These tiny tweaks can make a huge impact!
Vegetable storage.
Credit: Getty Images / VioletaStoimenova

From keeping food fresh to cleaning up messes, plastic is an extremely versatile material that's especially useful in the kitchen. It may be too useful, in fact, because plastic production exploded in the last 20 years, with only a small fraction being recycled, according to a study published in Science Advances. According to some estimates, nearly a third of all plastic waste ends up in our oceans or landfills where, as it breaks down (which can take thousands of years), it leaches toxic chemicals into the environment and our food supply.

"Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the biggest threats facing our planet today," says Erin Simon, head of plastic waste and business for the World Wildlife Fund. "We also know that the way we manage plastic waste can have negative health implications for humans," she says. Preliminary research has found that toxins in plastics cause cellular damage and have been linked to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, among other chronic conditions. While further research is needed to determine the specific effects on humans of consuming these chemicals, it doesn't hurt to cut down on plastics in your kitchen—and it's surprisingly simple to do.

How to Cut Back on Plastic in Your Food and at Home

1. Invest in a high-quality water bottle and reusable straw.

"The more uses you can get out of one product, the lower its environmental footprint becomes," says Simon. So ditch the bottled water and invest in a stainless-steel or glass bottle you can refill—some even have built-in filters. Ditto coffee or tea mugs and even straws. Many places have begun banning plastic straws, so it helps to keep a stainless-steel or silicone one on hand.

2. Switch to glass storage containers for food.

If the controversy over bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical known as an endocrine disrupter which mimics the effects of certain human hormones, didn't make you trade your plastic containers for glass ones, what are you waiting for? Plastics tend to be more volatile than glass when heated, and can potentially leach chemicals into the food they're holding.

3. BYOB at the grocery store

That's bring your own bag. So far, eight states and a handful of cities have banned plastic bags, others have tried to discourage their use by instituting fees. And let's face it, reusable bags are a lot more stylish and sturdy.

4. Ditch plastic wrap.

Single-use plastics—things that are used once and discarded, like plastic bags, wraps and films on packaging—are the biggest focus of conservationists, so much so that last year, the U.S. Department of Energy earmarked $14.5 million to fund research into reducing waste from them.

"Due to their size, these products tend to be more difficult to recycle and can often slip through the cracks, ending up leaking into our environment," says Simon. "The good news is that these products are mostly unnecessary and can be easily avoided, making them a great place to start if you are looking to cut back on your plastic consumption."

Instead of plastic cling wrap, try Bee's Wrap, a pliable and reusable product made from organic cotton, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin. Similarly, Stasher makes silicone baggies that are airtight, as well as microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe.

5. Replace your kitchen sponge.

It's easy to overlook but pot scrubbers are usually made at least partially from nonrecyclable and nonbiodegradable plastics such as polyester or polyurethane. And because they can harbor bacteria, it's recommended to replace them regularly, which can be environmentally disastrous. There are plenty of natural alternatives, from knit cotton washcloths for wiping up spills to coconut fiber or coir sponges for scouring.

6. Rethink your shopping list.

So much of the single-use plastic in our lives comes from food packaging—frozen TV dinners with their plastic films are a top offender. By buying mostly whole, unprocessed foods, you're doing the planet and your body a favor. Better yet, buy local and seasonally at a nearby farmers' market to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping your food as well.

7. Clean up your cleaning list.

Many companies have opted to cut down on plastic packaging by offering spray bottles of cleaner that can be refilled with tablets dissolved in water. Blueland offers a multisurface cleaner, dish and hand soap, and laundry detergent in this style. You can even find dishwasher detergent tablets that aren't individually wrapped in plastic at Cleancult and other retailers. Also, be cautious around any cleaning products with abrasive scrubbing agents—they usually contain what are known as microplastics, the same polyethylene or polypropylene beads that were banned in cosmetic products.

8. Cook more.

Ordering takeout can be satisfying, but it's often rife with plastic, from the containers to the single-use cutlery to the plastic bags it's all delivered in. "While convenient, food deliveries often go hand-in-hand with packaging waste that can easily be avoided by preparing the food you already have at home," says Simon. And that's an easy—and tasty—way to be more mindful about your health and that of the planet.