In 2010, Scientific American concluded, “The amount of plastic manufactured in the first 10 years of this century will approach the total produced in the entire last century.” The data came from a report that pointed out the many dangers this material poses to the planet and humans alike.
By cutting down and eventually eliminating the use of throw-away plastics from our food routines, we can help reduce these dangers. It will also help reduce our dependence on pre-packaged, processed foods, and make us more in tune with what we have in our refrigerators. That way, we can cut down on wasted food, which is a huge problem in a country where it’s estimated that as much as 40 percent of the food supply is thrown away.
America has fallen in love with our refrigerators. We’ve become so dependent on them that we put everything in there, and this leads to over-crowding, resulting in a less efficient refrigerator and food waste. (If you can’t see it, you’ll forget to eat it.) Modern refrigerators are well-engineered and packed with features that not only keep your food fresh but prolongs its life without the need for excess packaging. These include temperature-controlled doors, airtight crispers and herb storage systems. To get the most out of these fridges, it’s important to use the features correctly.
Food waste and over-dependence on plastic go hand-in-hand, and to help cut down on both you need to shop thoughtfully, store correctly and understand the needs of the food you eat. Here are six simple steps to take to help achieve a zero-waste and plastic free fridge.
1. Don’t Keep Produce in Plastic Bags
Those humidity-controlled drawers in your fridge, known as “crispers,” work very well when you use them properly. As a bonus, they mean you don’t need to store your produce in plastic bags to keep it fresh. Plastic can actually be the enemy of freshness in these finely-tuned climate-controlled areas of our fridges, as encasing certain produce in plastic encourages the production of ethylene gas that will cause food to spoil more quickly. Consider taking reusable produce bags with you to put your produce in when you shop. You can even make your own.
2. Use Cloth Instead of Plastic Wrap
Wrap leafy greens and other produce that needs to be contained while in the crisper in a clean kitchen towel or muslin cloth, lightly dampened for produce that needs to be kept moist. You can also buy drawstring muslin produce bags for convenience.
3. Know What Should and Shouldn’t Be in the Crisper
Some veggies don’t like the crisper unless you have an airtight one. Use a glass container with a lid for carrots, zucchini, and cucumbers, which can suffer from limpness in a regular crisper. Celery and other leafy greens do best standing upright in a glass of water. Use your fridge’s adjustable shelving to create a space for storing your produce in this way when you can. Not only does it preserve it longer, but having it front and center in the fridge means you’re more likely to reach for it when you need a snack. Here’s a handy guide that goes through the best ways to store all fruits and vegetables, courtesy of the Ecology Center in Berkley, CA.
4. Don’t Store Everything in the Fridge
A crowded fridge results in food getting overlooked and eventually spoiling. Below are some other foods you don’t need to store in the fridge.
• Bread, butter and most root vegetables: Store these in cool, dark places, such as the bottom of a pantry. Bread does best wrapped in a cloth bag and stored on the counter in a bread bin. If you aren’t going to use it right away, store it in the freezer, not the fridge. Butter keeps well on the counter too when stored in a ceramic butter keeper.
• Firm fruit: Fruit stores best in a bowl on the counter. Plus, because it’s visible and accessible, you’re more likely to eat it.
• Leafy veg: Vegetables like chard and beet leaves do well in a glass jar with a bit of water out on the counter. Plus, they look nice! The same applies to herbs such as parsley and basil.
5. Use Glass Containers
Store leftover and pre-prepared or chopped food in glass containers, such as those made by Pyrex. Stainless steel is an option, but glass means you can see what’s in it, meaning you’re more likely to eat it and it’s less likely to be wasted. Plus, you can put a glass container right into the oven or microwave. You can also just put another plate over the top of a half-eaten meal and put it straight in the fridge, pretty much eliminating the need for plastic wrap in your home. Alternatively, you can use reusable silicone lids that mold themselves to a multitude of containers.
6. Don’t Forget the Freezer
Not just for prepared meals packed in too much plastic, the freezer is your best friend when it comes to prolonging the life of fresh foods, including produce, bread or cooked grains such as pasta and rice. Don’t even think about stocking up on gallon freezer bags! Glass containers are excellent in the freezer. Just be sure to choose thick glass, such as Pyrex or Mason jars, and allow a little extra room in the container for food to expand, which it will do when frozen. (You don’t want to end up with broken glass in your freezer!)
Start collecting glass jars, the type pasta sauce and jelly come in, and use them for leftovers or chopped-up produce. Just fill them up and pop them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. If you’re not convinced about glass, reusable heavy-duty plastic containers, such as those made by Rubbermaid and Tupperware, will last a long time and generally avoid staining and cracking that occurs in more flimsy plastic containers.
Next time you’re shopping at the grocery store, keep these concepts in mind. Steer clear of food in plastic containers. Instead, look for food in glass jars and cloth bags that you can reuse. Take reusable bags to the store, not only for the checkout counter but also for the produce department, where you should avoid pre-packed produce. Also, don’t walk past the bulk item section. Buying goods in bulk not only saves money but significantly reduces packaging waste, especially if you bring along reusable cloth bags.
One more suggestion before we go. Bring a container with you when you eat out, so if you are taking home a doggie bag, you don’t need a plastic or styrofoam container from the restaurant that you will have to dispose of later.
These small steps will make for both a happier, healthier you and a happier, healthier planet.
Jennifer Tuohy writes on family lifestyle and eco-friendly home topics for The Home Depot. Jennifer was recently named as a Top 100 “Connected Home” influencer by Onalytica. If you are researching refrigerators and are looking for features referenced by Jennifer, you can find a large selection online at Home Depot.