Last week a very good mummy-friend of mine asked me why I choose to use glass to store our food in, over durable, effective plastic storage solutions such as Tupperware. It was very brave of her to ask me this, as all my friends know I can chew their ears off when I get talking about things I am passionate about; particularly things like plastic, glass, sustainability, and healthy living! Well, I tried not to this time, and on this occasion I just outlined the main reasons I could think of off the top of my head. But afterwards, I thought her question would really be worthy of a blog post, particularly given that it is now “Plastic-Free July”.
So, here it is. My answer to the question, “Why do you choose glass over plastic; even “good” plastic?” I’ve listed my thoughts with numbers, but after No.1 these aren’t really in order of importance. All of this is important to me.
1. Probably in first place of importance for me is the environmental impact of plastic. I feel most strongly about how the world’s oceans are affected by plastic waste. Growing up, I remember being alerted to the problem of plastic rings on six-packs of beer. There was the iconic image of the turtle whose shell was deformed by such plastic waste. I have no idea why, but I honestly (naively) imagined that plastic rings of six-packs were the extent of ocean rubbish and that oil spills and toxic waste were the biggest pollution problems for our world’s waters. Then a few years’ ago I stumbled upon an article about the islands of rubbish in the Maldives (I wrote about this in a previous blog post, “The Problem with Plastic“) and it opened my eyes to a global problem that’s so unethical, so unsustainable, and so irresponsible, I can’t believe it isn’t considered more newsworthy than Donald Trump (another reason why I don’t watch TV anymore). We’re producing almost 300 million tonnes of new plastic products every year; and approximately 10-20 tonnes of that plastic ends up in the ocean. Did you know that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch floats over an area one-and-a-half times the size of the USA? (90% of it is plastic). Sure, we can encourage each other to fill our recycling bins each week and put them out on the kerb as part of our regular eco-friendly efforts, but given that every piece of plastic ever made still exists today, I personally think that recycling simply isn’t good enough for me.
I would much rather walk along the beach with my grandchildren, picking up pebbles of weathered glass, than 50 year old milk bottles and plastic sushi trays.
2. Plastic is made from petroleum. About 8-10% of the world’s oil supply is used to make plastic. I want to avoid petroleum based products as much as I can for environmental, but also political, reasons.
3. The way plastic products are designed, particularly plastic items like the storage containers we use in our kitchens, means they are not generally fixable, and that annoys me. If a clip on the clip-lock lidded container snaps, it kind of renders the whole system useless. It’s impossible to replace, and a ridiculous exercise to try to fix. It’s pretty near impossible to fashion some sort of alternative component from your own garage/craft room. So, while we might be really creative and think of other uses for our now incomplete plastic container, the design generally encourages us to throw it away once it is broken/damaged. If I think about my glass storage containers, indeed I would throw out a broken lid or jar, but each component is replaceable, interchangeable, and designed with a longer intended lifespan than a plastic equivalent right from the outset. (I should note though, that there are cheap, crappy glass containers out there which are not designed to be durable! But I only buy the good stuff now 😉 )
3. Glass is inert. End of story.
Plastic? Who knows? Not me. As soon as I read that BP-A free plastics are often made with BP-S instead (which is worse!), I gave up trying to figure out if it’s safe or not. There are so many “buts” and “ifs”, “possiblys” and “potentiallys”, “unprovens” and “untesteds”, when it comes to plastic and our health, that I just don’t know what to believe. I use plastic when glass, stainless steel, or beeswax wraps just can’t fulfill the job as well (I love the plastic keep-fresh lids for my Weck jars; I can’t help it!) but otherwise, I try to avoid plastic altogether for food storage.
4. We have a glass bottle we bought for baby Stella and then used for Daniel. We used it to feed her formula and then as a sippy cup for water when they were a bit older. It’s three and a half years’ old now and it looks like new. Plastic doesn’t last like that. It gets scratched up, cloudy-looking, yellowed sometimes. It stains too. All these changes due to wear and tear mean a lot of plastic products lose their appeal after a while, compelling a person like me to want to replace them for purely aesthetic reasons (I am very visual!).
5. I use glass containers (with plastic lids) to store food in the fridge. When chilling fresh vegetables, I’ll often put a damp cloth in the bottom to stop them from drying out. Stored this way, I can keep a bunch of celery (with leaves!) crispy fresh for up to a week. No wilting, just crispy crunchy fresh. This system works better for me than plastic did in my fridge!
6. Switching from plastic to glass containers in my kitchen is a manageable change I can make. I only have to do it once, and it’s a one-off expense. It’s a little step, but it’s a step in the right direction, and that’s what matters to me.