THIS SIDE OF HERMITRY or time travel, I know I can’t live plastic-free—it’s in everything from soup cans to register receipts to air fresheners. But the recent controversy over BPA-free plastics—whether some of them contain chemicals worse than BPA—has stepped up my resolve to at least stop eating and drinking any more plastic than I have to.
Knowing that heat helps nasty components leech into food, I had already shunned non-stick pans in favor of stainless steel, cast iron or enamel; swapped the plastic Melitta drip-coffee cone for a ceramic version (Melitta and others make one, but so does World Market for a third the price); and moved half-heartedly toward glass containers for leftovers (a couple of pricey large ones—available everywhere from Williams-Sonoma to Giant—but mainly repurposed jam jars). Now, though, I’m on to a new level of plastics-purging.
I’d opted for stainless travel mugs a few years ago, spurning ones that are metal outside, plastic inside—what’s that about?—but now look askance at their inescapable plastic tops. My new go-to: ceramic (or harder-to-find stainless) tumblers with silicone lids—again, World Market has cheery favorites, but they’re also often available in discount stores and online. (Silicone is purported to be more stable than plastics; if it is awful for you, I haven’t stumbled across the research yet, so…fingers crossed.) Ceramics are breakable—I’m two for four; my son is no longer allowed to use them—but they’re remarkably leak-proof except where the top has an always-open spot for sipping. Note to self: keep the little (plastic, yes) plugger from next Starbucks cup to see if it fits.
The iced tea in our fridge used to be plastic-packaged store-bought. Now it’s home-brewed by the half-gallon and poured into one of many different brands of glass jugs, all with ill-fitting tops (if you know of one that seals tightly, then easily unseals and pours smoothly, get in touch).
We bought BPA-free Camelbak water bottles a couple of years ago, but these days I’m pushing real glass, in a silicone sleeve to soften falls. Camelbak makes one, but their built-in plastic straw would seem to defeat the purpose, no? The prettiest, by bkr, have silicone tops, and sleeves in a paintbox of elegant mattes—I saw them in two sizes at Core 72; Anthropologie also sells them, as well as Amazon and bkr . The son who carries his water alongside 50-pound weights in his gym bag, though—he’ll have to stay plastic for now.
It’s never been exactly earth-friendly, but my kids (and I) love straws. The big bag of bendies from the drugstore is on its way out, and I’m about to invest in glass straws at (gulp) about $7 apiece—oops, remembering the broken ceramic mugs and switching to more economical, durable stainless or, less durable but cheaper yet, bamboo, plus a teeny little cleaning brush from Reuseit.
An uber-natural alternative to plastic wrap is beeswax wraps—coated cotton meant to retain moisture and keep its shape around a block of cheese or the rim of a dish. Certain versions blend jojoba oil and tree resin into the coating, but some user reviews griped about transfer of unpleasant tastes, so I went with pure beeswax (three-pack: sandwich bag, medium and large sheets). They’re not going to put Saran Wrap out of business—they can’t be used for meat since they’re cool-water wash only, and the “cling” factor was a flop when I tried to mold it to a bowl—but cheese was enfolded just fine, the string-and-button sandwich bag stayed shut, and the large wrap blanketed a section of baguette, keeping it fresh. Lots of selection at Etsy, limited offerings from Williams-Sonoma, Anthropologie and The Grommet but they’re not cheap (almost $20 for 3), so I’m contemplating making my own—quite simple, I’m told. Uh-huh.
Maxed out psychologically and financially by plastic paranoia, my next and last step for now is a wood-handled, nylon- or natural-bristled toothbrush (at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, or from Amazon). They’re not perfect—loose bristles are a common complaint, wood needs to dry thoroughly between uses or it can get germy—but it beats sticking BPA straight into my mouth twice a day. And when I’m ready for the next level of purity (or paranoia), I’ll start at my new favorite website, Life Without Plastic, where some version of virtually everything mentioned here can be bought, plus way way more: plastic-free highlighters, wooden combs, stainless ice cube trays, cotton produce bags, hemp shower curtains, leather fly-swatters….wait, seriously—flyswatters?
— Catherine Clifford
Catherine Clifford is a freelance writer living in Chevy Chase.