How to Store Leftovers Without Plastic Packaging

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When my husband and I eat at home, we almost always have leftovers. (It’s hard to cook for just two people!) However, while plastic bags and containers are the most common form of food storage, we do everything in our power to keep disposables like this out of our home.

We’ve finally phased out all of the plastic containers in our house in favor of those made from more sustainable materials like glass and metal. It’s been a long process, but so worth it! Here’s how we store our leftovers in the fridge and the freezer, without any plastic.

Care2 How to Store Leftovers Without Packaging

Refrigerator Food Storage

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for three or four days. All leftovers should be covered and wrapped in airtight packaging to keep them fresh and free from bacteria.

Mason Jars – Wide mouth quart or half-gallon size jars work perfectly to store everything from soups and sauces to broths and casseroles. I even use them for ingredients that I’ve prepped ahead of time, such as sliced carrots and bell peppers.

Glass Pyrex Containers –While these do have plastic lids, I haven’t found glass containers I like better than those made by Pyrex. Plus, the sets are pretty inexpensive. Definitely a great place to start if you’re switching from plastic containers.

Collapsible Silicon Containers – Lacking storage space? Collapsible silicon containers take up very little space in the cupboard and are super easy to clean.

Bees Wrap – Bees Wrap is a wax-covered fabric wrap that can be used to cover and store cheeses, bread and just about anything else you can think of. It’s the perfect zero waste swap for plastic wrap.

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Freezer Food Storage

Leftovers can be stored in the freezer for three or four months. Just make sure they are kept in airtight containers to prevent loss of moisture and flavor.

Parchment Paper – Natural parchment paper can be used to wrap everything from fish to bread for freezer storage. Plus, it can be composted or recycled when you’re done using it.

Stainless Steel Tiffins – A tiffin is a type of multipurpose container that is both airtight and watertight when latched. They are non-breakable and can fit a lot of food, making them perfect for freezer meals!

Glass Containers – I used to think that freezer foods needed to be packed in plastic to avoid freezer burn. That’s not the case! Your food will hold up perfectly in everything from mason jars to Pyrex containers. Just make sure you leave liquids enough room to expand as they freeze.

Related:
15 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging
10 Ways to Get Plastic Out of Your Kitchen
12 Tips to Reduce Food Contamination From Packaging

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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

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Ever since seeing the now famous YouTube clip of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, I’ve made an effort to avoid plastic straws. When I go grocery shopping I take my own bags and I also make a point of eschewing the single-use bags in the fresh produce section (much to the consternation of the person weighing my fruit and vegetables).

I try to buy things packaged in glass, I drink filtered tap water and wear flip-flops made from recycled rubber. There are plenty of zero-waste activists out there who make my efforts seem positively puny, but at least I’m doing something, right?

It’s better than doing nothing, sure, but when you consider that humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, you realize its time to up your game.

I mean, it’s a little embarrassing to learn that Rwanda has banned plastic bags in their entirety and the campaign to eliminate plastic straws was started by a nine-year-old, when you’re still buying the occasional single-use plastic item just because it’s easier.

As if that wasn’t enough of a wakeup call, I then found out about Break Free From Plastic, a global movement on a mission to stop plastic pollution for good. With The Story of Stuff Project as one of their anchor organizations, members on almost every continent and the likes of Greenpeace joining forces with them, Break Free is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

All the Plastic Ever Made: Breaking Study Tallies 8.3 Billion Metric Tons

There’s literally a ton of plastic garbage for every person on earth. Think about that for a moment and then ruminate on this: of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s, over half of it was made between 2004 and now.

We all know that plastic is a problem, but whether it’s the desire for convenience, the fact that we’re lazy or that the problem just seems overwhelmingly large, we’re all acting as if nothing’s wrong. That has to change.

I caught up with Shilpi Chhotray, Senior Communications Officer at Break Free From Plastic to find out how. Her suggestions for effecting change at both a domestic and civic level are more than doable. Literally, we have no excuse not to implement them.

Shilpi isn’t just paying lip service to the movement either. She’s implemented these practices at her own company—Sumudra Skin + Sea—as well. She started the skincare line with an ‘ocean-first’ business model (Sumudra means ‘ocean’ in Sanskrit) that uses reusable glass containers instead of plastic and edible-grade kelp as an ingredient source.

samudra skin and seaPhoto Credit: Sumudra Skin + Sea

How did you come to be involved in the Break Free From Plastic movement?

I’ve been involved in ocean advocacy for a decade and became immersed in plastic waste issues a few years ago through my work in stakeholder engagement with an ocean plastic lens. I took a deep dive, if you will, on the major players (the companies creating it and the organizations fighting against it) and the key research around the issue during this time. In July 2017, I was recruited to take the role as a Senior Communications Officer to amplify the work of the organizations behind the movement.

We’re each drawn to the causes we support for different reasons. What prompted you to focus your efforts on ocean conservation?

It was a study abroad trip to Cairns, Australia, home to the Great Barrier Reef, when I was a college undergrad at Virginia Tech University. Being exposed to the human impacts on the environment, specifically the ocean, sparked a lifelong desire to protect our blue planet. I took my interest a step further and focused my efforts in graduate school on marine protected areas, or creating underwater national parks to safeguard earth’s most precious resources. After being introduced to the rocky intertidal ecosystem (and the magical world of seaweeds), I was inspired to study marine organisms through underwater exploration via scuba (and a human-powered submersible in a later position!).

The stats released in the latest study (8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since 1950) are overwhelming to say the very least. Is it really possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution?

And to add to that, only 9 percent has been recycled since, which sparks two major considerations not being discussed enough: first, the global north (US + Europe) export copious amounts of waste overseas and second, recycling is clearly not a viable solution to the plastic waste crisis.

It’s absolutely possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution and that’s what Break Free From Plastic is all about. By emphasizing source reduction and investing in zero waste solutions at the city-level, we can greatly combat plastic waste ending up in our ocean, roads and waterways.

For instance, one of our member organizations in the Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation, helps cities develop programs to manage their waste. In the city of San Fernando 75 percent of waste gets composted or recycled and they aim to hit 93 percent. Mother Earth’s President, Froilan Grate says, “If you truly want to stop ocean pollution, it starts on land, which means rethinking how we manage our waste.”

What do you say to the person on the street who thinks the problem is too big to fix?

We created the problem in the first place so we can also fix it. We HAVE to fix it because we’ve already reached the tipping point of acceptable levels of plastic pollution. Microplastics (broken down from larger pieces of plastic) are literally everywhere, from fish to seabirds to our sources of drinking water, and even sea salt and beer.

Using a reusable bag and skipping the straw is good place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stop. My colleagues at SOSP for instance, encourage a culture of ‘leveling up’ by taking these practices to your communities —your office, your child’s school, after school clubs and even your favorite café, to effect widespread change.

Where you go next is to engage at the civic level. Talk to the companies! If you don’t like the business practices, tag them on Facebook, write to them about your concerns. You can also write to city government officials to pass regulations…these are all important steps to effect systems change.

I love this quote from our Campaigns Director, Stiv Wilson: “Our consumer muscles have gotten really strong and our citizen muscles have gotten really weak. Not everyone is an activist, figure out where you can contribute and plug in.”

How can we as individuals make a difference? Can you offer some suggestions (small and big) of changes we can make in our daily lives?

It’s important to make smart purchasing decisions and avoid brands emphasizing a throw away lifestyle (single-use plastics). Break Free From Plastic member organizations in the Philippines recently conducted an 8-day coastal cleanup and brand audit in Freedom Island, a critical area for migratory birds, to identify the most polluting brands. Turns out, six international brands are responsible for roughly 54 percent of plastic packaging pollution found there.

Among them are corporate behemoths like Nestlé, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble —parent companies of the brands sitting in your kitchen and bathroom right now. Break Free From Plastic is encouraging anyone doing coastal cleanup activities to combine it with a brand audit, because coastal cleanup is simply not enough. For more information visit Plastic Polluters.org.

There are greener alternatives that are better for us and the planet. Personally, I’ve transitioned to shopping for groceries in bulk, buying less, and a lot of DIY. Even slowing down and dining in can help reduce single-use plastic waste, and it’s more fun too!

What is the one thing you’d really like people to understand about the negative impact of plastic that we might not already know?

Plastic pollution is not just an ocean issue, it’s a social justice issue impacting low income people of color who are often on the front-lines of the crisis fighting incineration (or burning of plastic waste) for the safety of their communities. Many of these communities are also in Asia and being blamed for the waste they didn’t create, the waste coming from the developed world.

At Break Free From Plastic we are shining a spotlight on innovative and scalable solutions created by our Asian colleagues, focusing on zero-waste cities and making sure the responsibility falls on the corporations accountable.

Was being a socially conscious brand on the cards from day one for Samudra Skin + Sea or did the brand’s ethos evolve over time?

Absolutely —it’s a social venture. We have an ‘ocean-first’ business model, which means protection for the ocean is the foundation for all aspects of our methods and mission. For instance, we hand harvest the wild seaweed used in our products to ensure the regenerative properties of the plant continue to thrive for generations to come.

We have a zero-waste packaging model which means all of our products are encased in reusable glass jars with bamboo lids and/or compostable boxes certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Our soap bar in particular, created for hair and body, eliminates the need for bottled shampoos and conditioners. We strongly advocate a ‘less is more’ mentality and repurposing and reusing when possible.

Our mission includes partnering on marine conservation campaigns that benefit people and marine life. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and 5 Gyres (who is also a Break Free From Plastic movement member) are two fantastic organizations we work with to communicate efforts around ocean stewardship. Personal wellness and ecological integrity need to go hand-in-hand, and Samudra is bridging that gap.

With so many people doing what they can to effect positive change in the world, it’s hard to just sit back and pretend that plastic is someone else’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem. In my own life, I’m definitely going to try harder to reduce the amount of waste I generate. What about you? How will you #breakfreefromplastic?

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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Is Plastic Really That Bad?

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Plastic bottles washed up on the beach. Grocery bags tangled in tree branches. Candy wrappers blowing along the sidewalk downtown. Litter like this is a daily nuisance. Unfortunately, it only hints at the serious, growing problem that is plastic pollution.

Unless you live along the Pacific Rim—a geographical area that spans the waters from the West Coast of North America to the islands of Japan—you probably don’t experience the massive piles of garbage floating in our oceans on a daily basis.

Exactly how much plastic exists on our planet is still unknown—a thought that is pretty disconcerting, considering the fact that many scientists believe it’s gone missing, dissolving into our water sources.

Many plastics wind up at sea, washing up on remote islands in third-world countries or collecting in sea ice thousands of miles north of civilization. Still other pieces break down into smaller and smaller pieces before being accidentally consumed by creatures in the ocean ecosystem.

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Young albatross have been found dead with their stomachs full of plastic garbage. Sea turtles and whales swallow plastic bags, mistaking them for squid. Parent birds regurgitate plastic bits to feed to their babies; this often kills them. Even zooplankton—an organism that is very low on the food chain—consumes tiny microplastics before being eaten by larger and larger animals, us included.

Plastics are used to make countless everyday products—from toothbrushes to flower pots. It’s used to make our cell phones, our food storage containers, our utensils, our lotion bottles, our calendars and our shoes. When we get tired of these products, those cheap plastics go straight into the garbage, don’t get recycled, then contaminate our groundwater before being washed out into the oceans.

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Friends, this is bad news. And, unfortunately, the answer isn’t ocean cleanup (micro plastics are so small and widespread that there is no way to remove them all), at least not entirely.

The best possible solution is to prevent any more plastic from reaching our oceans. How do we do this? Reduce plastic waste at its source: plastic consumption. Be hyper aware of plastic packaging, recycle all that you can, and refuse to purchase items that use less of it. Sound crazy? It’s difficult, but not impossible. Zero waste individuals all over the world are proving that this is the case, refusing plastic bags, water bottles, styrofoam containers and the like.

Here are a few additional ways you can cut the plastic habit and save our oceans!

  • When you order drinks at a restaurant, ask for no plastic straw.
  • Invest in reusable containers that you can use in place of plastic bags or tupperware.
  • Pick up litter whenever you see it. Seriously. It’ll take just a moment of your time.
  • Refuse to fall into the convenience trap. The things you throw away do not disappear.
  • View plastic items as durable things to hold onto and reuse.
  • Support policy initiatives that prioritize the wellbeing of our beautiful planet.
  • Give gifts that are eco-friendly, post-consumer recycled or long-lasting in nature.

Cleaning up our oceans and protecting our planet is your responsibility. Do not let the trick of convenience compromise your future or the future of those who will come after us. We will be known by the debris we leave behind.

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10 Easy Things to Make Your Home Smarter

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If you’ve ever driven halfway to work before wondering whether you left the lights on in the basement or gotten up in the middle of the night to ensure you turned the thermostat down, you already understand why the ability to remotely monitor and adjust your home’s conditions is advantageous.

Smart homes link your heating, cooling, lighting and other residential systems with a wi-fi network, allowing you to check their status through apps or a central hub. If you want to gain greater control over your appliances and energy use, start with some of these simple upgrades.

Cut down on water waste with smart water technologies

New showerheads and faucets can help you get the most out of your water use. Smart showerheads shape the individual droplets of water to ensure that you get squeaky clean while using as little water as possible (though the best way to save water in the shower is still to just keep your showers short). Smart faucets do the same thing, and many allow you to adjust the water to your ideal temperature before turning it on. Together, these technologies could reduce your water usage by up to 75 percent.

A related technology, the smart sprinkler system, uses weather data to determine whether your garden or lawn needs to be watered, and turns itself on or off automatically based on your preferences.

Slash your lighting costs with smart light bulbs

While they’re a bit on the expensive side—about $15 per bulb—smart bulbs are also some of the longest-lived light bulbs on the market. Plus, they use about 80 percent less power than traditional light bulbs, so you stand to save big by spending a bit extra on them. With the smart bulbs installed, you can use an app to control the amount of light each produces and schedule certain bulbs to turn off or on at certain times. Check the bulbs before you buy them, since some require a “bridge” to connect to your wi-fi router.

Manage your home’s temperature with smart thermostats

smart thermostat can be programmed in advance to ensure your home’s temperature is ideal at all times. If it isn’t, you can adjust it from a distance via an app. Since heating and cooling account for 25 percent of all home energy consumption, you could see significant energy savings by installing a smart thermostat.

Improve your privacy using smart shades

In addition to linking your central heating and cooling systems to a smart hub, replacing your regular shades or curtains with smart shades can help you better manage your home’s temperature and energy use. You could, for instance, program your smart shades to open on east-facing windows in the morning, allowing you to wake up to the sun’s warming rays. Some smart shades can also be programmed to close or open when you’re in a particular room, or shutter when you go to bed.

Reduce energy leaks with smart power strips

Smart power strips allow you to control whatever is plugged into the strip. If you’re worried you left the coffee maker on, for instance, just bring up the strip’s data in the bundled app and find out whether it’s in use, then switch the strip on or off according to your preference. Smart power strips can also reduce your phantom energy leaks—the energy your appliances consume even when they aren’t in use. For added energy efficiency, some strips are programmable, allowing you to turn them off automatically at certain times or after they’ve transmitted a certain amount of energy each day.

Set the mood with dimmer modules

Dimmer modules basically do the same thing smart light bulbs do, but they work with lamps rather than socket-linked bulbs. Some dimmer modules can be adjusted with voice-activated apps to give you even more control over the lighting in your home. When choosing a dimmer module, ensure the lamp you wish to connect has the right kind of bulb in it, since some dimmer modules only work with certain types of bulbs.

Screen home visitors with a video doorbell

Already widely used in modern apartment complexes, smart video doorbells allow you to see who’s at your door and, in some cases, even communicate with your visitors before you open it. Many video doorbells also snap a picture of whoever rang, so even if you’re unable to check the doorbell app’s video feed when your visitor comes calling, you’ll know who visited and when.

Save energy with smart kitchen appliances

There are a wide variety of smart kitchen appliances that enable you to save energy and take greater control of your home. Smart stovetops can be programmed to heat your pans until they boil, then reduce the heat to an ideal temperature that won’t lead to any wasted energy. Other smart kitchen appliances like coffee makers, crock pots and other devices can be scheduled to turn on or off when you want, allowing you to wake up to fresh cup of joe or come home to a ready-to-eat meal.

Go solar with smart solar panels

Not to be confused with earlier “smart modules” that merely incorporate DC optimizers and tracking technology into their design, the modern smart solar panels are equipped with wi-fi and can, in some cases, even double as a home automation system. Smart panels might include inverters that can automatically detect when to charge the batteries from the panel or from the grid based on weather conditions. And if you’re under a time-of-use arrangement, smart solar panels can switch from grid power to battery power during the most expensive times of day.

Take total control with a home automation system

Home automation systems are kits that can help you incorporate a number of smart home devices into a single hub. These systems vary in their scope and abilities, but most allow you to implement energy efficiency improvements in heating and cooling, lighting and your appliances. In addition to app access, many come with remote controls to enhance their ease of use, and some are even voice activated.

Compared to standard homes, smart homes offer significant advantages in terms of energy efficiency, safety and accessibility. The costs and savings associated with upgrading to a smarter home, like the costs associated with upgrading to solar power, ultimately depend on your energy consumption patterns and the extent of your improvements.

Kyle Pennell is the Content Manager at PowerScoutwe help homeowners figure out if installing solar is right for them and get competitive bids from multiple installers. Our long-term mission is to accelerate the adoption of solar (and other smart home improvements), which will help mitigate climate change.

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Research has shown that cooking with Teflon-type cookware could expose you to toxic chemicals that might cause cancer.

What can you cook with instead? Here’s a list of your best options, all of which are available in kitchen stores as well as big box and department stores or online.

Cast Iron. 

For decades I’ve been using cast iron for five reasons: it’s indestructible, it’s inexpensive, it’s easy to clean, it’s versatile and it works! Once cast iron is properly seasoned, you can cook absolutely anything in it, though you wouldn’t really need to use it for dishes that require boiling water. But it’s great for sauteeing, frying, braising, stewing and cooking something as simple as scrambled eggs. Plus, it works as well on the stovetop as it does in the oven. In fact, if you’re cooking a dish that needs to be browned on the top, you can easily move your cast iron skillet or casserole from the range to the oven broiler without missing a beat.

Clean it with a simple scrub brush or Brillo-type pad and hot soapy water, then either dry it with a towel, or just put it back on the range for a minute and let the heat evaporate whatever water remains. One downside is that cast iron is heavy. But I personally like the exercise I get using it and find that other than a 10-qt Dutch oven, it’s never too much to handle.

Related: How to Cook, Clean and Season Cast Iron

Stainless Steel.

Stainless steel is excellent for boiling potatoes, rice and pasta, or for browning and sauteeing foods. Stainless steel can tolerate high heats, reports TwoKitchenJunkies.com in The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Cookware, unlike nonstick pans, which are unsafe when exposed to high heats. And as long as the stainless cookware (or any cookware, for that matter) doesn’t have plastic handles, it can go from the range to the oven. The downside of stainless is that food can quickly burn if the heat gets too high or the pan gets too dry. Then, the pan can be difficult to scrub clean. The denser or heavier the pan is, the better it will be at conducting heat and the easier it will be to clean.

Aluminum.

Aluminum cooks a lot like stainless steel, but is a bit lighter. Cooking at high heat won’t emit toxic fumes, like Teflon-type pots and pans. But there is some concern that aluminum can leach into food and potentially have human health problems. I have aluminum 9×13 baking pans that I used to also bake lasagna in. However, I noticed that the lasagna would sometimes pick up an aluminum taste, because the acidic tomato sauce in the lasagna reacted with the aluminum in a corrosive way.

TheKitchn.com recommends using non-reactive cookware like stainless steel whenever your dish contains acidic or alkaline ingredients. Aluminum is good for boiling water, sauteeing vegetables and searing meat—though don’t deglaze the pan with an acid-based liquid! That said, you can buy anodized aluminum, which creates a leach-resistant, non-stick surface. The price will be similar to stainless steel.

Stoneware & Ceramics.

Stoneware and ceramics can make good casserole dishes. However, beware of those glazed inside with materials that could contain lead or other toxic chemicals. Contra Costa (CA) Health Services warns against using traditional glazed terra cotta (clay) dishware from Mexico and other Latin American countries, as it is likely contaminated with lead.  Similarly, the Department of the Environment in Australia warns against using highly decorated traditional dishes from some Asian countries, and antique pots and pans that are heavily decorated.

Glass.

Glass is terrific for cookware, though it’s primarily available as a pot, rather than a skillet, and as baking pans, pie pans and casserole dishes. It’s non reactive, affordable and can go from the oven to the table, as long as you set it on a potholder or non-metal trivet until it cools down. One downside is that if you put hot glass on a cool metal surface, like the top of a stove range or a metal trivet, it could shatter into a thousand pieces. So use glass—but use it carefully, and pay attention to extreme temperature shifts.

If you currently use non-stick cookware and want to get rid of it, don’t donate it to someone else. Either send it back to the manufacturer, or just throw it away. If you must continue cooking with it, use it on very low heat and only for boiling water or other tasks that have little chance of burning. Do not use metal utensils, like spatulas or stirring spoons, as those could scratch the nonstick coating off and into the food you’re cooking.

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