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Reduce disposable kitchen guff by Sarah Wilson

(like plastic wrap, foil, baking paper, bin liners)

Article from ‘I Quit Sugar: Simplicious Flow by Sarah Wilson, Published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $45.00, Photography by Rob Palmer’.  

I’m going to say this in SCREAMY CAPS upfront. DON’T CHUCK. DON’T BUY. There’s real confusion around what we should be doing when we commit to minimising disposables (particularly plastics) in our lives. Many of us think this means chucking out (or recycling) everything plastic-y and heading out to buy up on the sustainable equivalents.


And then we reuse our neighbours’ disposables, and the disposables at the back of the linen cupboard and behind the kids’ toy box,etc.


As a last resort. And only then do we buy the sustainable equivalents. OK, let’s break it down.

‘But, I love zip-locks!’

  • I get it.
  • First, use up any you have in the house. Wash and reuse as many times as you can, though, before they get holes in them.
  • Then, reuse zip-locks from things like hair elastics and medical supplies (sometimes supplements and prescriptions are issued this way) instead.
  • When you do buy groceries in plastic, look out for versions sold in zip-lock packets that you can reuse. (Frozen berries, chia seeds and powders often come in resealable bags; these are often sturdier, too.)
  • If you’ve always used zip-locks for school sandwiches, try old blueberry punnets instead – they’re the right size for sandwiches and can be placed in lunchboxes.

And if you must purchase

Try silicone versions; these can be washed and used for years.

‘But I’ve always used zip- locks for freezing things!’

Ah, yes, good point. And, I agree, they’re so good for stashing stuff neatly in the freezer. But we need to move on! I use yoghurt containers and berry punnets a lot. And jars. Here are some tips for freezing in glass so that you don’t have a shattering:

  • For liquids, leave a few centimetres of room at the top for the contents to expand.
  • Always allow the contents to thaw naturally in the fridge – no hot water, no microwaving.
  • Stack strategically so they don’t tumble out when you open the door.

And if you must purchase

Again, silicone containers are a good option. Stasher make a great one.

‘What about plastic wrap?’

  • I’ve not had plastic wrap in my kitchen for years now. I don’t even notice it’s gone.
  • If I’m covering a bowl in the fridge, or microwaving something, I use a small plate plonked on top of the dish.
  • I wrap things differently – cheese goes into a jar or lunchbox, for instance. And I tend to ‘preserve’ things by fermenting, pickling or freezing – again in jars, etc.
  • I keep any small plastic bags from packaged foods and reuse as wrapping.

And if you must purchase

Try wax-coated wraps – the beeswax ones are great. They have a super clingy coating and can be wiped/washed for yonks – some brands say up to 150 times. You just need to be careful not to use hot water to wipe them down (for obvious melt-y reasons). If you’re not keen on beeswax for ethical or allergy reasons, there are also vegan wax wraps made from candelilla wax and non-GMO soy. I provide a list of recommended brands in the Resources Kit at

‘Kitchen paper?’

I’ve never bought the stuff personally.

  • I have a ‘grubby tea towel’ in my kitchen ready for wiping fingers and my skillet.
  • I pilfer used paper napkins from cafes that my dining partner(s) used (I collect them from nearby tables, too) and keep in a drawer in my kitchen to use for oil draining and pan-greasing purposes.

‘Plastic bags for my fruit and veg in the fridge?’

They ruin your food. Why would you? When you shop, take some (re)used zip-locks or mesh bags for loose items like snow peas and beans. Me, I don’t even bother with this. I put them into the basket loose and pick up the bundle when it comes to weighing, then place them loose into my bag to tote home. I’m a grown-up. It’s not too hard.

‘The big kahuna: plastic bin liners. What the hell do I use instead of these?’

I know some might suggest reusing plastic shopping bags. Well, firstly, these are being phased out around the world. So give up on that one. Second, by sealing our rubbish in plastic bags, we actually prolong the food- breakdown process, producing a methane gas 25% more potent than pollutants from cars.

Not sure about you, but I grew up without bin liners. Here’s what we did back then:

  • When you compost, there’s very little soggy, pongy stuff going into your bin, right?
  • When you reduce, reuse and recycle right, your standard rubbish is very minimal.
  • You simply wash the bin after transferring the contents to the big council bin. Not hard. Even with a plastic bag, most people need to wash their kitchen bin every week anyway.
  • I keep any plastic bags that I inherit in my travels for this.

‘What about foil?’

Again, if you have it, reuse by wiping down and, well, reusing as many times as you can. And get creative with substitutes. I’m sure you can think of many. Like, using a pot or lid to cover meat when resting etc.

When you do finish using it, make sure you ‘clump’ it before recycling. Save it up to scrunch into a big enough ball – at least the size of a golf ball – so that it doesn’t bog down the recycling process.

‘Baking paper?’

This is problematic due to its silicone – it can’t be recycled. If you’ve got a stash of baking paper, sure, use it. But then reuse it!

  • Wipe it down after use. Yes! I’ve yet to find anyone else who’s worked out that this is perfectly viable.
  • Failing this, bear in mind before this stuff was invented, people simply greased baking tins with oil or butter and dusted with a bit of flour. Or use miracle pan grease.

And if you must purchase

Try biodegradable baking paper. If You Care makes unbleached, chlorine-free parchment paper for baking that is compostable and reusable.

Is Silicone Okay?

Silicone baking sheets are not a horrid option. The best quality ones (made with fibreglass and silicone) last for up to 3000 uses. There’s some conjecture as to their safety when heated (i.e. when used for baking). Most health authorities say that the high-quality stuff is stable and safe. Life Without Plastic warns that some silicone cookware comes with fillers. To test whether yours does, give it a pinch and twist. If any white shows through, it’s likely to have been mixed with fillers. This means it won’t be uniformly heat-resistant, allowing odours and chemicals to leach into your food.

Be warned! Teflon baking sheets
These are sometimes sneakily called non-stick baking tray liners, made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). It’s Teflon. Which has been shown – convincingly – to accumulate in the body, particularly when heated, leading to a host of endocrinal issues.

Stat: Drowning in plastic

15 to 51 trillion particles of plastic now float on the surface of the world’s oceans. But this represents just 1% of the plastic waste estimated to flow into our oceans every year. Almost all of the plastic ever created still exists, and global annual plastic production keeps rising: from 1.7 MMT (million metric tonnes) in 1950 to 311 MMT in 2014.

What other’s advise

The old plate trick

‘Instead of wrestling with finicky and wasteful plastic wrap, put leftovers in a bowl and put a plate on top. Or on a plate, with a bowl on top. Simple.’

Lindsay Miles,

Cotton cloth

‘Don’t use disposable kitchen cloths or sponges, especially microfibre cloths – these end up in the ocean as micro plastic! Instead, cut up (and hem if you can) an old towel, tea towel or anything made from 100% cotton.’

What I keep in my handbag

‘I carry a metal straw and a wooden spoon, fork and knife with me at all times. I kept an old takeaway container in the desk drawer at work for three years, using it to collect my lunch on Fridays (my treat day). I asked local eateries to place sushi, dumplings, nachos, sandwiches, rice paper rolls, whatever I felt like, in it. I never had an issue; usually the people behind the counter would say it was a good idea. If I was with work colleagues and we were going to a park for lunch or eating somewhere with disposable plastic containers, I’d ask the eatery if they had a plate or bowl, claiming I was allergic to a chemical in the takeaway plastic. It always worked!’

Erin Rhoads, aka The Rogue Ginger

Miracle pan grease

‘I found this recipe on lovebakesgoodcakes. com but I have changed it up a little. Mix 1⁄2 cup flour, 1⁄2 cup coconut oil and 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil in a bowl with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a jar and store for 3–4 months in the pantry (in the fridge for longer). Use a pastry brush to paint the mixture onto your bakeware prior to baking. I was so excited to see how well this worked.’


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