Put down those non-stick muffin tins and reach for something that doesn’t stick to your bloodstream long after your cupcakes go stale.
Ceramic: A good choice as long as the glaze is lead-free. In Canada, glazed ceramics and glassware are regulated, and cookware made of these materials cannot be sold, advertised or imported if it releases more than trace amounts of lead and cadmium.
Big budget? Get some Le Creuset ceramic enamel-coated cast iron bakeware.
Earthchef makes affordable ceramic-coated muffin tins and bakeware(earthchef. ca).
Stoneware: This stuff is oh so earthy and somehow seems to make your food taste better. Digging for clay isn’t always welcomed by the planet, so make sure your brand is using sustainably sourced clay. Pampered Chef’s stuff is made with American clay and comes with a three-year unconditional guarantee, so even if you drop and crack it, they’ll give you a new one (pamperedchef.com). After having a few greasy dishes baked in it, it forms a non-stick layer. FYI, always get the unglazed kind, the same colour as terra cotta.
IS SILICONE BAKEWARE SAFE?
You don’t have to fit in with the Hugh Hefner crowd to get yourself a pair of these. (I meant silicone oven mitts, you perv.) This manmade fusion of silicon (basically sand) and oxygen is moulded into colourful and bendy heat-and cold-resistant muffin trays, baking sheets, bread pans, ice trays and, yes, mitts. No real dirt on this can be found, other than that sand mining can be pretty damaging to an ecosystem—but so can digging for steel, iron and clay. Silicone is touted as the safest bet for everything from baby bottle nipples to sex toys, so you should be fine. At the same time, research on the effects of baking with this stuff is scanty at best, which means not everyone’s convinced they should test them out in their kitchens. You’re not going to have silicone gel leaking into your food like a bad implant job from the ’80s, but with every Tom, Dick and Mary making cheap versions of this bakeware, it’s hard to say what you’re getting. Health Canada says you have nothing to worry about, you just don’t want to bake the stuff at temperatures higher than 425°F (220°C), since it could melt.
Tips to Avoid Packaging: A whopping 35% of municipal solid waste is packaging, according to Waste Reduction Week Canada. Want to minimize the amount of trash that comes clinging to everything you buy? Here are a few tips:
- Pass on produce bags. Trust me, you don’t need a plastic bag for every apple and chili pepper you buy. They’ll weigh them loose. But if you’re really hooked, get mesh produce bags by Montreal-based CredoBags (checkcredobags.com for stores near you). Kootenay-based Kootsac makes cotton and nylon-based produce bags that are perfect for filling up on bulk flour, grains and more (punch in “kootsac” at etsy.com for orders).
- Get your meat and cheese from the deli counter and ask for butcher paper only, please. Who needs the polystyrene foam and plastic wrap that comes from the ready-packaged kind? Butcher paper isn’t necessarily from recycled sources and often comes with a petroleum wax to make it more water-resistant, but at least you can compost it in municipal composting systems.
- Cart your own containers to the bulk store. Most will be happy to preweigh your vessel (be it a sack, reusable food container, empty peanut butter jar, you name it) before you fill it with flour, cereal, nuts or whatnot. You might even have a shop in your home town that sells shampoo and soap in bulk (see Resources: Green Home Storefronts).
THE GREAT PURGE: GARBAGE-FREE CHALLENGE
It’s garbage night and you’re elbow-deep in trash, trying to make sense of the landfill-bound packaging in your bin. With all the diligent recycling you do, you’re still left with an ever-morphing pile of plastic. And don’t think that pile is heading for plastic heaven, where it’ll be infinitely reborn into new plastic. Nuh-uh, it gets downcycled—a.k.a. downgraded into dead-end products like plant trays or shoelaces that, after one kick at the can, end up in a landfill. Throw in all the stuff that goes straight to the dump, and in total Canadians churn out on average 1,000 kilograms or nearly one whole ton of garbage, per person per year. You can’t get rid of it all, but surely we can shave off a few kilos. What if you tried just one week without producing any garbage at all? You might just get hooked.
- Packaging is to be avoided at all costs.
- Nothing disposable can be purchased (that means no gum, no Swiffers, no straws, not even a bag of organic chips).
- If for some reason an unpackaged substitute can’t be found, the container the product is sold in must be recyclable. Otherwise, said item must be forfeited. Sorry.
- Size matters. If you can’t buy your peanut butter or cereal in bulk in refillable containers, better to get one large container of PB or bran flakes than two smaller ones. Larger volumes will also keep you from having to travel to the grocery store often (and one large box should contain less packaging than two smaller boxes). But read the weight labels (e.g., 450 grams) to be sure the large box of cereal isn’t actually stuffed with the same quantity as a smaller box.
- Give a hoot and dilute. Buying soap or soup concentrate means you can add the water yourself at home instead of having it watered down for you.
- Stash reusable shopping bags everywhere: your coat, your gym bag, your briefcase, your trunk.
- We all know we should BYOM (that’s bring your own mug) to the coffee shop, but try bringing your own reusable food containers to your favourite takeout spots too. I’ve brought mine everywhere from Chinese restaurants to fast-food courts and no one flinches. They might even smile, since you’re saving them a dime’s worth of packaging! (Oh, and be sure to forgo the plastic bag, plastic utensils and wad of napkins that come with your takeout, too.)
- Make a statement: leave that bulky unrecyclable packaging that comes with your razors, headphones or toys with the cashier. This action passes on a message to management that you’d like to see packaging-reduction programs in place. You can even mail some to your provincial representative with the same message!
Plastic Wrap vs. Aluminum Foil: Okay, so which is worse for the planet, a wrap made of destructive petroleum or one made of destructive aluminum? Well, you can now buy plastic wrap that’s PVC-free (Glad and Saran make some), so it doesn’t leach hormone-disrupting phthalates into your food (which cheaper generic brands could). But you can bet there’s no recycled content in this petroleum-based product, and good luck reusing the sticky wad of plastic leftbehind after wrapping half a watermelon in the stuff. Yes, aluminum is incredibly resource-intensive to mine and refine. Yet foil is technically recyclable (check with your municipality) and reusable (I wash mine and save it for next time), and you can buy aluminum foil made with recycled content (If You Care makes some that’s 100% recycled content, requiring 95% less energy to make than non-recycled foil; available at health food stores or see ifyoucare.com). I wouldn’t store food, especially acidic food, in aluminum but I wouldn’t store food in any disposable vessel, including plastic wrap. Better to reach for something that can be washed and used again, like a reusuable food container. Tupperware, Gladware and Ziploc containers are phthalate-and PVC-free plastic. But you’d be much wiser to get glass storage containers. There are tons of brands on shelves today. Oh, and there’s always my quickie plate trick: instead of wrapping up half-eaten produce, like a grapefruit, just put it face down on a dish. In a pinch, plates can also be used to cover bowls full of leftovers.
NO SUCH THING AS “MICROWAVE-SAFE” PLASTIC!
So we’ve finally woken up to the fact that microwaving plastic baby bottles is plain tantrum-worthy. Not only does estrogen-mimicking bisphenol A (BPA) leach from polycarbonate plastic during regular use, but studies have found that one zap in the microwave can cause as much leaching as 60 to 100 rounds in the dishwasher. Kind of erodes your confidence in the whole “microwave-safe” label, doesn’t it? Especially when you find out that no one regulates the term. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in the fall of 2008, lab-tested 10 plastic food containers for microwave leaching, they found even plastics Nos. 1, 2 and 5 had BPA leaching. These included frozen food trays, microwaveable soup containers and plastic baby food packaging. What? Isn’t BPA only in No. 7 polycarbonate plastic? Guess not. Stay safe and follow these tips:
- Never microwave food or drinks in any plastic. Period.
- Never microwave or heat plastic wrap.
- Don’t put plastics in the dishwasher. Heat (including hot water from dishwashers) boosts leaching from purportedly dishwasher-safe polycarbonate, so who’s to say your dishwasher-safe plastic won’t leach when someone decides to test that too.
Cans: If the popular tool in your kitchen is a can opener, listen up. Those butt-kickers at the Washington-based Environmental Working Group tested the contents of 97 cans of soup, soda, veggies and fruit, and over half registered positive for the same controversial estrogen-mimicking chemical that’s been banned from baby bottles in Canada, namely bisphenol A (BPA). The chemical has been linked to growth in cancer cells, as well as developmental and reproductive damage in infants. One in 10 canned items showed disturbingly high levels of the chemical, the worst being canned veggies and pasta (not good for those kids growing up on canned ravioli and peas).
That’s because steel and tin cans are lined with an epoxy resin heavy in bisphenol A to keep the metal from leaching into your food (go figure). Government officials will tell you they’re more worried about the bisphenol A lining in baby food than adult food, but plenty of young children eat canned soups, pastas and veggies on a regular basis. Not to mention the fact that newer research is linking high levels of bisphenol A in adults to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Canada has yet to set limits on how much bisphenol A in cans is too much. In the meantime, you’ll have to regulate your own habits. If you eat canned foods once in a while, I wouldn’t worry too much. If you eat canned food every day, including canned vegetables, pastas and soups, you might want to reconsider your shopping habits:
- Cook from scratch with fresh ingredients.
- Buy dried beans and soak them yourself. (I know, I know, this will be tough for last-minute cooks, but the texture is a million times better.)
- Go for glass. Look for soups, sauces and random items like artichoke hearts or anchovies in glass jars.