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6 Steps to a Plastic-Free Pantry

Updated: Feb 8

Welcome to your guide to a plastic-free pantry (or as close to plastic-free as possible). Let’s face it: avoiding plastic is tough. While some days pass smoothly with handy reusable water bottles and bags, other days you may be forced back to plastic wrappers from on-the-go snacks. The goal is improvement, not perfection. In this guide, we will explore some of the benefits of a plastic-free pantry and provide 6 tips and strategies for making the transition.

6 Reasons to Cut Plastic Out of Your Pantry

  • Reduce plastic waste - Plastic packaging and containers are one of the largest contributors to plastic waste.

  • Protect the environment - We see it happen every day online: videos of unsuspecting wildlife harmed by interacting with our waste. Plastic can take hundreds of years to break down, which is why it is so important to manage how we use it.

  • Improve your health - Some plastics contain harmful chemicals such as BPA, which can leak into our food and drinks—this effect is amplified when mixed with heat from cooking or the sun.

  • Save money - Plastic packaging can be expensive, especially with single use products. You end up paying more for the packaging and less for the product. Not sure if you believe me? Check out the price per unit cost next time you are at the store.

  • Encourage sustainable products - By choosing more eco-friendly products and packaging, you are sending a message to manufactures that we the consumers want these options.

  • Encourage creativity - Encourage your own resourcefulness in the kitchen. Without the ease of plastic, you may discover new hobbies you never considered before (this is exactly what happened to me).

6 Steps to a Plastic-Free Pantry

1. Empty:

You’re going to need some room, so get a table or a large countertop area cleared before you begin. Start taking out everything—no Cheerios left behind.

2. Clean:

This is the perfect time to deep-clean everything. Yes, this is more time consuming, but this is likely going to be one (or maybe two) times a year where you have a clean slate, so you may as well take advantage. This is also a really great time to consider switching to a non-toxic cleaner that can be refilled so you don’t have to buy a new plastic bottle each time you’re out. Below is one we suggest as it is free from harsh chemicals that aren’t great for anyone to be breathing in. If you are ready to make a switch, be sure to dispose of toxic cleaners properly.

PRO TIP: Always clean and clear out before shopping and refilling. This way, you will have less items to clean around, and it's a great time to see what you actually have left. Doing it in reverse creates more work. Listen, we know you’re excited to get organized, but you have to wait!

3. Sort:

This part can be a little tricky because everyone has different items. I have tried sorting in two ways: by meals and by food type. Any organization system will work so long as it is something that you and your family can easily maintain.

4. Purge/donate/recycle:

The donation pile should include things not being used but still in good condition. If the item is breaking or its useful life is coming to an end, look for ways to recycle it instead.

5. Refill:

  • Bring your own bags and containers - I like to keep my bags in my car because I tend to forget them or not bring enough. For my family of four, I typically use 4-5 large bags. If you are feeling up to it, I recommend bringing your own stainless steel or glass containers for the deli. Note: Not all locations will let you use your own container, so check first.

  • Find a bulk store - Buying in bulk cuts back on plastic and almost always saves money. This can be somewhere like Sprouts (a local Colorado grocery store), but if you happen to have a refillery/bulk bin store nearby, I highly recommend trying it out as this store is set up specifically to cut back on plastic waste. They will allow you to bring in whatever containers you would like to fill up and weigh. There is no limit to how much or how little you can buy.

  • Purchase wholesale - Buying from stores like Costco or Sam’s Club can also be an option for bulk buying, but plastic is typically going to be used in packaging. So while I don’t think this is the BEST option, I still find it to be slightly less plastic to buy one large bottle or container versus 2-4 smaller ones. So if this is an option that works to meet your family’s needs, I say go for it.

  • Pay attention to packaging - If you come to a spot where you can’t find an item you need without some form of plastic, I recommend looking for plastics that have the number 1 or 2 (plastic resin codes) at the bottom, as these are some of the most commonly recycled plastic items. For tips on making your recycling more effective check out Recycling—What No One Told you.

6. Pantry Storage:

  • Repurposed glass jars - I keep about 3-5 on hand. These are perfect for meal prep, leftovers, smoothies, storage for bulk food, and more.

  • Large glass jars with a wide opening - Bigger jars tend to get heavy when full, so pouring from them isn’t ideal—be sure to look for jars that have an opening wide enough for a measuring cup to reach into for easy use.

  • Metal or wire storage baskets

  • Woven baskets - These are great to use for items that may not be as visually appealing.

  • Wicker baskets - These are a great option to look for at a second-hand store to save a little money. I always try to score a bigger one if I can to hide away large items that don’t need to be visible.

Pro Tips

  • If you are getting excited about the idea of an updated pantry, we are too. Keep in mind that it's okay to have this transition take place over time, don’t feel the need to go out and buy 15 new organizers (this defeats the purpose of creating a sustainable pantry). Instead, get creative and use what you already have. If you do end up needing to purchase something, we recommend shopping from second-hand stores first. This will always be the more sustainable option over buying new.

  • Start re-organizing your pantry with the largest items and/or categories. This ensures that you have sufficient space and won't need to start over when you realize something is too tall or wide for the area you have left. Also keep in mind that your method of organization may need to be a bit unique from others’ depending on your space and storage needs.

  • If a goal for yourself or your family is to eat healthy foods, keep your sweets up high—not at eye level. This way, it's not the first thing you see when reaching in for a snack.

Closing Thoughts

Achieving a plastic-free pantry is challenging and will take time; it doesn’t need to happen overnight (and doing so may actually create the unnecessary spending and waste you’re trying to avoid). Instead, use this guide as a helpful reference to return to when starting to choose sustainable options that work for your home. Remember that a plastic-free (or low-plastic) pantry may mean having some on-the-go snacks wrapped in plastic or reusing a plastic bin you already have (This photo is of our pantry, where you will find some plastic). Improvement happens slowly, know that any plastic alternative swap is reducing plastic waste, and that is something to feel good about. Every choice to eliminate plastic makes a difference!

For more ideas on how to keep plastic out of your kitchen and pantry, check out some of our other blogs:

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