Guest Post: What is Plastic-free Food?

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Happy Friday!! Today's guest post comes from my online friend and recipe tester, Danielle. I was so inspired by her Plastic-free food project that I wanted her to share it with you! We could all use a lot less trash in our lives. I hope you will take her suggestions to heart and start to incorporate them in your household!!

In the summer of 2008, we – a family of 5 – cancelled our trash service. It wasn't something that we did over night… in fact, we used to fill up a 95-gallon trash can most every week. Then as time went on and we made changes– through reducing, reusing, recycling and composting– we found that we were barely filling up our 95-gallon trash can… and only took it down to the curb every other week (and even then it'd only be half full). After canceling our service, we found that we were only filling up a 34-gallon trash can once a month (it's even less than that now).

Then as time went on I began to notice that the only trash we created was plastics… and it was easy to see that the majority of our plastic waste (recyclable or not) came from food packaging– cereal bags, breads, wraps, pretzels, pastas, tofu, Gardein, tempeh, seitan…. 

Our kitchen plastic waste for 1 week in September 2010. Obviously we are not vegan.. we are mildly pescatarian and have flexitarian children.

Every time I looked at all the plastic waste we created, I started to think about how long we used the products in comparison to how long they would remain in a landfill… more than my lifetime! Inspired by the efforts of Beth Terry who writes the blog My Plastic-Free Life and motivated by my findings during 20 minute clean ups at my local beach, I made the decision to challenge our family to a plastic-free food week at the end of September 2010. That week I eschewed all foods that came in plastic (or even had plastic coatings, plastic windows, etc) and embraced my abilities in the kitchen. The week was full of challenges in teaching myself to "rethink" how I shop, what I cook and how I cook. I threw the idea of following a recipe perfectly out the window… if I was making a recipe and there was an ingredient that came in plastic I found a way around it (e.g. using bulk tamari in lieu of Bragg’s liquid aminos or fresh corn instead of frozen). I became more "resourceful" than I ever thought possible.

We finished our week of plastic-free food while camping, and as we were packing up I watched as a tractor went around picking up everyone’s trash. In that moment, I looked around and realized that besides some compostable materials, we didn’t have any trash. We weren’t contributing anything to the landfill. (YAY!!) The plastic-free food week ended up being so empowering for us that we have been "striving" to go plastic-free with our food choices ever since.

One of our favorite plastic-free meals. Homemade blackbean burgers on homemade burger buns with steamed green beans and roasted potatoes. 

Like any change, going plastic-free takes time (and definitely something that I'm working on everyday). I’m a big believer in making small changes that will be lasting and not trying to force something to happen. Here are the main ways that we avoid foods in plastics:

  • Shop local – Farmers Markets and stores. By shopping local I can talk directly to the vendor or farmer and let them know my preferences—in person. I don’t have to fill out a comment card, send an email or press 1 for the next available customer service representative. Also, it doesn't get more local than your own windowsill or backyard… I grow what I can… and especially love growing herbs.


  • CSA – (community supported agriculture) Not only am I supporting a local farmer, my produce comes without plastic… and in the rare cases that it does (such as green beans) all I have to do is ask and voila! No plastic!!


  • Shop bulk – If possible, I buy bulk. From grains to coffee and teas to spices. I also include loose produce as bulk. For example, carrots don’t need to come in a plastic bag! (I also bring all of my own containers—glass jars, mesh bags… whatever I have that will get the job done.)


  • Stay out of the aisles and frozen food – There’s no way around it… products meant to sit on a shelf (or in a freezer) are packed in plastic. One thing that helps keep me focused is picturing all of those plastic wrapped products in a landfill… because really that’s where they’re all going (or littered somewhere)… and for me… I don’t like that picture.


  • Make It – It’s no secret that premade foods are products of convenience. Unfortunately, products of convenience come “inconveniently” wrapped in plastic. I’ve become accustomed to making my own almond milk, brown sugar, wraps, breads, spreads, veggie burgers, popsicles… if I can make it, I make it… and if I can’t, I’ll figure out how.

If you’d like to start reducing the amount of plastic you use in your kitchen…. YAY!!…. my suggestion would be to pick one thing that you can change. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to eliminate every bit of plastic at one time… do what works for you and eventually you’ll have created a lasting (positive) change.

Do you think you can make some of the changes above or does it seem unrealistic?

Danielle is a mother of 3 and writes the blog "It Starts With Me" where she shares her efforts to live environmentally conscious. As part of her ongoing efforts, she recently won the Brita FilterForGood Film Project and had a short film made about her efforts at Wrightsville Beach, NC. Check out the film here.

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