It's gotten downright confusing, even for environmentalists: which plastics are "safe" — that is, don't leach harmful chemicals into our food when they are heated or scratched — and which are not safe seems to be in constant flux. New information seems to come to light on a regular basis, sometimes supporting, and sometimes contradicting previous research.
My solution? Get rid of the plastic in my kitchen altogether. This is a "better safe than sorry" response that I have to many still-unknown possible health and environmental threats (it's also called the precautionary principle).
I will admit to having a few pieces of "emergency" Tupperware, but 95 percent of the time, I don't use any type of plastic to heat, store or serve my food — my biggest concession to this is my collection of colorful plastic trays — but my food never sits directly on the plastic, so I'm going to keep using them to eat dinner on the living room floor and carry tea and toast to my home office.
If you are used to using plastic to keep your food, getting rid of it all can seem a daunting task. But the reality is that like any other change, it's just a question of getting used to doing things differently — and taking it one step at a time.
You don't need to spend a lot of money to go plastic-free, but I would recommend a few new purchases. The first one is beverage containers. If you keep a portable water bottle in the fridge, or make your own juice or tea mixtures, invest in a glass or ceramic pitcher, and a glass or stainless steel reusable water bottle. Recycle the plastic versions. Especially if you are pouring hot water into a plastic container (to make iced tea, for example), there are safer choices, like glass or ceramic, which don't leach anything into your beverage.
For food you are going to eat in the next couple days that doesn't need a fast seal, I simply use a bowl and place a clear glass sandwich plate on top of it. This means I don't need to use plastic wrap and I can also see what's inside. My father taught me this trick (he stopped using plastic wrap years before I did, because he thinks it's ugly, messy and wasteful). If you don't have spare plates and bowls, these glass containers are pretty and vintage-inspired.
The other purchase I'd recommend is a few glass food storage containers with resealable tops. For anything that needs a seal — for me only an occasional need — I use these. I love using glass because it not only is recyclable, doesn't leach and doesn't stain, you can see what's in your containers at a glance.
Produce bags are another area that seem hard to replace — the only time I use plastic in my fridge for produce is lettuce, and that's after I've wrapped it in a damp tea towel. I've been reusing the same large plastic zip bag for over a year — lettuce is the only veggie that really needs to remain so moist that plastic seems necessary to me. Broccoli and carrots get wrapped in cloth bags to keep them clean, and apples, oranges, limes and lemons roll free in my produce drawer. I keep most other fruits and veggies out of the fridge because they taste better that way. But you can also use waxed paper and paper bags for other items (mushrooms should always go in a paper bag — never in plastic as it just causes them to rot faster).
Sandwich bags almost never need to be plastic — I wrap sandwiches in parchment paper or use waxed paper bags for smaller items like pretzels or popcorn (and usually end up reusing them). You can also consider wrapping sandwiches in a cloth napkin, which can then be used as a napkin again once the sandwich is unwrapped. This works well for other items like banana bread, carrot sticks, cookies and other relatively dry items, and means you don't need to use anything disposable at all.
Do you feel attached to your plastic kitchen storage stuff? I always thought it would be impossible to get plastic out of my kitchen, but it wasn't really that hard — though it did take about six months to figure out what I needed and make adjustments.