Putting the Plastic Aside
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Eat food, not plastic. That may sound obvious, but just as plastic is ubiquitous in our lives, it is omnipresent in, on and around our food. That’s not how it’s always been, nor how it needs to be going forward — especially when plastic pollution is filling our streets, landfills, communities and oceans (even our fish) at alarming and increasing rates.
Plastic Free July is an annual global campaign to reduce single-use plastic waste, which is happening right now. And taking the challenge isn’t hard, especially if you begin by thinking about, and focusing on, food.
You can reduce plastic use within the context of your life, your home, your daily routine, even in the face of the pandemic — when it feels like disposable and individually-wrapped everything are everywhere due to health concerns and protocol. Despite widespread claims to be "recyclable," less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled and every piece ever created still exists today. There is no simple solution to the plastic crisis, but taking individual and collective action can indeed make a difference, especially when we do it en masse and focus on doable swaps.
Let’s Talk Takeaway. We miss sitting in restaurants too — for the dining experience, as well as the lower waste footprint. But just because you may have to take food to-go or order delivery does not mean it need produce massive amounts of plastic waste. Skip the plastic bag. Skip the plastic utensils. Skip the plastic straw. When you place an order over the phone, online or via an app, note that you do not need any of these extras, which are often tossed in without thought and near immediately end up in landfill. The best way to reduce plastic waste is to refuse it all together from the start, lessening consumption, demand and eventually production. Keeping reusable cloth bags, bamboo utensils, and metal (or paper) straws on hand makes these single-use plastic items largely unnecessary.
Meals need not come in plastic either. Many restaurants, cafés and food establishments are now using compostable options for to-go containers, including those made of wheat straw, sugarcane and corn. Others have fully recyclable metal trays with foil or paper lids that hold up well to sauces and heat. If your favorite spots don’t yet offer or default to plastic-free, an ask from a customer for what are now readily accessible, economical, sustainable alternatives may be the necessary push.
Groceries, kitchens and cooking. Shopping at farmers markets is a good place to start to reduce or eliminate plastic packaging, as is intentionally browsing grocery aisles to choose produce, grains, legumes, proteins and more without excess (or any!) plastic. If you’ve never shopped the bulk section of a market, that is a top tip for plastic-free living. Even if you can’t bring your own containers, as many (if not all) stores have banned reusables due to Coronavirus, small unlined paper bags have a far lower footprint than plastic packaging. Bonus: bulk food is often more fresh, better priced and in the precise quantity you need.
When you get home, store food in glass or stainless steel containers with airtight, cloth or wax coverings in the fridge, freezer or pantry. Using real plates, bowls, cups and cutlery is the way to go at home, where many of us are preparing and eating the majority of our food these days. Packing your own meals and snacks in reusable sandwich wrappers, compartmentalized meal boxes, or stackable metal containers is a great way to adopt a lower waste lifestyle. Thermoses can keep both liquids and solids at desired hot or cold temperatures all day long as well.
Could you cut single-use plastic from your meals? Swap disposables for reusables as it relates to food? Eat a plastic-free diet? Give it a whirl for a day, challenge yourself to try a week, or even set a goal for the rest of Plastic Free July… and beyond! With a mindset shift, conscious approach and sustainable tools on hand, informed eaters may well shift paradigms at local food establishments and across global industries. We’d like the main course — without a side of plastic.