Since I went on a rant about coffee and teacups last time, I thought I would explore further the frustrating and complicated problem of containing stuff without using new, single-use containers. Mostly we are talking about food, which needs to be kept clean, disease-free, and, of course, transportable.
In the grocery store, try not to take another plastic produce or bulk bag if you can avoid it. Use your old bags as long as you can. Cloth bags will hold stuff, but they don’t solve the drying-out problem. I’m open to ideas. For bulk wet products, you can bring your own jar, but weigh it empty at home and write the weight on a label on the jar, so the checker knows how much to subtract. The checkers will also be glad to weigh your container on the way in.
For the prepackaged stuff that you need to have, check the bulk food isle and see if you can get the same there or ask the store if they can provide it in bulk or ask the manufacturer to back off on the packaging. When you find a cardboard box covered in cellophane with another plastic bag inside, you can be fairly sure that there is room for improvement. Those old enough will remember that wax paper used to be the standard for keeping things fresh. It’s probably more expensive to use it, but I think it is time for us to just suck it up and pay what it costs to stop the global inundation of plastic.
Cans are problematic. About half the cans you find have a questionable plastic coating on the inside, either bisphenol A (BPA) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Cans seemed to do all right without the plastic before, and cans otherwise are a pretty good container: light, hard to damage, tamper-proof, and easy to recycle.[look into why they started using the coating on the inside.]
In non-food stores the crimes are more egregious. Many items we use to grab loose out of a bin are now mounted on cardboard and encased in plastic blister packs, some of which provide a real challenge getting into. You could ask the store to talk to their suppliers, but a more immediate impact might be to ask them to remove the packaging from the article you wish to buy before you leave. Might be more constructive to suggest new legislation to your reps.
As for home strategies, for some years now, one quart and one pint plastic dairy containers have been our “go to” container for leftovers or just about anything we wanted to keep moist and cool, and not stink up the whole refrigerator. In wanting to change our ways, we looked into other new containers that were meant for that purpose. First, we found out that they were expensive — especially the stainless steel ones. We also noted that our new stainless steel containers had glass on the inside and plastic inside the lids interfacing with the jar threads. Some ceramic ones we bought had no plastic at all but there was a rubber gasket on the top and they were REALLY HEAVY. We also bought some glass ones with metal lids for about $5 each, and I noticed that they looked an awful lot like the 3lb. peanut butter jars I’ve been stashing away for years now. In the new paradigm, they are looking good. My wife likes to use canning jars.
There is still the problem of covering casserole dishes that don’t fit in jars. We still have a box of plastic wrap that I’m now squeamish about using. I considered throwing it out, but that’s where it will end up anyway, so we might as well use it first. There is also the aluminum foil option, and I like that better because, if you are careful, you can wash it and use it another couple times. Yeah, I know that there are those plastic containers with lids that do that job the best, but…more plastic, you know?
We now use everything we’ve got on hand for as long as it holds up.
A few words about materials: Glass, ceramics, and metal should arouse no guilt feelings because they are from rocks and to rocks they shall return. And we all know that, in the natural scheme of things, rocks are mostly okay. Glass and ceramics are generally harmless and within the ability of any ambitious local person to set up shop and make. On the downside, they are breakable. Stainless leaches Chromium and Nickel when cooking acidic substances, but we’re not discussing that here, and I haven’t read that they will leach out much without heat applied.
For dry storage in the pantry, we swear by galvanized garbage cans. They are air, water, and rodent proof, and you can store a number of 40lb. bags of bulk foods in each can. Also glass jars for smaller quantities. We are lazy and have a number of plastic bags lying around in there just waiting for a rodent to make the bonanza strike. We find that not being perfect is humbling, and a more comfortable place to work from.
Send me your ideas!