photo of herbs and spices

How to go (almost) plastic-free in the kitchen

Struggling to go plastic free in the kitchen? Green lifestyle blogger Wendy Graham offers tips on curbing plastics where we cook, store food and wash up.
  09 May 2018    |      9 min

I'm Wendy, a green lifestyle blogger over at Moral Fibres. I’m in my mid-30s and live near Edinburgh with my partner and our two daughters aged 6 and 2. I wouldn’t describe myself as super green – just someone who tries their best.

photo of Wendy Graham from Moral Fibres blog
Green plastic free lifestyle blogger Wendy Graham
Credit: Moral Fibres

If your kitchen is anything like mine then you’ll know it can be a bit of a plastic magnet. Thankfully, there are a few fairly easy swaps that you can do to help you on your way to reducing plastic usage in the kitchen. Some cost a little bit of money and many don’t.

Alternatives to plastic in the kitchen

I’m going to show you some plastic-free and reduced plastic alternatives that we've been trialling in our house. We aren’t entirely plastic-free – it’s a work in progress – but hopefully you can glean some useful advice from our experience so far.

I’m not suggesting you throw out all the plastic in your kitchen and replace with plastic-free alternatives right this second. The most environmentally friendly way to green your kitchen is to use the plastic items you have, and then when they reach the end of their life, look at replacing them with plastic-free alternatives.

Consider it a journey rather than an endpoint to be achieved by next week. Slow and steady wins the race.

Plastic-free dish washing

Let’s start with dish washing. Washing dishes by hand can be a chore, and while there’s no getting around that, there are ways to make doing the dishes a plastic-free experience.

Photo of plastic-free kitchen sink
Plastic-free kitchen sink
Credit: CC00

Washing-up liquid with less plastic

You can refill your washing up liquids, laundry liquids and all-purpose cleaners at Ecover refill stations across the UK. Ecover has a handy store locator to save you ringing round your local health-food stores. Refill stations are becoming more widespread so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one near you.

If you don’t live near a refill station, another option, if you can afford to shop in bulk, is to buy washing-up liquid in 5 litres refill sizes - like this Faith in Nature bulk bottle. This costs around £20 and would probably last you a whole year. Although the carton is made of plastic, a purchase of one bulk bottle would significantly reduce the amount of plastic being recycled from your kitchen.

Brushes and sponges

Of course you can’t wash dishes with washing up liquid alone. Thankfully, there's a vast assortment of plastic-free tools out there. Wooden dish brushes are a great alternative to plastic brushes. This £3.99 Redecker one is made of wood, metal and natural fibres (cactus or horse hair) and you can replace the head when it wears out.

You don’t even have to give up the sponge. You can find heaps of plastic-free sponges on the internet – like this one from Rowen Stillwater – that are washable. At the end of their life they can be composted.

Scourers can even be replaced with wooden pot brushes or metal scourers. You can pick these up cheaply in discount/pound shops, and recycle them at the end of their life.

Plastic-free dishwasher detergent

For the dishwasher you can buy dishwasher powder that’s packaged in cardboard boxes from most supermarkets. Sainsbury’s, for example, sells this one.

If you want an eco-friendlier brand of dishwasher detergent, I've found some alternatives: EcoLeaf dishwasher tablets are wrapped in a water-soluble wrapper that dissolves in your dishwasher – breaking down to carbon dioxide and water. And Faith in Nature makes dishwasher gel which you can buy in bulk, saving on the amount of plastic packaging.

Plastic-free cleaning

Photo of homemade cleaning products
Homemade and plastic-free cleaning products
Credit: CC00

The cupboard under my kitchen sink used to groan under the weight of all the different plastic bottles I had for all the different cleaning jobs around my home. Glass cleaner, oven cleaner, carpet stain remover, antibacterial spray, stain removal spray – you name it, I had a plastic bottle for it.

Over the past 10 years I've switched to making my own cleaning products. Whilst this isn’t entirely plastic-free, it has drastically reduced the amount of plastic I’ve been popping in my recycling bin.

In my book Fresh Clean Home, I share all of my natural cleaning recipes. It includes methods for every corner of the home, not just the kitchen – in case you're interested in making your own cleaning products too.

In my cupboard we also always used to have a pack of plastic-wrapped kitchen roll for cleaning and wiping. Now we just keep a store of inexpensive dish cloths in a drawer. It’s a more frugal alternative to kitchen roll, with the added benefit that the cloths get washed in the washing machine when they're dirty rather than going in the bin, as kitchen roll does.

If you’re crafty then you can even make your own reusable kitchen roll, which looks very fancy.

Plastic-free food storage

Photo of glass jars
Plastic-free glass jars for food storage
Credit: CC00

Moving away from cleaning towards food, plastic-free food shopping is a topic that requires its very own article. However, no article on the plastic-free kitchen can be complete without a discussion about plastic-free food storage.

I used to be a plastic Tupperware hoarder. Whilst I have a couple of bits of Tupperware that have lasted more than a couple of years, my experience has mostly been that it has a nasty habit of breaking and discolouring. Rather than replacing it all with glass Tupperware, which is very nice but can be quite pricey, I’ve gone down the more frugal route. Now, as my Tupperware breaks or loses a lid I’ve been trying to replace it with plain old glass jars.

Start small - soon all those small plastic-free changes will add up

Glass jars make for great food storage in the fridge, as you can see at a glance what’s inside the jar – helping you reduce food waste at the same time.

You can even freeze food in glass jars. Worried about the glass breaking? I’ve found that the trick is, when filling the jars, to leave an inch at the top to allow space for the food to expand when freezing. This will greatly reduce the chances of the glass breaking in the freezer.

Plastic-free food wrap

If you’re after a plastic-free alternative to cling film, there are heaps of low-cost and no-cost options. For leftover food that I want to store in the fridge, I cover it with upturned bowls or plates. It costs nothing, is plastic free, and means I can store stuff on top of the plate or bowl. I’ve also used pan lids to cover food in the fridge.

Photo of plastic-free beeswax wrap
Plastic free beeswax kitchen wrap
Credit: CC00

Beeswax wraps make great food savers. Simply warm them in your hands and mould them over your bowl or round your food to help keep your food fresh without plastic. I wouldn’t wrap meat or fish in them – instead place it in a bowl and cover the bowl with the wrap. Buzzcloth makes some good beeswax food wraps.

If you’re vegan then you can pick up soy food wraps from Rowen Stillwater that are just as effective as their beeswax counterparts.

Wraps can be a little pricey, so if you’re after a thriftier option then you can make your own wraps really easily from fabric scraps and a little beeswax.

For packed lunches, I bought a few snack and sandwich bags from KeepLeaf. These can be washed in the washing machine or dishwasher to keep them fresh and clean. Although they do contain polyester they make a great alternative to disposable sandwich bags.

Plastic-free kitchen tools

Photo of wooden spoons
Plastic-free wooden utensils for cooking
Credit: CC00

As plastic items break or run out I’ve been trying to replace them with plastic-free alternatives. Ceramic, glass or metal bowls instead of plastic ones (charity shops are great places to look for these). Wooden or metal utensils instead of plastic ones. Metal straws instead of plastic straws, and so on.

No doubt there will be some plastic kitchen items I will have for life. But I don’t think it’s environmentally responsible to replace perfectly functioning items just because they happen to be made of plastic.

Start small – replace things as they run out and soon all those small plastic-free changes will add up.

Looking for more plastic-free inspiration? Why not join thousands of others going plastic free for one day a week.