In previous posts I have mentioned the various ways plastics are harmful to our health, and that of our children. The concerns and problems are not my personal opinion, but backed by research.
Today I list some of the ways I have found useful to reduce the amount of plastic in my own home. Some things I am still struggling with, but major sources of plastic I have managed to purge. I hope this helps you to, in your quest to reduce plastic in your home.
How to Reduce Plastic and chemicals in Your Kitchen
Don’t store water in plastic bottles
This is the easiest way to get rid of plastic leaching chemicals in your water. Just don’t buy plastic bottles this summer to store water in your fridge. Instead invest in good stainless steel ones. Plastic bottles leach chemicals into your water and aluminum bottles are lined with an epoxy resin – so stick with stainless steel and you can’t go wrong. Also when travelling, always remember to bring your own steel bottles along.
Carry cloth or jute reusable shopping bags
Jute and khadi bags have traditionally been used to carry around almost everything in India. With ‘eco’ going hip these days, choose whatever appeals to you best. Canvas totes, jute jholas, Big Bazar cotton cloth bags- just bring along your shopping bag when you step out. Even if you have old plastic or synthetic bags, it is always a good idea to store them in your car so that you have them on hand. From grocery shopping to clothes or other sundry – always use reusables!
Cut out sodas, juices, and all other plastic-bottled beverages.
We used to have two refrigerators in our house. One was specifically to stock soft drinks and “juices”. Today you will be hard pressed to find a single bottle of packaged beverage in our fridge! Yes, we got rid of one! If I can go from an overstocked fridge of caffeine and pesticides to a fridge stocked with only fruits – so can you. Just don’t buy them! If guests come calling and you are hard pressed to provide refreshments, purchase from your local vendor. If you don’t have them at home, you won’t drink them!
Buy milk from your local Gwala or milkman
In India, we are blessed that gwalas deliver freshly procured milk, right at out doorsteps. Why then would you think of buying milk that has been stored in plastic bags or tetra packs? Support your local milkman and at the same time, protect your family’s health!
Let go of frozen convenience foods.
This was quite easy for me as I never enjoyed those ready to eat snacks. It was extremely tough on my teen nephew. He loved the frozen chicken salamis and sausages. This was also kept fully stocked in my second freezer, before I knew better. Somehow, we have found common ground. I allow him the occasional treat to eat salamis and sausages outside, but only at well reputed places.
Buy from bulk bins or your local grocery store.
Big Bazar has huge bins of food, from which where you can buy. The only down side is that you have to measure the grains you purchase in the plastic bags provided. While this does limit your personal exposure to harmful chemicals, these plastic bags are a sheer waste! Indian retailers need to wake up and find ways to reduce this unnecessary plastic wastage.
My grandparents have always bought food grains in bulk, in huge jute bags called “boris”. We had a huge house, growing up hence ample place to store them. Now, for my own family, we try to buy from our local ‘kirana’ store as much as possible. Sometimes we need to buy organic and it is just not available locally. Sometimes I wish Whole Foods would hurry up and open a store in every Indian city! Till then I have consoled myself by buying in bulk and storing them immediately in stainless steel bins.
Don’t use plastic bags when buying vegetables
India is really, really funny when it comes to plastics. Governments will wake up one day and ban vegetable sellers from using plastics. This will cause ‘inconvenience’ to the buyers, but they will adjust because they know a week later, it will be back to business as usual.
Plastic bags for vegetable shopping are really unnecessary. What are we worried about? That our bhindis (ladyfinger) won’t get along with our oranges? If you are only getting them for the convenience of dumping the produce straight in your fridge, then you need to update yourself about the leaching effects of plastic onto food.
To avoid the hassle of segregating your produce again at home, you can get muslin cloth bags stitched. If you are not the DIY kind, you can just order some produce bags online. Just taking a little bit of pain can help you protect your family’s health.
Shop for veggies at your local mandi
Whenever possible, buy from your local mandi or buy fresh veggies for the day on your way home. I was literally shocked, at the amount of plastic and packaging BigBasket and other such hyper retailers use when delivering fresh produce. What I find most irritating are the plastic stickers labeled “Ok” on my fresh fruits, which is why I try to avoid buying fresh produce online. At the local mandi you will find the freshest of vegetables and fruits, without stickers!
Choose stainless steel and glass food storage containers at home
When you spend so much care in buying organic food grains, why would you store them in plastic containers? If you’re kitchen is full of plastic containers, slowly start replacing them with stainless steel jars. They are better for your family’s health anyday.
Choose stainless steel tiffins or glass lunch boxes
Plastic can leach chemicals into your food, especially when you reheat them in the microwave. If you need to reheat your lunch at the office, go for glass tiffins with BPA free plastic covers. At least, the plastic is not touching your food.
Choose a mixie or food processor with stainless steel jars.
Recently I read a story on how a baby chocked on the small pieces of plastic from a food blender. It is a really horrifying situation that a product being marketed specifically for kids, can be like this. There is actually no need for a separate baby food blender. If you have a 3 jar mixer grinder, dedicate the smallest one for blending the baby’s food. Avoid grinding spices and other chilli or masla paste in that, if you are apprehensive. Even if you do, be sure to rinse fully by removing the rubber attachment of the cap.
Avoid non-stick cookware at all costs
Non stick cookware was marketed to Indians saying that they use less oil. What they conveniently forgot to mention is that non stick cookware is coated with Teflon or other resins which give off toxic perfluorochemicals when heated.
Don’t you get that off acrid smell when cooking in them? I always did and I was always uncomfortable using them. As a kid I had seen my family buy them in the year 2001. Now all the delicious cancer causing Teflon coating has been eaten by us over the years, and now you can see the shiny aluminum base!
It is after all this time that I have been able to convince my mother and sister in law to stop using these utensils. Now whenever they buy new utensils, it is usually stainless steel. I even convinced my mom to try a stainless steel pressure cooker, a big achievement in my opinion as they have always been comfortable only with aluminum cookware. Aluminum is also not good for health, which is another issue I have addressed separately. Wrought iron or cast iron cookware is even better than stainless steel, if you can put in the effort to maintain them.
Choose a stainless steel ice cube tray.
Plastic trays can again leach chemicals into your ice cubes. It is very, very difficult now-a-days to shift to stainless steel ice cube trays. I remember we had these stainless steel ice cube trays with a lever! The problem with this is that when you want some ice cubes, and lift the lever, many of them go flying all over the kitchen. They are also extremely expensive in India. I have now started freezing water in stainless steel containers and breaking them covered with a towel. Yes, it is inconvenient, but when has the right thing ever been easy?
Silicon ice cube trays are also a rage these days. Silicon is considered a relatively safer material then plastic. I am still on the fence on this. When I research more and make up my mind, if will surely update you.
No More Plastic Trash Bags
A special plastic to throw plastic! It’s really hilarious, how lazy we have become! I am equally guilty of the same, before I knew better. I separate my trash and give the veggie peels and other such edible waste to my maid so that she can use it to feed her cows and goats.
How to Reduce Plastic and chemcials for Household Cleaning
Vinegar is all you need.
Ok, I admit it! Even after reading all the tips on using only vinegar and water to clean windows and other glass surfaces, I was always skeptical to try it out. During my pregnancy, it seriously struck me that why I was using this cocktail of chemicals to “clean” my home. Now I make my own Apple Cider Vinegar at home and don’t even have to buy the vinegar plastic bottles. To use, I just add 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water and some drops of lemon essential oil in a stainless steel spray bottle and use.
Washing Detergent and soap
Though I have read numerous recipes on Pinterest about making homemade soap and detergent, I have never attempted it till now. I order Rustic Art eco friendly washing powder, which comes in plastic covering and a cloth bag. Though it is not ideal, and I hope they will change it in the future, at least the detergent is eco friendly and bio-degradable.
Use natural coconut fiber or stainless steel wool instead of synthetic scrubbers
Ash and coconut shell fiber is still used by many people in rural India to clean dirty utensils naturally. My maid has always used the synthetic scrubbers, and has till now resisted using the coconut fiber, and is more comfortable with the steel wool fibers. I am planning to put my foot down in the near future.
Compressed natural cellulose sponges are often sold without any plastic packaging because they don’t need to be kept moist; they expand when wet.
Use cloth to mop floors instead of a MagicMop
The last avatar of an old T-shirt has always been a pocha wala kapra (moping cloth) in most Indian houses. There is zero requirement of buying a separate MagicMop in my opinion. To be honest I have bought one when we first got our pet Nemo as a pet. He would pee all over the house and a MagicMop was ‘convenient’. After a period of six months (once Nemo was potty trained) we hardly used that, and I gave it to my maid to reuse. Looking back, it does seem like a waste having bought it.
How to Reduce Plastic in Your Bathroom and Dresser
Slowly get rid of personal care products
Most facial scrubs, personal care products contain tiny plastic beads. Besides plastic, personal care products are notorious for being a concoction of cancer causing chemicals. Try your hand at DIY homemade beauty products like homemade cream, homemade lotion, homemade lip balm, homemade body scrubs. You won’t be disappointed! And you won’t look back!
Use Steel or Ceramic Liquid Soap dispensers
Don’t pick up the more expensive hand wash in ready to use hand pumps. Instead buy a steel liquid dispenser and bulk hand wash in bulk or better still make you own homemade liquid soap. Homemade soap bars are also more eco friendly, and not as unsanitary as you would think!
Avoid deodorants and perfumes
Instead of using chemical loaded deodorants, perfumes and fragrances, there are a variety of homemade deodorants one can make using just baking soda and some essential oils. If all this seems to hippie for you, hold on. I will review some of the best eco friendly products and get back to you.
Use soap instead of foaming shaving cream.
We have been conditioned into thinking we need shaving foam. Even if you absolutely do need them try shave soaps especially made for shaving. Personally any coconut oil based soap provides good enough lather for a shave.
Use reusable razors over disposable ones.
Rather than using and dumping go for razors which are reusable. And ladies, you need not shell out extra for a “female” razor just because it has a feminine handle or is pink in color! Most female or male exclusive products contain similar ingredients and are just marketed differently to keep fleecing you.
Use plastic-free feminine hygiene products
Our grandmothers and others used cloth for all their menstrual needs. And yes, I don’t deny it was messy and is inconvenient. After reading many good reviews from many bloggers I follow, I have also decided to try out the menstrual cup. I will keep you updated on how that goes!
Choose handmade wooden hair brushes and combs
They are so many awesome handmade wooden combs options now in India. Your local artisan and craftsman may also be selling one! Do try one before dismissing the idea.
Miscellaneous Other Ways to reduce Plastic
Get your kids off chewing gum
Every Indian chewing gum brand out there is made from plastic. That’s correct, your children are chewing gum, and you’re chewing on plastic. While many mothers aboard are holding companies accountable for what they are putting in children’s sweets, India is woefully behind. Personally, I have never been fascinated with chewing gum and I plan to keep my 1.5 years toddler away from it as long as possible!
Reduce use of paper napkins
We mostly use hand towels at home, which I put for wash at the end of the day. I too have been guilty of using paper tissues when guests come over, but am slowly breaking the habit. We now use cloth napkins when friends come over. For some official parties that I have to host for my hubby, I do use paper tissues.
Choose natural fibers
Polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex and nylon are all synthetic fibers, aka plastic fabric. Even the screen printed T-shirts that so popular, are quite toxic. The ink used in screening is plastisol, a variation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). When I go out to shop, sometimes I forget this danger and do end up buying clothes that are most appealing, but harmful. With time maybe I will be able to get over my impulses and instinctively choose healthier clothing. Till then I’m not going to beat myself over buying something that caught my fancy, and neither should you. Just try to get into the habit of looking for cotton, wool, khadi, and other natural fibers.
In the army, you would raise a scandal if you served food in disposable plates, cup and glasses. No, not because faujis are particularly environment friendly, it’s just that they consider Corelle classier than plastic plates. As a young bride, I found this quite cumbersome and argue for disposables to ease clean up.
Now I wouldn’t be caught dead eating off a disposable plate. If you entertain often, it is cheaper to invest in durable flatware. Tip your maid a little extra for the pile of dishes– it’ll work out better for everyone concerned! I have stopped being a snob, and even bring out my good old steel plates for friends and family sometimes. I bring out my crockery only for the Queen of England!!!! LOL!!!!
One thing I love about us Marwari’s is that we don’t believe in gifts – only cash. Buy what you want, when you want!! If you are not as crass as us, take the time out to gift something that will surely be appreciated – rather than something that is just going to be re-gifted to someone else!
Indians are too fond of gifting mugs, showpieces, picture frames and crockery. I have received so many of them over the years, and really struggled with re-gifting guilt! Sometimes I re-gift something I know I just won’t use! Need to find a way out of this maze.
As a community we need to start looking at gifting experiences spa vouchers, restaurant meals, movie or concert tickets. If you would rather prefer something more ‘tangible’ go for a bottle of wine, jar of homemade pickle, handmade lotion or soap, homemade brownies or cake. Yes, I know I sound crazy! Ghar ki murgi dal barabar hain for some of us! But be the change you want to see!!
And the gift wrap!
There are so many creative ways to wrap a gift, besides wrapping paper. It is such a colossal waste! And there are very few of us who think of reusing that piece of wrapping paper. The easiest way is of course a gift bag, as it can be reused. Besides gift bags, cloth and ribbons can be used in a variety of ways. Even cloth bags are a great option!
Packing and Shipping Materials when shopping online
This is latest entrant to mindless wastage. Just to ship one item, so much amount of cardboard and bubble wrap is used that it’s mind boggling. Since we move cities every two years, I make it a point to store every piece of packaging I receive. It all helps to protect my Correlle plates, when I’m packing and moving. This colossal waste of cardboard paper packaging and plastic has been the major turn off for ecommerce for me. An avid online shopper, I am not slowly moving away and preferring to buy locally. Not only does it support the little guy, but also reduces my carbon footprint overall.
You’ve got BPA in your mail!
If you are still living in stone age and getting your bank statements and bills by posts, stop reading right now! Go and sign up for e-bill and e-statements options. Not only do these mailers water a lot of paper and plastic, the printed paper and ink contain BPA.
If you are too lazy to care then please atleast just avoid the worst Plastics
Feeling too overwhelmed and don’t know where to start? Or are you at the stage in life where just too much is going on! That’s alright. Rome wasn’t built in a day! The least you can do is stay clear of
- Polyvinyl Chloride (#3 PVC)
- Polystyrene (#6 PS)
- Polycarbonate (#7 Other)
PVC is found in so many products today that it warrants a post of its own. Polystyrene (PS) contains styrene, a plastic which is toxic to our brain and nervous system. Avoid wherever possible. Polycarbonate(PC) contains BPA – you may have heard of it. Most baby bottles and products are now coming in BPA free bottles. Even that BPA free plastic is not as good as you think, but it is still better than what was till now passing of as safe for our kids.
As a mother are you worried about your children’s exposure to plastic? What are you doing to reduce it? Or do you think there is just too much plastic to tackle and are thinking of resigning to it? Is plastic winning this war against health?