Living Without Ziploc and Saran

stock in mason jars

There was a time when I didn’t think I could live without plastic food storage bags and plastic wrap. But once I figured out how to get rid of paper towels, I figured out how to get rid of all of them. Like paper towels, these are products which many generations of humans lived without and they stuck out like sore thumbs in my less industrial kitchen. I had Ziploc bags in multiple sizes, non-resealable plastic food storage bags, plastic wrap, and I ended up with all kinds of plastic bags when buying produce and bulk dry goods.

I still use plastic trash bags, but I’ve switched to more eco-friendly brands which I buy at my local coop, and I do keep a stash of large ziploc bags in the tool box. However, I only use them for rare circumstances like when I ship food products in glass which if broken and not in plastic would make an irreparable mess.

As convenient as they are small plastic bags are not necessary. You can get rid of them entirely, along with plastic wrap and here’s how you do it.

Buy cotton and silk bags for storing produce in the fridge.

I used to store lettuces, herbs and produce wrapped in paper towels, in plastic bags. Over the years, I learned that plastic was death to vegetables in the fridge, but paper towels, used with plastic bags were my saving grace. Eventually, I found the kootsac etsy store where you can buy the best cotton and silk bags for produce storage. Etsy store owner, Morgen, sells the silk bags for bulk dry goods, but I recommend them for lettuces, greens and herbs which are best stored in the crisper. For sturdier produce, like carrots, broccoli and scallions, I use the cotton bags, also purchased from the kootsac etsy store. I wash my bags by hand with dish soap (which in my house is Dr. Bronners) and I dry them on the fridge using rust resistant magnets.

Buy mason jars and a canning funnel to fill them.

I suggest you buy a wide array of sizes including the classic quart size, the pint size, the half-pint size, and the half-gallon size jars. They are very inexpensive and when the lids get rusty you can easily replace them. The small ones work well for snacks and lunches and the larger ones are great for storing soups, stocks and leftovers of all kinds. I recommend the wide mouth jars because they are easier to clean and fill, and I also recommend investing in a five-dollar canning funnel for filling though it’s possible to live without it.

Buy glass food storage containers with lids.

You can find sets of Pyrex storage containers with plastic lids all over and you can often find them on sale. A couple of these sets will give you enough to store things in the fridge that you would otherwise store in plastic bags. When you go to the farmers market, you can bring these containers with you for easily squashed items like berries and figs. The vendors are usually happy to take back their containers and there’s no better way to store berries in the fridge. You don’t need any paper towels and as long as you don’t overfill the container, your berries will stay fresher than you are used to. I’m particularly partial to Pyrex because it can go from the fridge to the oven. I don’t own a microwave so I reheat leftovers frequently in the same Pyrex containers I use in the fridge.

Use wax paper to wrap sandwiches and snacks.

To keep the wax paper closed you can use a small piece of tape or you can wrap the package in a cloth napkin. You can wrap sandwiches, pastries and breads which stay plenty fresh in lunches when wrapped this way. I also use wax paper to wrap and store cheese though I have to say it some cheeses have a shorter shelf life in the fridge when they are wrapped in wax paper. The softer cheeses seem to fair better in wax paper but the harder cheeses like cheddar can dry out if left for a long time. I tend to use cheese pretty quickly so it’s rarely a problem.

Stop using the plastic bags at the grocery store and the farmers market.

Get in the habit of bringing your cotton and silk bags with you, along with your reusable shopping bags. Tons of people will ask you about them and tell you that’s such a good idea and then you can tell them about the kootsac etsy store I mentioned  above. I bring mine to the farmers market and the coop and I keep enough of them on hand so I never run out. I’ve had some that were less durable but I have every single kootsac bag I’ve ever bought. They have never frayed or torn even though I have stained them over the years with things like beets and half cut red peppers.

You can also bring your mason jars to the grocery store and farmers market for buying dry goods in bulk. You can go to the cashier to get a tare weight on the jar so you don’t pay for the weight of the jar and then your dry goods are ready to put away when you get home. Since I buy the majority of my dry goods in bulk, my cupboards are filled with mason jars which stack well and which look beautiful.

Use non-disposable storage containers around the house.

When I decided to finally face my plastic bag addiction, I had to admit it had spread beyond the kitchen. I realized I had Ziploc bags all over the house, storing all kinds of things – from panty hose to extra bars of soap. And when I traveled it was even worse. So I gradually started replacing the plastic bags with different kinds of storage containers that could serve more than one purpose over time, and for traveling I re-appropriated some of my cotton food storage bags which where fraying and not holding up so well (the ones I didn’t buy from the kootsac etsy store). In order to quell my fear of toiletries spilling in my suitcase, I wrap my toiletry bag in one of my chicobag reuseable shopping bags. They are made of nylon so they are more or less water proof, and come to find out, my toiletries don’t leak nearly as often as I worried they would.

If you bake your own bread, buy a large glass bowl and a plate large enough to fit under it.

I know this doesn’t apply to most people, but storing bread was a serious barrier to entry for me to the no-plastic-bag-lifestyle. I used those non-reclosable food storage bags to store left over bread every single day and I couldn’t very well just leave the bread on the counter for days. I tried wax paper but I had to use a ton of tape given the width of the roll, and it never worked well. So I took my largest straight-sided glass bowl and turned it upside down on a dinner plate. It fit perfectly, provided better next day storage than plastic, and that’s how I’ve been storing my homemade bread ever since.

Stop buying plastic storage bags and plastic wrap.

Once you’ve done some re-equiping of your kitchen, just stop. Anything you’re missing in your kitchen to make it work will reveal itself over time and don’t feel guilty about using up what you’ve already bought while you’re in transition.  If you’re concerned about the cost of making the transition, think about how much you’ll spend in your lifetime on Ziploc bags and Saran Wrap if you don’t kick the addiction now.

Appreciate the extra space in your drawer or cupboard.

There was a time when I purchased and stored: large ziploc bags, medium ziplock bags, small ziploc bags, non-resealable plastic food storage bags, regular  saran wrap, that new fangled saran wrap that sticks to itself, aluminum foil, wax paper, and parchment paper. Now, I only purchase and store two of those nine modern conveniences. My one role of wax paper and one role of parchment paper fit easily and conveniently in one of my kitchen drawers and I’m no longer addicted to the other seven products which humans make in factories, ship to stores, and purchase in bulk for a lot of money, even though they don’t really need them. I weened myself off aluminum foil eventually too and it’s a wonderful feeling.

Good luck!

Giving up things like plastic bags and paper towels is a relatively big adjustment for any household but you’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try. Humans lived for thousands of years without Ziploc and Saran, just like they lived without aluminum foil, paper towels, pasteurization or industrial preservatives. For me, it’s about reversing the process and getting the factory out of my pantry which is a never-ending adventure.

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


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