Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Life after Ziploc

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I have one Ziploc bag left. One. Uno. Single, lonely bag. And I am not buying any more. Ever!

What does this mean? Will the world come crashing down? Will time stand still? Will my food get freezer burn? Where will I put all my twist-ties? So many scary questions to ponder. Let's first consider why I use Ziploc bags. They are convenient, sure, but what specifically am I storing in them?

  • Meat - I buy meat in larger family packs and break it down into individual meal portions, often times prepping the meat (cutting into pieces) as I go. Then I store the individual packs in the freezer.
  • Pizza - There always seems to be one or two pieces of pizza left over. I usually just slip these into a baggie and stash it in the fridge for lunch the next day.
  • Peppers & Onions - When slicing peppers or onions for a meal, I like to prep the entire item. All the materials are already out, so it makes sense to do the work once and not dirty the dishes twice. What I do not use immediately I like to refrigerate in Ziploc bags for another meal.
  • Cheese - We eat a lot of cheese. Mister snacks on various varieties when returning home from work before consuming dinner. I use cheese in sauces, casseroles, pasta, biscuits, just about every meal. Our cheese drawer - yes, we use so much that it gets its own drawer - contains at least six blocks at any given time, in various sizes, stored in individual Ziploc bags.
  • Travel - I have been know to use Ziploc bags for transporting jewelry during travel. I also use them to secure my toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo, soap, and anything else liquid or that gets wet in case of leaks.
  • Twist-ties - I do not buy twist-ties, but I seem to have a plethora of them. Boxes of garbage bags come with them - Why, I do not know, does anyone actually use these? We just tie the top of the bag together. - bread bags have them, or the little plastic clip; even my vegetables have them. I buy broccoli and celery NOT packaged in plastic, but it is still bundled with these twist ties. So inevitably, I have many, many twist-ties and I cannot throw them away. I do not know why, but I cannot, it just seems so wasteful. So I stash them away in a Ziploc bag, thinking someday I will find a use for them.
Now that we know what I store in them, let's think of alternatives.

  • Meat - Become vegetarian. Problem solved. All kidding aside, this is not the worst idea. It sure would eliminate the need for freezer bags. A while ago I thought I was smart and started using freezer paper to wrap my meat. That was going fine until I took into account that the masking tape I used to seal the wrapper was made from plastic. So I thought I was a genius when I switched out the tape for rubber bands. Ha, take that! Then I came to the grim realization that the shiny side of the freezer paper is, yep, you guessed it - plastic. Damn. Not so smart after all. Back to my stock of Ziploc bags. Can you use parchment paper to freeze meat? Is there a plastic-free freezer paper out there? Butcher paper, would that work? Anyone?
  • Pizza - I have already made the break from plastic wrap. Now we only use recycled parchment paper and recycled aluminum foil. I guess I could wrap my two pieces of pizza in one of those. Still, that even seems like a waste if it is only going to be used overnight. What I really should be doing is the inverted plate thing like I do with the rest of our leftovers. We use plates and bowls to store leftovers and then put another plate or bowl over the top to act as a cover. Works great. We also have a small supply of glass pyrex dishes with plastic lids that we store things in. I really need to invest in more of these.
  • Peppers & Onions - I have slowly been making the switch to prep bowls as my supply of Ziplocs has dwindled. I think what I have are actually Anchor Hocking custard cups. They are quite small, just big enough to hold one-half to one cup of diced vegetables and come with a plastic lid. I am thinking more of these would also be a good investment. Small refrigerator dishes would work well also.
  • Cheese - This one stumps me. I cannot even find cheese not wrapped in plastic to begin with, so what do you store it in after it has been opened? Parchment? Has anyone tried this? I guess we could use aluminum foil, but I really want to get away from the single use and try to find reusable alternatives. I understand aluminum foil can be reused and we do reuse it often. Still, I want something more permanent. Know what I mean? Sometimes I will shred cheese and reuse a yogurt container to store it in, but not often. I find that cheese dries out faster when it has been shredded and prefer to keep ours in block form.
  • Travel - Okay, I do not know why I started transporting jewelry in baggies. I have a nice leather travel box for this purpose. Silly. I think I just forgot about it. As for the wet and messy stuff, I am pretty sure I have a stash of heavier plastic bags, some that even zip, in the basement that I saved from tablecloths, sheets, etc, we purchased. Am I hoarder? Perhaps. If not, then I am very sure that the store sells these things called shaving kits. Mister has one. It is what he transports all his liquid stuff in while traveling. Duh!
  • Twist-ties - Get rid of them!
Sounds easy doesn't it? If it were that easy I would have done it a long time ago. Breaking habits is hard to do. Anyone out there already made the leap? Have some advice to offer those wading in the water? Survival skills for those about to jump off the high-dive? I do not want to use my last one, uno, single, lonely Ziploc as a floatation device!


The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

I'm impressed by the difficulties to go without plastic. I try to use as little as possible, but I also don't have a family to consider....

What is the impact from waxed paper? Before Saran wrap, that's what our mothers used to cover bowls in the fridge and wrap our lunch sandwiches.

I remember an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown said the best way to store hard cheese is wrapped in waxed paper with a rubber band around it. (Shame on me - I haven't tried it yet)

Or possibly, those covered glass dishes for cheese storage - the way they did it in the good old days?

Hmmm, now you've got me wondering...

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Little by little I have been buying Pyrex, Anchor Hocking + Fridoverre glass storage containers (the lids are plastic) in varying sizes from Marshals, TJ Maxx, Ross + even Big Lots. I started this last year + now have a ton of them (well, a little less than a ton, but a lot). They freeze so well! They are clear glass so I know what's inside without labeling, like I did with Tupperware for so long. In addition to not having to label, I find that far less food gets thrown out because I can see inside + can gauge what needs to be eaten. I bought sizes for lunch items + pack my boyfriend's lunch in all reusable glass containers. They are not the best for transporting liquid items like soup unless container is kept absolutely flat. ANYWAY: No, I don't work for the glass food container lobby, but I definitely think they are a wise investment.


Barbara said...

Ditto on Shona's comment. I started collecting Anchor Hocking one piece at a time. Buying at my grocery store. If I saw them on sale I purchase more. I have all sizes and use them for freezing as well as everything else. I do have a box of ziploc's but, one box last me a very long time now. I do reuse my ziploc's filling the sink with soap and capful of bleach to sanitize them. Not always sometimes they are so gross they do get thrown away. I am trying to fugure out the meat thing as well as I buy in large packages and split up. I try to buy produce that is not in packages. I remember when NO produce was in packages years ago. Who came up with the package idea? Think they regret it? Probably not. Anyhow, like you I am trying. I do wish more people would try. The oil spill has made me feel like I need to try even more.

My heart is aching over the oil spill because I get the big picture which most people do not realize just how far this oil spill is going to spread. I expect it to end up in the Sargasso Sea. OH NO! We are in trouble! Putting head down in shame, shaking head and stepping down off my soap box. Sorry Mother Earth, I wish I had more control and could influence more people to care and take action. Please forgive us.

Mandy W. said...

You go girl!

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

i use plastic to store dough in the freezer or sliced bread in the freezer - any ideas on how to store them in the freezer without plastic?

Tix•R•Us said...

I reuse my ziplocs several times. I don't use too many to begin with. I use recycled bread plastic bags to store cheese and freeze stuff. I have never done the jewelry thing. I could use old prescription bottles instead of ziplocs to take vitamins on a trip, except it's a bitch to get the original labels off and I hate stuff that's wrongly labelled. I have tupperwares and anchor hockings and I also save plastic salsa and yogurt buckets. The salsa ones are pretty flimsy but the yogurt brand that we buy comes in buckets that will last for years.

Kathryn Grace said...

We've been cutting back on plastic bags use gradually. The brown wax paper sandwich bags work very well with small blocks of cheese, but it will dry out much more quickly than in plastic. On the other hand, it doesn't mold as quickly. These also work nicely for small slices of pizza.

I use Pyrex refrigerator bowls in sizes ranging from 1/2 cup to five quarts to store everything from chopped veggies to soup. I've tried Anchor Hocking, but their lids cracked and broke within a year or two. Some of my Pyrex lids are ten years old and still sealing as well as the day we bought them.

Over the years, we have reduced our meat consumption considerably, eating less than a pound every few weeks. As you noted, that cuts the storage problem significantly.

Problem is, now I cook big batches of black beans in the slow cooker, measure a meal's worth into individual baggies and freeze. I can freeze an entire batch in just a few inches of freezer space. Glass or plastic containers would take up way too much room in our small refrigerator freezer compartment. What to do?

Like you, I use ziplocs for travel. Of course, the airlines require them, but I'm not sure I'll fly again, given the carbon emissions and all. Still, the ziplocs are easy to tuck in a corner, whereas a kit is bulky and steals room from other essentials. I wonder how the gal at Fake Plastic Fish solved this problem.

Rosa said...

Like Kathryn says, they take up more space - but if you have the space, the meat can probably go into pint canning jars & into the freezer. A lot of things can.

For leftover pizza - we have 2 same-size round pizza pans. Usually the leftovers are not more than one pan full, so I turn the other upside down on top as a cover & stick them in the fridge. If the crust is super puffy, it will get a little hard at the outside edge, but it's not like my son eats the crust anyway.

For cheese & other things that go in the fridge, I use a bowl (or a glass mixing bowl, we have a nearly double set of nested glass bowls) with a plate on top.

I think, though, if you just can't do without plastic bags, you'll find they keep coming into your life - for instance, I wash & reuse baggies. When we go to the park or museum with a mom-friend, I grab the ones she's going to throw away, take them home and wash them. Voila, cheese wrappers! Also last year our CSA wrapped a lot of things in plastic bags.

ingrid said...

I'm right there with you. I have about 10 baggies left, and my goal is to not buy another box when those are gone. I use a lot of yogurt containers and salsa jars for cut up veg, leftovers, and yes, I stick the block of cheese right into the container. I used to know someone that had one big sealable container for all their cheeses, but that only works if they won't contaminate each other. I don't want my swiss tasting like herbed goat cheese. Yuck! And I have found a plastic-free parchment paper by a company called If You Care. "If You Care Parchment Paper uses Silicone, derived from a natural element." They say it's compostable, and while I haven't tried yet, I find myself using this stuff more and more. I don't know if it would work for freezing, but they have a bunch of other offerings too. And thanks for your post about giving up paper towels in February. I have now been paper towel free for two weeks!

almostima said...

On cheese, my parents have a lovely container that is a flat ceramic plate with a tall glass bell looking structure on top of it. They put all kinds of cheese in there together. Because it's clear glass, you can see what you have and it seems fairly air tight.

dc said...

We conserve much more then the average family but we do use ziplocks for backpacking trips and have reused them forever, we even have a wooden bag holder designed to hold them while drying.

We don't however put produce in the plastic bags and I cringe when I see someone with a cart full of plastic bags. One with onions, one with oranges, one with a zucchini..... you get the idea.

Also, we don't use plastic garbage bags but scrounge paper bags out of the recycle bin and from friends. When it's full we just dump the bag directly into the can and reuse it or compost it depending on how grungy it is.

Any glass jar will work for storage, wide mouth jars are easier to scoop or eat out of. I also have several old glass storage containers of various sizes that I've picked up at yard sales and thrift stores. If I need a tighter seal, brown wax paper or foil works fine.

feet in my shoes said...

I've found that wrapping cheese in cheesecloth works really well.

We have a cheese drawer too ;)

Kathryn Grace said...

Oh my goodness, feet in my shoes, I forgot all about cheesecloth! Of course. That's what my grandmother used for her homemade cheese. It keeps the flavor in and protects the rind, if there is one. Cheese doesn't get slimy the way it can in ziploc. One more plastic problem solved. I'm ecstatic.

Eco Yogini said...

We now put our cheese in containers. We have ONE left over plastic container that fits our block cheese perfectly (but then we buy local cheddar that's white... cuz it's not dyed. so not the long blocks. but I know you could still fit them in the container).
Anyhoo, we eat a lot of it, so it doesn't last weeks in the fridge, but it NEVER gets weird and stale in the container. an anchor container (maybe a larger sandwhich-y styled one) would work just great :)

Simply Authentic said...

In our house I have this rotating left over container stand with standard lids---although they're plastic. I use them for almost anything.

My solution for pizza--why cover it? My entire life I've just put left over pizza on a plate and stuck it uncovered in the fridge--still tastes great the next day!

And much of the rest of what you covered could be put in any size of glass jars. Have a left over jar from your pickles/sauce/etc? Run it through the dishwasher, dry, and then put cut up blocks of cheese or peppers & onions, etc. Once the contents are eaten, run through the dishwasher again. You could even use smaller jars for travel such as earrings, lotions, etc. As long as you shove them between towels or clothes they should be protected just fine.

Additionally if I take a sandwich to work, most the time I just wrap it in a clean thin towel or hankerchief. Works great and can be dropped in the wash should any jam, etc ooze out.

Not sure if these solutions help at all---but hope so!

elency said...

Hi there.
we don't use ziplocks- we use glass pyrex containers for almost all of these things (including cheese) there is plastic in the lids, but they are reusable (we've had ours for 4 years and they are still going strong)
We also sometimes wrap our cheese in aluminum foil.

Condo Blues said...

Early on in my marriage I learned that to keep martial harmony I had to go with my husband's use of Ziplock bags. His compromise was to wash and reuse all bags that don't hold meat.

Fortunately we have enough storage containers that we now use for storing chopped vegetable bits, slices of extra pizza, and open cheese packages that we don't have to go with ziplocks very often. The storage containers are much easier to wash when we're finished with them.

I think I bought my current box that's still full a couple of years ago. I use them mostly for freezing items. Although I do have some plastic containers for the freezer - I'm a klutz.

Condo Blues said...

Have you tried reusable snack bags for sandwiches? I find that items will eventually dry out if you use them for long term storage since they don't seal and keep air out like a zip lock bag, but they are fine for holding a sandwich or snacks you're going to eat the same day for lunch.

Kale for Sale said...

Many thanks to feet in my shoes for the cheesecloth idea. I always have those little somethings that need a special wrap in the fridge and this is it. Beautiful.

I quit buying ziplocs years ago and still have them floating in the drawer and as much as I don't buy food in plastic I still end up with plastic bags and use them again and again. You'll be surprised! Thanks for a great post.

Pure Mothers said...

I use thee silicone flexible covers in place of saran wrap. They work great! I got mine here: http://www.napastyle.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=2047

I also purchased some reusable ziploc type bags from etsy.com. I put cheese and snacks in these. They can be wiped clean inside. http://www.etsy.com/listing/46242382/hedgehog-meadow-eco-friendly-reusable?ref=sr_list_1&ga_search_query=reusable+snack+bags&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_page=&includes[]=tags&includes[]=title

I put leftover pizza in some old tupperware and use Anchor Hocking and Pyrex storage containers for everything. They can go in the freezer too.

I wrap frozen items in parchment paper and then recycled tin foil.

I use reusable plastic containers for air travel. I use the ziploc bags that the airline gives me if necessary. I refuse to purchase them myself as a requirement to fly. Ziploc is staying in business due to these airline policies!

Kudos for finding ways to reduce your plastic!

Toni's Treehouse said...

I read this post and all of the comments with great intrigue!!! I would love to have an alternative for storing my freezer meat. Please let us know if anyone comes up with a good option!!!!

Wendy said...

I've stored grated cheese in my canning jars, which worked out okay, but wasn't my favorite solution because of the shape of the container. Like you, we buy cheese in 2lb blocks, and there is the question of what to do with it after it's opened, because cheese should be stored in an airtight container. I do have some small, plastic, reusable, lidded containers I've been using in place of plastic baggies, but it's still plastic, right?

Has anyone tried oil cloth for storing cheese? Or an oiled paper bag?

wildfleur said...

Hi! I remember when I was a kid, my mom would wrap cheese in a cheesecloth slightly dampened w/ vinegar to keep it fresh. I did a perfunctory google search and found this old npr post recommending aluminum foil, which I hadn't thought about before. http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/souptonuts/cheese_storage.html However she went on to say how great plastic is for storing cheese… which kind of leads you back to square one. While I don’t go buy plastic bags, I find they seep in from my cereals, I love fiberone which comes in 2 plastic pouches, we reuse it over and over like freezer paper, sealing the end with a rubber band/masking tape/twist tie. Hope this helps someone!

greeen sheeep said...

Wow! Your comments have all been great. This seems to be a hot button for many of us. Just to clarify, this is the last remaining plastic food storage we have. Other than a couple of cereal dispensers and bulk flour bins, everything else is stored in glass.

All tupperware/Ziploc/Glad/to-go containers have been replaced by glass. We have a bit of pyrex and anchor hocking that performs beautifully. I also keep glass spaghetti sauce jars to store dry goods in. For leftovers, it's the pyrex/anchor hocking or a plate/bowl covered by another inverted plate/bowl. None of us pack a lunch, but I do carry a wrap-n-mat for bringing leftovers home when dining out. Perhaps I'll do a post on this next week.

So I'm down to the meat and cheese dilemma. The reason I have been using Ziploc bags - other than habit, ignorance, and laziness - is the airtight seal. We really don't eat much meat anymore, so I guess I could start buying smaller quantities and store it in a glass freezer container. If eaten within a week it shouldn't get too much air exposure, right? That solves my problem, but what about others? What about my leftover turkey that no one can even think about consuming for at least two months after Thanksgiving? Several of you commented that you are using glass to freeze your meat, do you have any freezer burn issues? Is the quality the same as storing tightly wrapped in plastic?

I have the same issue with cheese. If even one corner is sticking out of the plastic it came wrapped in, it gets hard. Doesn't this happen when being stored loosely in a larger container? I like the idea of wrapping it in cheesecloth. I would like it even more if it was something I could buy once and use over and over again. Like my wrap-n-mat!!! Now there's an idea. Too bad it's also lined with plastic. Damn, that stuff is hard to get away from! Still it would drastically reduce the amount we are consuming. Mister jokingly brought up the idea of dipping things in wax for storage. This certainly would be a viable solution for the cheese, albeit a messy one. Dip the entire block once and then just store the cut side down on a plate or wrap the end with wax paper and secure with a rubber band like The 4 Bushel Farmgal suggested.

Anyway, I see some experimenting in our future. I just wish I would have started it before I was down to my last one, uno, single, lonely Ziploc bag!

greeen sheeep said...

@ The 4 Bushel Farmgal - I too, wonder about the way things were done in the old days. Sometimes I question whether the progress we have made is really progress? Not sure about the impact of wax paper. I know that wax has it's own set of issues depending on what it's made from - i.e. petroleum. I have spent a bit of time researching the different kinds of paper and what they are made of (freezer, parchment, wax, butcher), but I don't know enough to give an educated answer.

@Julia (Color Me Green) - I like to make dough for breadsticks and biscuits that I store in the freezer. I freeze the individual portions on a baking sheet until hard and then store loosely in a container. Come meal time I just grab a few, thaw, and bake. I assume you are talking about bread dough, though. Perhaps you could wrap it in a flour-sack towel and then store it in a container? Unwrap it to thaw and use the same towel to keep it covered during rising.

@ Kathryn Grace - I'm not sure of the portion sizes you use for meals, but you could use my dough method to save space. Freeze individual portions in a muffin tin until hard, then transfer to a larger container. Come meal time grab the number of frozen servings you need and you're good to go! One container with many servings beats many containers with one serving.

@ ingrid - I too use "If You Care" parchment paper. You can see it in my drawer with the last Ziploc bag. Shame on me for not composting it! Now I have more experimenting to do. I'll have to bury some in my compost pile next to the Sun Chip bag I'm testing. Congratulations on making the break from paper towels! Keep it up. You will love not wasting money on them ever again!

@ feet in my shoes - Cheesecloth! Hello.

@ Wendy - I don't know much about oilcloth, other than it is expensive, but isn't it made from vinyl? Vinyl contains PVC and phthalates. Reasons I am trying to avoid plastic in the first place. Anyone know more about this?

daharja said...

The pyrex glass containers with rubber lids are excellent. We use them for just about everything.

Cheese is a bummer. It does seem to come with the plastic as part of the item. But we can buy cheese wrapped in paper at our local Farmer's Market. Have you tried yours?

Carmen said...

Regarding the If You Care Parchment paper (and baking cups). I have been composting these with much success.

I would love to totally knock out plastic bags for freezer storage, but I like to harvest fruits and vegetables while they are in season. Unless you can suction out the air - I cannot see how I could store them successfully without plastic bags...

Carmen said...

One note on oilcloth...

The kind you would get from the fabric store is typically just plastic coated cotton and does contain all the nasty stuff you do not want contacting your food.

Making your own oil cloth - highly flammable!!! They did do this in the "old days" with linseed oil, but not a good idea. If these are stored improperly, they can combust just from heat buildup. Also, rancid linseed oil is toxic.

rachel said...

I saved twist ties in a drawer for years. Then, I shoved them all in a bottle that had a big enough but not too big opening, and gave it to my 3 year old. He played with it for about 2 years. He sorted and counted and made train tracks... he loved them! I can't solve plastic baggie problems, but twist ties... problem solved.

Kathryn Grace said...

@greeen sheeep, excellent suggestion re using a muffin tin to freeze individual portions then toss 'em all into a larger container. I'm going to try that today when my black beans finish cooking.

Anonymous said...

"I have the same issue with cheese. If even one corner is sticking out of the plastic it came wrapped in, it gets hard. Doesn't this happen when being stored loosely in a larger container?"

I tried this -- block of unwrapped cheddar cheese in airtight container -- and the cheese is perfectly fine weeks later.


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