare Tags

I was concerned about the difference these would make to things that get weighed at checkout since they are heavier than the bags you would use in the store. These DO have tare weights printed on brightly colored tags, so this shouldn’t be an issue, but it does require that the person checking you out actually take the time to look for this and make that adjustment (so far, they haven’t taken that time with mine).

Those colored tags also help you to see right away the size bag you are getting as these are all slightly different sizes.

Plastic Alternative/Replacement:
Plastic produce bags used in grocery stores.

Pros:

  • No need for store provided plastic bag for produce
  • Reusable
  • Washable
  • Ecologically friendly materials

Cons:

  • Issues with tare weights when checking out
  • Not a tight mesh so can’t use for very small things like spices or grains
  • Looser mesh weave makes putting odd, spiky shapes (pointy carrots) interesting and is a bit of a learning curve
  • A little difficult to see through so may be annoying to cashiers that have to open to hunt for tags or stickers
  • Cost

I’ve really loved these so far. My kids got a kick out of laughing at me trying to put carrots in one the first time, but otherwise, these have been wonderful to use. I just keep them with my normal grocery bags in the back of my car so I don’t forget to take them with me when I go to the store.

I love the size ranges this set came in. Some are long with the drawstring on a narrow end and others are smaller with the drawstring on the wider side, so you have bags to fit just about anything. These would work for all kinds of things that weren’t produce as long as it wasn’t too small (seeds and grains), but that’s all I’ve tried them on so far.

Plastic Free July – Part 5: Silicone Lids

Silicone lids are another partial alternative to plastic wrap and even, in some cases, plastic bags. These actually came as part of a package with something else, though I’ve forgotten what, so it was a good chance to try them out. Like so many of my plastic alternatives, these aren’t a direct 1 to 1 replacement for anything.

There are a lot of things to like about these. They are on the stretchy side, so can fit a range of sizes and shapes. When fit properly, they do form a liquid tight seal, but sizing is key on that.

Plastic Alternative/Replacement:
Some plastic wrap or bag uses.

Pros:

  • Eliminates the use of some plastic wrap and some bags if willing to use a container instead of a bag
  • Reusable
  • Microwave, Freezer, Dishwasher Safe
  • Liquid tight seal
  • Slightly stretchy for versatility
  • Potential long lifespan

Cons:

  • You need a variety of sizes because even though they stretch, that stretch is limited
  • Fit is essential to getting a seal. If you undersize or oversize your lid to your container, you may not get that seal
  • Cost

I have used these on a variety of different bowls and even over smaller plates and they have worked wonderfully. My one complaint is that there isn’t much of an overlap between sizes, meaning if you had two of the same size dish to cover, you would only be able to cover one. At least with this small selection of sizes that I have. I really need at least one, if not two more sets to really make these work for how I’d use them. I also really need lids that are MUCH larger than what I have in this set. My largest lid wouldn’t cover a regular size dinner plate and I would love to have one large enough to cover my massive mixing bowl.

These do come in a wide range of sizes and colors, so more than likely you’d be able to find the lids to fit your needs. This is one of those that is still new to me and I need to do a bit more research to see if I can find some to fit my needs. There are even a couple of different styles that may work a little differently, but I’ve only tried these.

Plastic Free July – Part 4: Glass Food Storage #2

This is a slightly expanded version of my glass food storage post the other day, focusing specifically on an alternative to prepackaged frozen dinners/microwave meals. Like so many other products out there, there just aren’t a whole lot of alternatives to the quick and easy frozen dinner that you just shove in the microwave for a few minutes. Especially if you have kids. Don’t get me wrong, I do a ton of cooking, but every once in a while I just don’t want to do that. I especially can’t stand having to cook 3 times a day over summer break, hence the frozen meals.

Most all of the frozen meals we’ve gotten over the years have come in a crappy plastic container with a thin layer of plastic over the top to seal it all in place. I’ve run across one that has switched their containers to a paper/cardboard version, but it still has the plastic film. Where I live, most of the containers are not recyclable, even if you wash them. The worst are the ones that my kids love for quick lunches over the summer a couple of times a week, so I really wanted to see if I could find SOMETHING that would work to replace them.

I found these awesome glass containers that are sectioned off, kind of like you see on little kids’ dishes. It is like the other containers I’ve bought where it has the silicone seal to give it a liquid tight fit. The cool part about that is that it has an additional line of that across one of the dividers to keep the sections from slipping into each other. The two sections that run parallel to each other, are not sealed from each other, so you’d have to pick and choose what to fill these sections with carefully.

For my first trial, we went with their top picks. A crappy fish stick and macaroni and cheese meal. The other one was pretty much identical, except it had chicken nuggets. We did some research and found a fish stick that came in a box and no plastic. We used the basic Kraft macaroni, though I knocked about 30 seconds off the cook time to try to keep the noodles from becoming mushy when reheated. We also found some chicken nuggets, but none that came in anything other than a plastic bag.

The fish sticks had to be cooked first, which was a little extra work, but I did all this on a day I planned to cook lunch so it didn’t require too much extra time. I just made more than what they were going to eat that day. Same with the macaroni. The nuggets were already cooked, so I didn’t do anything to them and left them frozen until I was ready to put these together.

Once the fish sticks and macaroni were done and cooled off, I divided everything into the different sections. The kids decided on a blend of their two favorites and these ended up being both fish sticks and chicken nuggets. Those went in the parallel sections and the macaroni went in the sealed off section. I did also add just a tad bit more milk in the hopes that this would stay on the creamy side.

Sectioned Glass Storage Container For Frozen Meals
Sectioned Glass Storage Container For Frozen Meals

Once these were all put together, I just popped them in the freezer. MC had one for the first time and they seem to have come out really well. Granted, these have only been in the freezer for about a week, but the plan seems to work. We still have a few bugs to work out on the cooking timing, but we got it really close with a defrost for about 45 seconds and then cooking it on high for another minute or two.

In this entire prep, I was able to recycle all the boxes and only threw away the macaroni cheese packets and the plastic chicken nugget bag. Out of that, I got 4 frozen meals and a different ratio of items for lunch for both kids that day, so a total of 6 meals. It eliminated tossing 6 plastic containers and 6 plastic films if I’d gone with the prepackaged meals instead.

Plastic Alternative/Replacement:
Alternative to prepackaged frozen dinner/microwave meals.

Pros:

  • Eliminates most if not all plastic in the prepackaged meals
  • Reusable
  • Microwave, Oven, Freezer, Dishwasher Safe (minus lids on all except freezer and storage)
  • Liquid tight seal on outside and between large sections
  • Potential long lifespan

Cons:

  • These are glass, therefore breakable, but not easily (most have good warranties against breakage)
  • You are limited on using and cleaning the lids because of both the plastic and the silicone.
  • Recommended hand washing the lid because of the silicone seal (even needing to remove the seal to dry)
  • Physical space needed to store when not in use
  • Plastic lids
  • Potentially shorter freezer life for meals
  • Time invested in prepping the meals
  • Cost

This was only a test run, but my kids were suitably impressed with this. There are downsides. If you aren’t someone that does a lot of cooking, this may be too much. You CAN potentially work these up with leftovers, whether you make the food yourself or you buy from a restaurant. You just don’t have control over things like I did with the macaroni to ensure it isn’t overcooked and mushy when it is reheated unless you make it yourself. Not all foods freeze and reheat well, so it is going to be a lot of trial and error, but I really like this whole concept. There are so many different options to this and your only real limits are size (MC thought this was almost too much for a lunch) and what does well frozen and heated this way.

The only other major downside to these (and a couple of other styles of glass containers) are the way these lids are made. They are a solid unit, including the snapping flaps. The plastic is just thinner, like a score line, where it bends rather than having separate pieces connected with a hinge (my set from the other day is hinged and I like that better). I don’t think that with these it is a question of whether or not that is going to break so much as when it is going to break. You can bet I’ll still try to find a way to make those suckers work if that does happen.

 

Plastic Free July – Part 3: Glass Food Storage

This is another one of those things that doesn’t exactly have a direct, 1 to 1 replacement. There are a lot of different ways to use glass containers instead of plastic, but most of those are for replacing plastic that is already reusable. Initially, when I went looking for these, it was with a specific purpose in mind.

We used to get ground beef from someone we knew that raised cows. It was great because we could get it in a 1/4 of the whole cow instead of a whole or half that most people that raise and butcher cows allow. The last time we did this though, we realized we really don’t eat enough to use it all up before it starts to show signs of freezer burn. And we were eating less and less as time goes on.

The convenience of having those 1 pound packages wrapped in freezer paper in my freezer at all times was an amazing thing, though. The problem is that getting meat from the grocery store meant that I’d have to either freeze it in the packaging it came in or package it myself. The store packaging was either a plastic wrapped foam tray or a very lightly wrapped bundle in butcher paper. The first option isn’t something I like to do. The second, is better but still not ideal. The way I’d have stored it in the past would be wrapped in plastic wrap for one layer and then an additional layer of foil. Again, not the option I want if I’m trying to reduce plastic.

When I was looking for alternatives to plastic zipper bags, I ran across people talking about using glass. There were other options, like silicone bags, but I liked the idea of the glass because it seemed more versatile. I already have several large glass baking dishes, but the idea of the smaller sizes opened the door for a lot of different uses.

So far, I’ve used these for freezing ground meats with really great results. These, and many others similar to these, have a silicone band under a plastic snap on lid (yes, it is still plastic, but if cared for well, should last for a really long time) that creates a seal between the glass and the lid.

Glass Food Storage Containers - Silicone Seal
Glass Food Storage Containers – Silicone Seal

I’ve also used them to to store and freeze deli meats (worked better than I expected) and a couple of other things that I’m leaving in for a while to see how well they do over longer periods of time. I do think they have a slightly shorter freezer life in these than if they were in plastic wrapped packages or plastic bags, but I’m not certain yet by how much. Wrapping things inside something like parchment paper (biodegradable) before putting into the glass containers may be able to add some time to that number, though.

Outside of the freezer, these can be used in a huge number of ways. In the refrigerator, oven, microwave (minus the lid for oven and microwave) and to seal off just about anything you need to store. The fact that there are so many different sizes and shapes when it comes to glass containers, the sky is kind of the limit. These particular containers are geared for food prepping and say they are 34 ounce volume (assuming liquid). They are slightly on the large size for what my Hubby uses for his lunch leftovers, but will be in the mix for him to use as they still fit in a lunchbox.

Plastic Alternative/Replacement:
Some common plastic zipper bag uses as well as some plastic wrap. Excellent replacement for any reusable plastic storage as well.

Pros:

  • Eliminates some plastic wrap/bag use
  • Reusable
  • Microwave, Oven, Freezer, Dishwasher Safe (minus lids on all except freezer and storage)
  • Liquid tight seal
  • Comes in a variety of size options for versatility
  • Potential long lifespan

Cons:

  • Is not a 1 to 1 replacement for any single use plastic. You will need other alternatives for other types of uses.
  • These are glass, therefore breakable, but not easily (most have good warranties against breakage)
  • You are limited on using and cleaning the lids because of both the plastic and the silicone.
  • Most recommend hand washing the lid because of the silicone seal (even needing to remove the seal to dry)
  • Some recommend keeping a layer of plastic between the seal and glass (have only seen this on one type so far) when not in use.
  • Physical space needed to store when not in use
  • Plastic lids
  • Potentially shorter freezer life for foods
  • Cost

So far, these have been some of my favorite alternatives because they are so versatile. I have a different set that I’m in the process of testing as a potential replacement option for frozen microwave dinners (post coming soon on that). While cost on these will be a concern for some, if they are well maintained and cared for, they should last for a very long time. I will say, I like the way these lids work better than others. That and the fact that they are plastic make the lids a weak point for me. Another upside is that lidded glassware like this is more likely to be readily available. Maybe not these specific ones, but others that would work just as well.

If I had one really harsh gripe on these at all, it would be that in all the sets I’ve purchased (3 small ones so far), every single one comes coated in a layer of plastic film and a massive amount of foam.

Plastic Free July – Part 2: Plastic Wrap Alternative #1

When looking at the plastic I used, I tried to find the areas I used the most plastic that gets thrown away. For me, that happens in my kitchen, so my initial goal has been working on reducing that waste first. With the amount of cooking I do, there is always plastic that ends up in the trash that isn’t recyclable. Something I realized, is that I use a lot of plastic wrap, so finding something to replace that has been one of my focus areas. Sadly, I have yet to find something that is a direct, one to one use replacement because I use it for so many things.

Common Uses:

  • Covering Dishes
  • Wrapping Leftovers
  • Wrapping Food for Freezer Storage (partial layer)

Uncommon Uses:

  • Wrapping around meat when tenderizing to prevent splatter and excess damage
  • Rolling out pie dough between layers to prevent sticking to surface and for easy transfer
  • Easy clean up for icing decorator bags (trick I learned to keep it less messy in use and clean up)
  • Covering rising bread dough bowls (holds in warmth and helps rise better while keeping dough moist)

I’m sure there are loads more that I’m forgetting or ways other people use plastic wraps. Because there are so many different ways to use it, there really isn’t a single replacement for it. At least, not one I’ve found.

The most common use, covering and wrapping food or leftovers, has a few different alternative options. The first one, and the focus of this post (another alternative option coming soon) is beeswax wrap. It is basically a biodegradable fabric that is coated in beeswax. It comes in several different forms and is reusable to a point. Once it reaches that point, everything in it is organic and can be put in the trash or compost.

To test these out to see how well I liked them and how many ways I could use them in place of plastic wrap, I bought these sets that had 3 different size squares in each packet.

Beeswax Wraps
Beeswax Wraps

The largest size is big enough to cover a standard size dinner plate, so you are limited on what you can use these for. You can get a roll of it and cut it to size, but I didn’t want to make that investment (again, not exactly inexpensive) if I wasn’t going to like them.

The way these work is beeswax is somewhat pliable and softens with the heat from your hands. It is also on the slightly sticky side so it clings to itself and whatever you are covering. When used correctly, it does create a liquid tight seal. You can cover dishes or even directly on food as it sticks really well to itself. You simply rinse it in cold, soapy water after each use and hang it to dry before storing it.

Plastic Alternative/Replacement:
Some common plastic wrap uses

Pros:

  • Eliminates some plastic wrap use
  • Reusable
  • Biodegradable
  • Liquid tight seal
  • Comes in a variety of size options for versatility

Cons:

  • Is not a 1 to 1 replacement for plastic wrap. You will need other alternatives for other types of uses.
  • Beeswax is sticky and can leave a residue on whatever you cover, including your hands, and isn’t always easy to get off (my experience is with glass).
  • Because of the way you have to clean this, cold water, I would be hesitant to use this in covering raw meats. I haven’t attempted to use any kind of a bleach solution, so I don’t know if that is an effective disinfectant method. Using hot water will melt the wax and either reduce the lifespan or make it completely unusable.
  • Limited longevity: I haven’t had these all that long so I’m not certain of their lifespan, but they will need to be replaced over time.
  • Does not stretch, so there is a bit of a learning curve if you are used to stretchy plastics.
  • Seems to not hold in odors as well as plastic.
  • Cost: Like most other plastic alternatives, these are not inexpensive. Since they do have a specific lifespan, that may make these cost prohibitive for some.
  • Questionable on freezer use: I haven’t attempted this trial. The fact that this will stiffen in colder temps because of the beeswax, I would think there may be some issues with the sealing function of these in freezing conditions.

I haven’t quite decided whether I like this alternative or not. The limited use is an issue for me, so is the stickiness. I’ve debated getting the roll as most of my need for these is larger in size than these packs provided, so I’ve struggled to fully test these out.

I think this is one of those products that some people will really love and others won’t, depending on how they use it. It IS a viable alternative for some common plastic wrap uses and in a one use plastic throw away versus a multi use biodegradable, the biodegradable still lands you on the better side of things.

 

Plastic Free July – Part 1: Straws

There are lots of straw alternatives out there. Glass, stainless steel, bamboo and silicone. Some come in colors, which can be a great way to know which straw or drink belongs to which person. There are a lot of size choices. There are some that have bends and others that are straight. Some even fold up so you can pack them away in a case.

After doing a little digging and research after deciding how and when we used straws the most, I decided on a straight, clear glass straw that was bigger in diameter so it is perfect for thick shakes and smoothies. I wanted the clear glass so I can see that it is clean and isn’t building up anything on the inside. Anyone that has tried to clean a straw, especially narrow, twisty things, knows that can be a problem. Since longevity is the goal, I wanted to make sure this wasn’t an issue. That isn’t to say the other alternatives aren’t good choices, they just aren’t what I chose.

Glass Straw
Glass Straw

When I bought mine, I just got a set of 4 to cover everyone in the house. I knew at the time using these outside of the house was going to be difficult because they didn’t come with any kind of case, but I thought I’d be able to figure out something on my own. I never came up with anything that seemed workable, so I went looking and researching again and found individual cases that would fit the straws I already had. Because they are individual, anyone can grab a straw and a case if they need it. These in particular have a small rubber band where the cap meets the base to help seal it from any leaks. My straws are maybe at the very top end to fit, so there is a tiny gap under this band, but it still does its job.

Glass Straw and Cases
Glass Straw and Cases

So far, I’m loving these. We don’t go out often enough and I just recently got the cases, so I still have to test that out, but they look like they are going to work really well. I may need a bottle brush or a longer handled straw brush to keep the cases clean if needed, but they are big enough around that you can see inside fairly well. Because they are rigid rather than soft, like a cloth carrying case, these will help protect the glass when you take it with you.

Plastic Alternative/Replacement:
Straws and drink stirrers

Pros:

  • No more throwing away a single use, plastic straw (the obvious)
  • Easy to clean (these came with 2 cleaning brushes and are plenty long)
  • Perfect size opening for thicker drinks
  • Cases make them portable so you can use them anywhere
  • Made of the same type of glass as most baking dishes making them hard to break
  • Can be put in a dishwasher
  • Does not add a “taste” to what you are drinking like some other options

Cons:

  • These are straight, so if you need a bend you will need a different straw
  • Does pick up the temperature of your drink to some extent, but not as bad as stainless steel
  • These CAN break, they are glass, but they aren’t exactly fragile
  • Some may not like the hardness/rigidity
  • Length may be an issue for some when it comes to transport as these would be too long to toss in a small bag or purse
  • Cost – the straws and the cases are not cheap
  • Accessibility: Like most plastic alternatives, these probably aren’t carried in a lot of different locations, so you may need to find them online and order (which is what I needed to do), which can mean a lot of plastic in the packaging for shipping.

 

For me, the pros far outweigh the cons. Not everyone will feel the same as they have different needs. I’ve read where this specific alternative may not be an even remotely good option for people with certain disabilities. The alternative for them may be something like a silicone that has more flexibility.

 

Plastic Free July: Doing My Part

A friend of mine shared a post about taking a pledge to be plastic free for the month of July.

This is something that I’ve been working on personally for a while now, but I’ve got a long way to go. Locally, recycling plastic isn’t the best and we are a lot more limited than I’d like (though we are getting better). That said, I’ve seen too often lately that even a lot of the plastics that say they can be recycled still end up in landfills because there just aren’t the facilities to process those plastics. I do my best to avoid those, but not many companies are going this route yet, so alternatives are still slim pickings. I am trying to dig in and find those alternatives, though.

So, in the spirit of this pledge, I’ll be doing a few posts throughout July on some of the alternatives I’ve found for some of my bigger plastic uses and what I think about how well they’re working for me. Feel free to jump in and share your own along the way. I’m always up for hearing ideas about how I can reduce or eliminate plastic altogether.

This may seem like barely a drop in the bucket in relation to so many other issues our kids will face in the future, but it is one drop that I can attempt to do something about. There are others as well, but I’m only focusing on the plastic issue here in these posts.