Welcome to my kitchen. It’s not very grand, but it’s warm, and nourishing, and like this blog, it knows the value of a good experiment.
Plastics, as inedible as they are, feature heavily in the context of food. They’re used as containers and for packaging, from those triangular sandwich cases to the ubiquitous cling film. Your quickest meal might very well be served up in a vestibule made of plastic, accompanied by a handy spork which, if not recycled, will find its way into the big plastic soup in the ocean. Which is why plastics – as inedible as they are – may already be an unwelcome item on your menu.
Here are some regular food items that we bought packaged in plastic: sauces, flour, rice, etc. As a matter of fact, what’s not wrapped in plastic? Even boxed food has plastic packaging. I suppose it’s the easiest way to keep items airtight and protected for the mass market, in which case, recycling and repurposing will have to play an important role in reducing the degree of plastic pollution.
These are examples of food items that have seemingly been packaged in recyclable glass or cardboard containers, yet harbour plastic parts. Tops and lids are sadly neglected and not even marked with the recyclable sign.
I am ashamed to admit this in my journey to becoming an anti-plastic advocate, but I have an Achilles’ heel (actually, it’s a tendon) : coffee. Behold the nifty sachets of strong, carefully mixed aromatic coffee currently fueling my addiction. And I like ’em milky, so I’m also responsible for the constant supply of milk in plastic cartons in our fridge.
Happily, there are ways to mend my habits. First of all, I could cut down on coffee. For a variety of reasons, this will probably serve me best in the long run. Secondly, I can buy pasteurised milk in cartons. Even though cartons are made from paper, plastic and aluminium, they are recyclable.
I have however found amazing uses for the milk jugs that I already have. These pencil holders, planter boxes, floaters and lunch boxes can be found on the aptly named blogs, Macgyverisms and Lifehackery.
To a certain degree, we have the power over the amount of plastic we bring into the house – ie at the grocery store. Sure, it’s not your fault that so many items are pre-packaged in plastic, but there are many ways to be more discerning. We can check that the cases can be recycled once you’re done with it, or at least think of ways to repurpose them. The key is to stop looking at plastic packaging as something that can be safely thrown away. Many goods have paper or cardboard alternatives, the best example of this being egg cartons. Go for those!
A major environmental culprit are plastic carrier bags. Needless to say, this can be easily avoided by carrying reusable bags which are widely available in all major supermarkets. Your backpack also qualifies as a reusable bag. At the very least, reuse the carrier bags from your last visit, including those veggie bags that you get from the spool. Yes, even if they have a little hole on the side. Those flimsy bags aren’t designed for the purpose of carrying the products home, but for protecting and separating them for the sake of getting them through checkout.
Plastic carrier bags find their uses as trash bags in our home. Even then, we probably used more of them than necessary prior to this experiment. I used to pick out a small bag to have near me on the counter while chopping veggies and trimming meat, and then drop that into the ‘main’ trash bag. The problem is, after a few cycles of that, the main trash bag would be housing 4 or 5 needlessly extra bags by the time we throw it out. Our carrier bag supply will deplete, making it an excuse for us to ask for more bags when next we go shopping. Using a bowl or scrap paper to transfer those messy chopped bits to the trash instantly made a difference. As a matter of fact, had we been able to compost wet food waste, we wouldn’t even need plastic trash bags to line our bins (which are made of cardboard).
If you have found that you’re still accumulating plastic bags, here are some repurposed bag projects which I am definitely going to try out!
Here is the plastic collection – yoghurt tubs, burrito bowls, squeezable ketchup bottles and fruit punnets that have not been thrown out. The solution – recycle responsibly, or just use it around the kitchen. A spare bowl, something to store leftovers. Have you ever tried to dole out pancake batter using a squeezable ketchup bottle rather than a ladle?
Included in the picture are a couple of plastic forks that we were compelled to use while eating outside. Feeling extra environmentally-conscious that day, I wiped them clean and brought them home to be used again.
Which brings me to the subject of eating out. We really MUST stop thinking of plastics as a disposable material. The sheer volume of non-biodegradable stuff that’s carelessly chucked out during ONE LUNCH HOUR is enough to drive anyone insane … if we only took the time to think about it.
Back home in Malaysia, use of plastics for food is inevitable. Our yummiest road-side snacks and piping hot hawker dishes are all packaged in clear rectangular plastic bags, in styrofoam cups, or small red carrier bags. Plastic spoons, forks and knives are supplied as a matter of fact. Even nasi lemak can be found packed in plastic containers, when it is ever more fragrant when wrapped in banana leaf!
And plastic water bottles …… DON’T GET ME STARTED ON PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES!!! I might leave that rant for another day.
This is going to take a huge collective effort. But like all great things, it will start with one step. Perhaps all we need to introduce a change in our own communities is for a small group of individuals to turn up to the shops today with their own food containers – Tupperwares, tiffin cans, their own cutlery – and a big, wide smile, and politely decline the plastic accompaniments by saying:
Saya tak perlukan plastik hari ini
I don’t need any plastic today
No necesito plástica hoy
Je n’ai pas besoin de plastique aujourd’hui
ولست بحاجة البلاستيك اليوم
Ne trebam plastiku danas
Eu não preciso de plástico hoje
E kore e ahau i tenei ra me te kirihou
Nid oes angen plastig wyf heddiw
میں آج پلاسٹک کی ضرورت نہیں ہے
Keep the plastic, mate!
There are quite a lot of options for cutlery on the go, including just grabbing a set from your kitchen and putting them in your bag. I’ve recently started using this cute set from monbento, which is snug in my study bag and will fit perfectly in my work satchel.
And now for the finishing touches: the cute-ify-ing Hello, Kitty stickers. :)
Though it might seem a little odd and smell a little materialistic, I feel that it’s healthy to form relationships with the tools that help you succeed in achieving your goals. These days, we attach less and less value to the things that we have because we consider them replaceable. Next season trends are just around the corner, and the appreciation that we have for the items we buy and own become very short-lived. So we swap them eagerly for the latest cellphone model, the new cut of jeans, and for the handbag that celebrity was photographed with in that magazine.
The other reason to form an admiring relationship with your tools is so that using them seems like a treat. I’m a lazy runner, and when I do go for a run, it’s because I made myself do it somehow. Even getting to that point involved inventing a hundred excuses about how I might not have time, or I’m too tired, or empty promises about going tomorrow instead. However, I now own a pair of running shoes that fit like a dream, and look so cute that I smile when I see them. Shallow, perhaps, but suddenly a punishment has turned into a treat. That’s not bad, is it? :)
So yes, I’m putting my favorite stickers on my handy portable cutlery set because I’m forming a relationship that says, “You’re mine, and I adore you.” I’m going to be unapologetic about using it at every chance, declining disposable plastic left, right and center. I’m going to be proud of it, and I’m going to own the awesomeness. There are worse things in this world than being known as “That girl who brings her own spoon.”
Videos as per credits on YouTube
Photos for Malaysian takeaway food from