5 kitchen DIYs for Plastic Free July
We’re one week into Plastic Free July 2019, and I want to share some simple DIYs to help you cut down on your plastic dependence and explore some easy homemade substitutes for foods always packaged in plastic. While my year round looks a lot like Plastic Free July, for many people it’s the stepping stone for pursuing lighter living and understanding resource use. It can be intimidating to pursue zero waste, plastic free living, or low impact living when you look at the scale of the problems there are to deal with. What I love about Plastic Free July is that it allows people to dip their toes into what is only a single part of a greater and more radical solution.
I’ve been pursuing a zero waste lifestyle for over two years now and most of the disposable plastic in my life still comes from food. There are foods I eat every day that I don’t buy package free, usually bread or tortillas, cheese, and TVP. Some of those foods I simply don’t have access to in bulk/package free and others I buy in plastic because the package free version is harder to come by, more expensive, or making my own didn’t work long term. There are things we can give up and things we can’t; I’ve gone without cheese and tortillas, but at this point in my life I lean more heavily on these foods, plus some of the packaging is recyclable, for the little that it means. There is a balance to strike between everything covered in plastic and everything package free, and Plastic Free July is the perfect time to experiment with passing on some plastic-covered unnecessaries like granola bars, bottles of soda, and K-cups.
Crunchy snacks in crinkly bags
Since I’ve never tried to make my own chips (and it seems hard and scary), I won’t recommend you try it either. Something I’ve never come by plastic free are regular sized crackers or chips (and to clarify for my readers not in north America, when I say chips, I mean crisps), and simply not buying chips lead me to think any party with a bowl of sour cream & onion held a culinary masterpiece. I digress.
The easiest way to make a plastic free, chip-like snack that’s crunchy and much sturdier for dipping, begins with a baguette or another chewy bread. Slice it into roughly ½” slices, or even smaller if you can manage. Bake in a preheated 400 degree Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) oven for about ten minutes, or until golden brown all around.
To spice things up a bit, you can always sprinkle or toss the bread with dried spices and salt (see what I did there?). If you’re starting with good bread, this probably isn’t necessary. If you’re much into cooking, you’ll see some connections between this and making croutons, so that in mind, don’t toss in oil or you’ll risk a snack that gives you greasy hands.
July is the perfect month to make hummus; it’s a great barbecue snack and since it’s Plastic Free July, you’ll be hard pressed to find it package free. Beans are widely available in bulk, and are an inexpensive product that often costs the same (or not significantly more) when purchased package free. But hark, you cry, I don’t like hummus! Me either, so let’s expand this DIY to include cooking any beans from scratch.
Start with package free garbanzo beans (chickpeas); soak & cook them. A tip I use when beans aren’t cooking is to add baking soda to the pot; I always cook my beans this way because it helps them cook faster and you can’t taste it. Add however much you’d like, but I’d say a heaping tablespoon per 3 cups of beans is a good ratio. The liquid you’ll have leftover if you cook garbanzo beans is called aquafaba, and if you want to save it for adventurous cooking, you’ll find that it miraculously whips up like eggs whites for vegan cooking (here). You can find more than enough hummus recipes online, so take your pick!
3. Dish scrubber
When we think plastic in the kitchen, we’re usually thinking about food packaging and excessive plastic, but most sponges are made of plastic. Dish scrubbies and brushes are as well, because the bristles are usually plastic even when the handles are wood.
There seems to be greenwashing (when something is made to look eco-friendly/sustainable when it isn’t) in this aisle of the store in particular, and there are certainly plenty of sponges and scrubbers that seem to be green while still depending heavily on unnecessary plastic. One simple way to get by this is to make your own. If you’re already familiar with knitting or crocheting, try using a coarse material like jute to make a rectangle or square the size of a sponge to clean your dishes with. After it’s worn, you can simply compost it. If you’re not familiar with the needle arts, Fairyland Cottage has a great video tutorial on how to make a macramé version that won’t require any special equipment.
4. At home canning
I’m a big fan of at-home canning, and if you are capable of boiling water, you are capable of water canning. Depending on where you live in the northern hemisphere, July has already provided you with plenty of summer produce you can preserve. My favorite thing to can is tomatoes, so if tomatoes are fresh around you, pick up a few and whip out an old jar- no need for anything fancy.
As for why canning relates to plastic free, you’ve probably caught on at this point that plastic is absolutely everywhere. Many steel cans are lined with plastic, like epoxy with BPA (x). The good news is that steel is highly recyclable, and Earth911 claims that 88% of steel is recycled, citing the American Iron and Steel Institute, although that isn’t exactly an unbiased website. Glass is the most plastic free choice and is also very recyclable.
My full guide to small scale, not scary water canning can be found here.
5. Beeswax wraps
I couldn’t mention plastic free kitchen DIYs without mentioning beeswax wraps. Beeswax wraps can be used to wrap and cover food in place of plastic wrap or foil for refrigeration or transport.
There are various ways to make the wraps, but the basics are beeswax + cotton + heat. The heat source (oven, iron, microwave) depends on the method you choose. The heated wax is saturated in the fabric, making it pliable and waterproof. Some choose to add oils or resins to make the wraps sticky, but I’ve never had trouble with mine despite only using wax. Eventually, the wraps may need to be recoated, but that won’t happen for a long time if they’re properly saturated when made. Here’s a tutorial. Beeswax isn’t cheap, but if you would like to make your own, considering using the rest of the wax for soap, creams, lip balm or something else.
Plastic Free July obviously aims to reduce our use of single use plastic, but don’t use this month as a reason to throw away reusable plastic that you use! It’s counterproductive to throw away reusable plastic containers, cups, or anything in favor of something glass, wooden, or metal. Allow as little disposable plastic as possible enter your life, but don’t try and buy your way out of plastic use.
I hope you’re enjoying Plastic Free July, and that you keep the spirit of experimentation throughout the month. While the goal is to avoid unnecessary plastic beyond this month, there is plastic that you’ll find isn’t realistic for you to avoid. Take this month as a time to avoid plastic you typically use, and even try out some changes you don’t think will stick, like giving up plastic covered granola bars or microwave dinners. Have fun, don’t sweat the mess ups, and happy zero wasting!