Plastic & Food

After taking photos of my trash for a couple of years I can see that 80-90% of my plastic waste comes from packaged food.  This has caused me to be more aware on the front end when making purchases.


Trash photos guided me on what to change. Food purchases generated the majority of my trash.


Paper and plastic for recycling. My goals are to reduce my trash and my plastic recycling.

I now look at what I want and if it has plastic, I ask if there is another option without plastic.


Shopping more consciously to avoid plastic

Why am I so negative about plastic?

  • Most of it cannot be recycled.
  • Even if it can be recycled, it often isn’t. Only about 25% of plastic is produced in the U.S. is recycled.
  • What can be recycled is used in products such as carpet or furniture, but then it will not ever be able to be recycled again.  When we compare this to metal or glass which can be reused repeatedly, plastic just isn’t a wise choice.
  • Chemicals are used in the manufacturing process.
  • Plastics have been around in our food chain since the 60’s and we do not have significant studies to show their safety.  BPA was recently removed, but the new substitutes are now questioned to be safe.

In an effort to try to avoid the use of plastic bags to store produce in my refrigerator, I tried a variety of things. Some worked, some worked partially, and some did not work at all.


My nylon shower curtain experiment



Shower curtain cut into 4 large squares for wrapping up produce. It didn’t work for keeping produce fresh, but it’s great for picking up my CSA from the Farmers Market because the size can easily adjust and it keeps my backpack from getting wet or dirty.

Food Storage Experiments and Tips: 

  • Shower curtain wrap. I was going to donate a nylon shower curtain, but then thought to try using it to wrap my produce in. It works for transport from the farmers market, but did not seal well enough to preserve produce in the refrigerator. What’s nice is, it can be thrown in the washer and dryer and it’s big enough to wrap huge beets with their green stems or collard greens which don’t fit into a plastic bag easily sometimes. (Photos shown above)
  • Kale locker. In cleaning out the trunk of my car, I had a small Rubber Maid plastic tub. Rather than donating it or throwing it away, I’ve found it’s a good place to store my kale and lettuce without needing a plastic bag.
  • Debbie’s Green Bags. These do preserve produce for a longer period of time. I can wash and reuse them for about 10-20 times. Even their biggest bag is a bit too small for my farmers market finds, such as collard greens, beets with their green steams and some of the huge heads of lettuce. One of my goals is to do an experiment with two heads of lettuce and put one in a regular bag and one in the Debbie’s Green bag, just to see how long they each last. 
  • Bulk items are the way to go and some places will amaze you what you can buy in bulk.  Food Co-ops are your best choice.  I live in Portland and I shop at Food Front most of the time, but go to People’s about once a month or two for items only they carry. People’s even has frozen fruit and veggies in bulk, tahini, pet food, almond milk and so much more.
  • Glass is great choice for dry or liquid items.  Glass seals well, cleans easily, doesn’t hold an oily residue (like plastic can) and does not leech chemicals.

My new favorite jar are the pint and a half size as they hold the perfect amount for about 3 months worth of beans, grains and such. I like to have many of the same size jar so that I easily know the tare weight (versus lots of different jars). It also has measurements on the side, so it can double as a measuring cup and I love this size for smoothies! They even fit in my cars cup holder and can handle hot or cold beverages. Now I just need someone to knit me a couple of cozies for hot tea insulation.

In the end I am washing and reusing my plastic bags over and over. Plastic bags still offer the best food preservation as compared to the things that I tried. I like the Debbie’s green bags, but wish they had a larger version. I use my kale locker for kale and other produce.

Cooking Options That Are Better Than Plastic:

  • Stainless steel
  • Cast iron
  • Enameled cast iron

Aseptic containers from broths, nut milks, etc. can be recycled via curbside and the paper bin at Far West Recycling in Portland, Oregon. Be sure to ask your garbage and recycling company what they can handle. Each city has different guidelines.

Produce stickers help us scan our foods and are tiny, but look at how they add up over time.  I now recycle them via Stickerman. I’m also looking forward to new stickers coming that are biodegradable.

Look here for more tips on buying and storing food with less plastic.

One other bit of information I did not know, gum has plastic in it. Since I learned that, I say “no thank you” when someone offers me gum.


Seattle’s Gum Wall at Pike’s Market. Just think about it withstanding the rain and sun and elements…is that something you really want in your body?

This can be a lot of information at once. Don’t be surprised if this is new to you or you begin to feel overwhelmed. If that happens, pause and ask yourself what is one step you can take this week that will reduce the plastic in your life? That might be to bring your own shopping bags, or if you do that already to skip the plastic produce bags, or to stop chewing gum. No step is too small. All steps in the right direction matter!

Do not take it all on at once. Change is best assimilated in small baby steps that become a part of our everyday life. As you read this post, what is one step you will do this week to reduce the plastic in your life? Please share in the comments below. And thanks for caring enough to read this article. 

%d bloggers like this: