How to Survive in the Kitchen Without Disposables

The short version of this blog post: find a solution using items you have on hand. You’ll save money and time and prevent more garbage from clogging our overburdened landfills or oceans.

Here are five examples of simple ways I avoid using disposables.

1. How to bake without parchment paper

Landfill-in-transition method: Use sheets of parchment under pizzas, cakes, cookies, pastries and more. Toss them after one use.

Non-disposable solution: If you bake cookies or a cake or brownies, simply grease the baking sheet, cake pan or baking tin. Yes, you get grease all over you hand. Rub some of that into your skin to keep your hands soft. Wipe the rest on a dishtowel or unpaper towel (that’s a bonus example).

Recently, I dried some apples in the oven. I didn’t want them to stick to the cookie sheet I had planned to spread them out on. We do have Silpats but I’d rather not use them. For one thing, I hate washing them. And I just don’t know how inert they actually are. (If you do, please let me know.)

My solution? I put a cooling rack inside my cookie sheet and arranged the apple slices across that. With the warm air of the oven reaching the undersides and tops of the apples evenly, the slices dehydrated quicker than when I have placed the apples directly on the cookie sheet.

Apples I dried in the oven using a cooling rack set on a cookie sheet

2. How to sweat a charred pepper without a plastic baggie

Landfill-in-transition method: In some commercial kitchens, after charring peppers, cooks with then put the steaming hot peppers into a plastic baggie and close it, trapping heat and moisture which causes the charred skin to blister. This makes removing the skin with a knife edge very easy.

Non-disposable solution: Put the hot peppers in a glass, ceramic, metal, cast-iron (i.e., just about anything that isn’t plastic) container or pot with a lid. If you don’t have a container with a lid, put the hot peppers in a bowl and put a plate on top of it.

Sweat it out

3. How to roast beets without tinfoil

Landfill-in-transition method: I love roasted beets and the beet pickles I make with them. In the old days, I wrapped them in tinfoil before roasting them in the oven. The tinfoil helps keep the beets moist. Occasionally I would save a piece of tinfoil after unwrapping the beets but usually I ended up throwing out a bunch of beet juice-covered tinfoil.

Non-disposable solution: One day after I had gone zero-waste, I wanted to roast some beets. But how to do that without tinfoil? I wondered if a Dutch oven would work. It did! Had I not gone zero-waste, I never would have bothered to figure this out. But my beet craving necessitated I find a solution.

buy quality, not too much, mostly used
If you don’t have a Dutch oven, a glass dish with a lid will also work

4. How to strain stuff without cheesecloth

Landfill-in-transition method: Strain scrap vinegar or coconut milk or whatnot with cheesecloth. Lose your mind trying to untangle the fabric for reuse. Throw it out.

Non-disposable solution: Use a cloth with a finer weave and wash it. A friend of mine gave my some very fine gauzy fabric a few years ago and I use it constantly to strain food.

Straining coconut milk

5. How to store half a melon without plastic wrap

Landfill-in-transition method: Pull a sheet of plastic wrap from a roll and suffocate your melon with it.

Non-disposable solution: Place the melon on a flat dish, cut side down.

Keep a melon fresh by storing it cut-side down on a flat dish

I didn’t have a flat plate large enough for the very big, very delicious and very juicy melon pictured above—my plates all have slightly concave bottoms—so I used a pie plate. The melon kept perfectly fresh in the refrigerator and we ate it within several days.

I store onion halves the same way.

I ended up pickling part of this onion. So tasty!

Now, the onion cut-side-down on a plate in my refrigerator caused a small controversy over on Instagram. (Perhaps I should stick to politics on there!) Some people said they had found a half an onion in the refrigerator caused everything to smell like onions. Others said the onion odor does not escape from the cut side when it sits unexposed on a flat surface.

If you worry about the smell, reach for a jar to store the onion. If it won’t fit, you could chop it up first. On the one hand, it’s convenient to have those onions already chopped up in there. On the other, I prefer the taste and texture of onion chopped right before I cook it. I’ve already started one controversy for today so I’ll leave it at that. (I’m starting to feel like a Big Endian.)

My mom, who grew up without plastic wrap, wonders how my sister and I survive without the stuff. I wonder how we all got hooked on it in the first place. (Actually, I don’t wonder. I know. Marketing.) But you can kick some single-use plastic and other disposables quite easily: cover bowls with plates, hoard glass jars to store leftovers, freeze food in wide-mouth glass jars, chill pie dough between two plates, wrap a sandwich in Japanese furoshiki and so on.

24 Replies to “How to Survive in the Kitchen Without Disposables”

  1. Make roasting beets even easier! Leave 1″ of stem at the top and do not cut the tail. Roast in a baking pan – no cover needed – for an hour at 490 degrees or until a fork slides in easily. Once cool, the skin slips off easily. No mess, no fuss. Tender and delicious.

    1. Thank you for the tip Chile. I’m really craving some beets now 😀
      ~ Anne Marie

  2. I had never heard of Japanese furoshiki. What a fun path that sent me down. Beautiful. Thanks!

    1. It’s SO easy and elegant. If I take bread or a sandwich to the office, I just wrap it in a napkin and then use the napkin while I eat. No trash on the packaging front or napkin front!

  3. I find the best solution is to commit to a goal, then solve each problem as it arises. The details tend to work out. People constantly ask about toothbrushes and toilet paper, meanwhile going through roll after roll of paper towel where a sponge would work, ordering takeout while food spoils in their fridges, etc.

    My takeaway from this post is that anyone can solve the same problems once they decide to, instead of throwing up their hands. And it’s rewarding.

    1. Hi Joshua,
      It’s so true. Had I not gone down the zero-waste rabbit hole and willingly and happily imposed these constraints on my life, I wouldn’t have discovered many tricks I now use. They are very rewarding!
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. Regarding the roast pepper conundrum, I find that the step of ”sweating” the pepper isn’t really necessary at all. The charred skin is still very easily removed without it.

  5. Where do you stand on Tupperware? I’ve got masses of it from ‘before’ and find it invaluable for storage, and I should think it would work for the charred pepper as well.

    1. Hi Ruth,
      I would still use it. I don’t think we should throw out all of our plastic but rather not buy any new plastic. I would avoid putting anything hot in it though. Hot food can react with the chemicals in it.
      ~ Anne Marie

  6. Super helpful, thank you!

    1. Thank you! Glad you like the tips Srmoe 🙂

  7. Do you post these to FB for easy sharing?

    1. I do but I haven’t posted this one on there yet. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find sharing buttons (they are small and grey and don’t stand out much). You can click on those to share. Thanks for asking 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  8. Andrea Fleiner says: Reply

    For onions, When I made wax cloths, I sewed a small bag with a flap. Partially used onions get stored inside it.

    1. Hi Andrea,
      Those bags sound super cute. I’ve been wanting to make some. Thanks for the tip 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  9. Some really great tips I will link back next week to these 🙂 Have a great weekend 🙂

    1. Thank you Carol. I hope you had a great weekend also 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  10. Beetroots: I roast them just as they are, not peeled, not chopped, (sometimes not even washed, lol) directly onto the baking tray. The skin traps the moisture inside and it comes right off afterwards.

  11. I always reuse my cheesecloth – there are a variety of types of cheesecloth on the market and I suspect you have purchased the cheap stuff which looks a lot like the gauze they use for Halloween decorations. A good quality cheesecloth (which should still be under $10) has a slightly tighter weave and washes beautifully.
    I do use muslin as well but there are some things that really need the cheesecloth. I’ve been using the same piece of cheesecloth now going on 10 years. I wash well by hand and it lasts a long time.

    1. Thank you very much for the helpful info, Sara. That’s great to know the good quality stuff lasts so long.
      ~ Anne Marie

  12. Love this! Thank you so much for these ideas!! 🙂

  13. For melons, I cut them up and put them in a jar. The dehydrating apple slices idea is awesome, I have to try that! I moved and gave a friend all my disposable kitchen wrap because I just have nowhere to store it anymore, which is fine by me as I feel like I shouldn’t be automatically grabbing it in the first place. Someone on another blog suggested reusing the bags from boxed cereal for wax paper if you make drop cookies (like no bakes) that require it. You can also use a silicone mat for that, I imagine, or drop them on a baking sheet. I like USA Pans for those, they have a silicone nonstick coating on there that’s inert (as far as I can tell) and safer than Teflon. Re: cheesecloth, I don’t make much stuff with it but I have luck drying items (like for pasta salad) with a washcloth, and I use metal strainers for other stuff. If you have access to an Asian grocery, they sell steel mesh ball-shaped containers with a little metal chain and a hook that attaches to the side of a pot. You can put herbs and spices for soup in that, if you want them to flavor the dish without needing to fish them out later. That can eliminate the need for cheesecloth in soups for herbs. The ball splits in half and has a little hinge that closes it. I love mine!

    Honestly, I’ve found it’s remarkably easy to not store stuff in plastic, too. All my stainless steel pots have a lid, so food cools to room temp and then it just goes in the fridge in that. If pots have no lids, I put a plate on top. Or I use mason jars. Wish I’d started doing this a long time ago. I had a plastic water bottle melt in my dishwasher a little while ago and decided from now on, no more. I’m sick of stuff melting! Things shouldn’t just melt like that! I got really queasy from the gases it released. Meanwhile, my friends were like “don’t worry, it’s just plastic”. I personally trust my lungs more than corporations. 😉

    Anything can be solved with ingenuity. After all, what did people do before we had all these items? I’m sure we can crowdsource great ideas to create the world we want to live in.

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