5 Simple Ways to Reduce Kitchen Plastic

Cut down on waste by bringing these eco-friendly reusables into your home.

kitchen tools not made of plastic

Getty Images / Design by Josh Seong

In this edition of Small Acts, Big Impact we explore some great options for minimizing the use of plastic in the kitchen.

Are you tired of all the plastic waste that comes out of your kitchen? Worry no more! Here are easy, practical tips for swapping those disposables for reusables and reducing the amount of trash and recycling you have to haul out each week.

Small Act: Try Beeswax Wraps For Plastic Wrap

Beeswax wraps are an excellent substitute for plastic film wrap (and aluminum foil, in certain cases). They're made from cotton infused with beeswax, which softens under a warm touch and will cling to itself and the side of a container.

Big Impact

Plastic film wrap can only be used once because it's nearly impossible to untangle and cannot be properly cleaned. It is non-recyclable and must be discarded in the trash, which pollutes the environment and poses a risk to wildlife. According to one industry group, in one six-month period, nearly 80 million Americans used at least one roll of plastic wrap. Beeswax wraps, on the other hand, are all-natural, fully biodegradable, and can be composted in your backyard or used as a fire starter. They even preserve food more effectively than plastic, allowing it to breathe rather than rot.

Small Act: Swap that Conventional Sponge

Most plastic sponges are made of plastic, but did you know it's possible to buy dishwashing sponges and scrubbing pads made from plants? These work just as well as their plastic counterparts and are made from sustainably-sourced wood pulp, bamboo, luffa, sisal, and other natural materials.

Big Impact

Conventional dish sponges and brushes with nylon bristles are made from synthetic materials that do not biodegrade, cannot be recycled, and must be discarded in the trash. If every household in the United States threw out just two plastic sponges a year, there would be more than 250 million sponges sitting in the landfills. By choosing a natural sponge, you do not contribute to the plastic pollution problem and can toss these items right into your backyard composter once they're finished — although you may find they last a lot longer than plastic ones.

Small Act: Buy Plastic-Free Dish Detergent

There are some interesting new options for dish detergents that do not come in a single-use plastic bottle. These include gel concentrates, powdered detergents, and solid soap blocks.

Big Impact

In 2019, the global dishwashing liquid market was valued at approximately $18 billion – which means billions and billions of plastic bottles a year – and with a mere 9% of plastic ever getting recycled, it's a good idea to wean oneself off single-use plastic bottles whenever possible. Some gel concentrates come in biodegradable natural wax packs and is mixed with water in a glass jar or old detergent bottle. Powdered detergents get shaken onto a wet sponge and can scrub dishes directly; you buy refills in paper bags. Solid soap blocks come with minimal to no packaging and last much longer than liquid soap because people tend to use less of it.

Small Act: Use Reusable Shopping Bags

Invest in some good reusable shopping bags that you can take to the grocery store. Buy small ones for loose produce and large ones to hold all your groceries. Make sure they're easily washable.

Big Impact

The average American family takes home 1,500 plastic bags per year, and each is used for approximately 12 minutes before getting discarded. Plastic bags are difficult to recycle and typically end up in landfill, where they cause harm to animals. A better approach is to carry food home in reusable cloth bags. A life-cycle analysis found that a reusable shopping must be used 52 times to bring its carbon footprint below that of a single-use plastic one, but that's not hard to do if you keep a limited number and put them to good use.

Small Act: Stop Buying Bottled Water

Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a good refillable water bottle that lets you carry tap water from home. Most U.S. tap water is clean and safe (there are a few notable exceptions), and you can address taste issues using home filter systems.

Big Impact

Every day Americans buy 85 million bottles of water. It's a massive industry that uses 17 million barrels of oil per year to create 1.5 million tons of plastic, most of which never gets recycled after its brief life. It also takes six to seven times more water to create a bottle of water than the amount it contains. While contamination of the public water supply is an ongoing problem in some places, Paul Greenberg writes in "The Climate Diet" that 90% of Americans do have access to good tap water – if you are among them, consider switching to reusables sooner rather than later.