Plastic Wrap vs. Water/Electricity

jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)August 25, 2008

I posted this quandry on my blog today, but thought I'd post here and see what you all think.

I've been trying to cut down my use of plastic, and keep what plastic I do use to the recyclable kind (which means anything with a screw on top around here). This means cutting my usage of plastic wrap, which I had been using mainly to cover leftovers in the fridge (I store things in the bowls they'll be served in next to save on dish usage & maximize my own efficiency).

So I started covering bowls with salad plates, which works quite well to keep things from drying out or absorbing fridge smells for a couple days.

The only problem is, this results in more dishes needing to be washed. Since I cook at home almost every night, our dishwasher is already chock full by the time it's loaded in the evening, and now with the extra dishes, the only way I can keep up is to run it twice daily, rather than once daily. Obviously that uses extra water and electricity, not to mention my time loading/unloading twice per day rather than once.

So I'm curious as to how others out there have solved this problem. My husband says that since we don't (and won't) have kids, the extra plastic is cheaper and better in the long run, since we still won't be adding nearly as much plastic to the trash stream in the long run as those who have kids. He thinks it would be better to conserve water and electricity in the long run. And I don't buy plastic storage containers for food, so it's not like we will be tossing a lot of that out eventually either - all my dishes are stoneware or glass (hence the plastic wrap). I do use foodsaver bags for storing food long-term in the freezer...

Anyways, any comments? Which would you choose? Handwashing dishes isn't an option around here - I've never, in my whole life been able to force myself to keep up with the dishes by handwashing them, so I just don't fight it anymore - I'd rather have a clean kitchen daily than constantly battle my own severe dislike of "dish duty".

If they'd just make a compostable/biodegradable plastic film, my problem would be solved...

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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Can you just use the dishes which are used as lids for the next meal? They aren't really dirty. There is probably just condensation on the bottom. So if you take the stored food out of the fridge, wipe off the bottom of the plate and use that to eat off of, would that help solve the dilemma? That's what I do, when I remember to use plates and not plastic wrap! Or, if the salad plates are too small to use for a meal, again, just rinse/wipe them off and put back in the cupboard

Do you really run your dishwasher every day? I have a family of four, and we run ours once every two to three days, even with cooking meals. Do you put your pots and pans in the dishwasher? We wash ours by hand. Maybe that explains the difference (more room for more dishes).


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 2:47PM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

Thanks Dee. I could do that with all except the two for the dog bowls, which hold raw meat for thier meals (I'd feel better having those plates washed with hot, soapy water, to avoid bacterial contamination). Unfortunately, I'm not sure I *will* do that. Normally when I'm taking leftovers out, I'm getting a meal ready, and won't take the time to do that right away (at lunch I don't really have much time, and at dinner I'm normally doing a zillion things at once while cooking). Which means they'll sit with the dirty dishes and "get" dirty. Hence my dilemma...but I'll try it for a week or so, and see if I can make myself remember to rinse/put away.

Yes, all pots and pans (all stainless steel) go in the dishwasher. Even if they didn't though, I'd still have to run it daily, just for the two of us. How on earth do you manage every 2-3 days with a family of four? We have at least four plates or bowls daily, sometimes both depending on the meals (lunch & dinner), plus silverware, a couple glasses each (plus my travel mug for tea at work, and possibly a teacup used before bed), prep bowls, strainer (for pasta and/or veggies, usually dinner), at least one cutting mat, usually two (I have interchangable silicone mats for my bamboo cutting board), and four dog bowls. Sometimes I still end up washing my biggest saute pan by hand, because it won't fit with all the dishes...along with some mixing bowls if I use those. Maybe we just have a small dishwasher?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 3:45PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Jamie, you say you don't really wash dishes - do you have a dish drain/drain board, or whatever it's called now, lol?

I ask because this is a great thing to have, even with a dishwasher. For instance, if you took your plate/lid off the bowl, you could immediately give it a quick rinse and stick it in the drain, and it would dry and by the time you clean up after dinner, you could stick it in the cupboard.

We also do this quick clean for things we use a lot - mostly strainers/colanders, and some pot tops (you know, you have one lid that fits three different pans). Strain the macaroni, a quick wipe of the colander, in the dishdrain, and that's that (and more room in the dishwasher, lol!)

Of course, the dish drain takes up more counter space...

As far as running the dishwasher, maybe I do have a bigger one than you, lol - although I think they're all pretty standard. The worst things are glasses and silverware. My kids in particular have a hard time re-using a glass, and seem to need a fresh one for every drink, even ten minutes apart! But they are getting better - especially if we run out and they have to take one out of the dishwasher and clean it!

And silverware, well, I don't know. I think we use five utensils to cook one pot of food, lol. But somehow, yes we are able to run our dishwasher every two to three days. We are not always all home for lunch, and we are not big breakfast eaters, so maybe that helps too.

Well, believe it or not - and I'm completely serious, lol - I have to go start the dishwasher before I go to work!!


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 4:00PM
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scryn(z6 NY)

huh. I am married with no kids so it is just my hubby and I. We also cook dinner almost every night and I make lunch. We also only run our dishwasher every 3 days or so.

We don't wash our dog food bowls everyday, I can see why you do though! We just have dried food for our boys. We pretty much use the same glass till it is really dirty. I usually just give it a quick rinse if I am drinking a different drink. After about two days I will put it in the dishwasher. We also don't use serving platters ect. We just walk up to the stove and dish it out onto our plates. Also my travel mug just gets rinsed out everyday and then I wash it at the end of the week. Our pots and pans are washed by hand. they can not go in the dishwasher.

I suppose that all sounds gross but unless we are sick, which isn't that often, we don't find a need to clean everything after each use. A strainer that is used to rinse veggies doesn't need to be washed either. You can just rinse it out and let it dry. I use the same bamboo cutting board and just wipe it off with a clean rag everyday. I don't cut meat on it.

I think you are running your dishwasher so much because you are washing things that you really may not need too. Of course you may not feel comfortable not washing your mug everyday but that is what we did in college so I suppose we are still used to it!

Any leftovers for dinner are placed in tupperware where I can grab it and bring it too work for lunch the next day. I guess I never even use plastic wrap because we have tupperware. I haven't even thought about that before!

PS: we have a vacuum sealer too and we use ball jars for all our soups and chili's and it works so well!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 4:14PM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

Too funny Dee - and good timing! :-)

I don't have room for a dish drainer on the counter, though that would definately help. I wonder if they make one that could fit across a sink? When I rinse out my teaware, I lay a towel on the counter for them to drain on. There's not even room for that though except after I get done cleaning the kitchen at night, or in the morning before we head to work (we just grab a banana and a granola bar for breakfast on our way out the door). By noon (after lunch) the counter is full again with trays (we eat in the living room for most meals), dishes, etc. When I absolutely have to wash mixing bowls by hand, they get the same treatment. I'll admit here that if I have to wash my saucepan by hand, or clean the George Foreman plates, I do it the next time I need to use it - sits in the sink until then. I really, really hate washing dishes by hand! My colander is more often used for pasta, and it's "starchy" after that, so it does need to be washed, in my opinion. I don't use serving pieces either, unless I'm hosting others. I dish up our plates in the kitchen and we eat off trays in our easy chairs (life is good!).

We reuse glasses, but perhaps not as much. One each for breakfast (milk), one each for lunch, and then one each for dinner and all evening. I suppose we could reuse the lunch glasses for dinner, but I always lose track of who had which glass by then (they're all the same), and it just seems "nicer" to use a clean one after work. You're absolutely right about my travel mug - I'll start just rinsing it out at night, and setting it on the towel with my teaware to dry overnight for the next day. It really doesn't need to be washed daily, I think I just tossed it in there because I run the dishwasher already.

I cut the dog's meat meals for the day every morning, so that's one cutting mat. Then if I cut veggies at night, that's another (same one for all veggies, obviously). If I cut meat again for our dinner, that's another one. I do try to keep a fairly clean work area, though I'm not nearly as conscious about it as many people I know.

Maybe I'll try to find an "over the sink" dish drainer for those salad plates. That seems like it would be the easiest way to get around my problem here, and use less plastic wrap. I'll still need wrap for things like pizza (won't fit in a bowl, still needs to be covered), but normal leftovers will mostly fit in a bowl, so that would really help.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 4:40PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

"...My colander is more often used for pasta, and it's "starchy" after that, so it does need to be washed, in my opinion..."

Oh, absolutely, I agree. My point was that if you wash it as soon as you use it, it cleans more easily, can dry while you finish cooking and eating, it's ready for the next use, and there's more room in the dishwasher.

I do think they make small, over-the-sink drains. I think my mom has one in her teeny-tiny kitchen. It's really quite small, but big enough to pile a few items quickly to dry.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 10:41PM
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scryn(z6 NY)

If you have a double bowl sink you can get a small drain rack and set it right in one of the bowls. That is what I do. I wash on one side of the sink and then let it dry in the drain rack on the other side of the sink. We don't have much counter room so I would rather loose one side of the sink that counter space.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 10:51AM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

I've tried many times to do the "wash as you go thing"...frankly, after 33 years, I don't think it's going to happen. One of my main organizing principles is to work *with* my natural inclinations as much as possible, rather than fighting against them daily and just frustrating myself. I never get anywhere when I try to fight myself on such dramatic changes. So I'd like to say I'll start washing the colander right away, but I know it's not going to happen, through past experience. It will still end up in the dishwasher, in the end. :-)

I don't even clean the kitchen until around 10:30pm at night - right before bed. That's when I load the dishwasher & set it to start an hour afterwards, and wipe down the counters.

I was looking at over the sink drainers, but they seem kind of expensive for what they are (and I was having trouble finding one that would fit over half of my big sink, so the other half would still be open to set dirty dishes in). I'll keep looking.

In the meantime, I emailed our curbside recycling company, and asked if there were any plans to start recycling aluminum foil (they take aluminum and steel cans right now). That would be another option, and from everything I've read, it's one of the best and easiest things out there to recycle. So that would be another covering option, if I could recycle it...

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 10:57AM
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My grandma used bowl covers that were like shower caps, with the elastic bank.

My MIL used glass jars for leftovers and would recycle plastic bags to cover the jar before putting its lid on.

My parents would just yell at us to finish our plates so there were no leftovers. ;>

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 11:00AM
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I use the glass Pyrex bowls which come with hard plastic lids. When I use them for food storage, I usually use the same bowl for serving. The glass bowls can go into an oven, or a microwave, for reheating. I sometimes use plates or saucers to cover mixing bowls, when I have large quantities of leftovers. Some of my Pyrex storage containers are at least ten years old. The covers are still good. I love them--have a whole bunch of them in different sizes and shapes. I bought two new ones the other day, got them on sale for half price.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 2:52PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Hi again Jamie,

I know how hard it is to change your habits! I've finally, after years of wrestling with the idea, I've finally decided to cave in and buy a dishpan. I've always been a water-running-while-washing washer, not a dishpan washer. I shut the water off while scrubbing pots, turn the faucet on half-way, and have a bucket in the sink to catch water, but I still feel wasteful.

The last straw came last week when I got my new oil contract for the year, and my price per gallon almost doubled! So I will be buying a dishpan which should save me water and oil!

Maybe these two links can be of some help!


Here is a link that might be useful: over-the-sink drainer

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 3:49PM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

Thanks Dee - I was looking at those on Amazon yesterday. The problem is that if I get one, I want a skinny one that will only take up one half of my bigger sink, so I can still set dirty dishes underneath it, if that makes sense. I don't actually use the larger sink to wash in, because it's too deep (down and to the wall), and hurts my back to reach that far. So I use the smaller prep sink for both prep and any washing by hand I have to do, and the larger sink is where dirty dishes get put until I stick them in the dishwasher (for those I don't put in the dw right away). I need to measure the big side of my sink so I know exactly how big of a drainer I need/want...think I might go wander around Linen's N things this weekend and see what they have.

I never had a dishwasher until I bought my first house. It's one of the first things I bought - a tiny countertop model that I absolutely loved. Before that, we had no choice but to do dishes by hand at my parent's house, and we always just plugged one side of the sink to fill with soapy water, and used the other side for rinsing. Washed in the soapy water, turn hot water on briefly to rinse, then turn off again. We always just stacked the dishes in the "clean side" to dry.

All that to say, might be just as easy to buy a plug for one side of your sink as it would be to buy a dishpan...

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 5:23PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Jamie, I don't have a double sink! My sink is fairly large, but only a single.

I grew up in an older house, and also my first apartment was a third floor in an old three-family house. Both had those huge old double porcelain sinks, one deeper than the other, with the piece that you could slide over the sink not in use. You could take a bath in those sinks, lol (which reminds me - both places had those huge old Victorian tubs. Ahhh!)

Anyway, I miss those old sinks. When we remodel our kitchen - in 10 years after the kids are done with college, lol!- the one thing I'm going to insist on is a big ol' double sink!


    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 8:31PM
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"My grandma used bowl covers that were like shower caps, with the elastic band."

I remember those and was going to mention them. Those were the days before throw away food container storage. Those little disposible food storage bins are nice. A lady brought a dish in one of them and told me to keep it, as it was disposable. Gosh, I used it for months afterward and think one of my kids ended up with it. It would be sinful to use them and pitch them.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 8:49PM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

Oops...sorry Dee! It actually never occured to me that anyone wouldn't have a double sink. My bad. On the upside, I just bought a dishpan to use for washing my bras out, and it cost all of $1.49, so it's no great expense, anyways. :-)

As a side note, my sister and I *did* used to take baths in those deep porcelain sinks when we were very small...

I'm kind of finiky about washing plastic - especially thin plastics, so the shower cap bowl covers wouldn't work for me...I'd never feel like they got clean enough, and I'd toss them (I don't wash out ziplock bags either, so I just don't use many). I'm pretty picky about having a nice table setting (even on a dinner tray), so jars, plastic storage containers, etc...wouldn't solve my problem either, because I'd be moving the food to a "nicer" bowl or dish for us to eat it from. It would just multiply the too many dishes problem (and I'd have to clean out more cupboard space to store "storage" containers as well).

I'm pretty sure my larger sink is deep enough (front to back) that one of the smaller drainpans that fits across (side to side) will fit on the back of it, leaving room at the front to slide dirty dishes underneath. So I'm going to try that, and just rinse off saucers/salad plates that I use to cover bowls. The drain pan sitting there all the time should remind me to do that right away, so we'll cross our fingers that will work. At the very least, I'll use it for drying teapots, teacups and saucers too. But I'm optimistic this will solve the problem. :-)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 11:12AM
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I have a large single sink. I also put pots and pans in the dishwasher and if it is too full they are the first things to come out. I choose the largest one and fill it with soapy water, and wash everything else in the large pot instead of filling the entire sink. Then I wash the large pot. If your sink is too deep that it hurts your back you could try stacking the large pot on top of something else.

As for the plastic wrap, I do what Lorna does. I use Pyrex. Even if you don't serve your food at the table. Pyrex are clear, so you can see what leftovers you have just by looking in your fridge. You can buy different types of Pyrex and I find their lids to be universal. They stack easily in the cupboard and the fridge. You can reheat in them. The lids are thin and they seal nicely. They can go in the dishwasher :) I run my dishwasher once a day and there are 3 of us (one 2 year old). However, her and I have a breakfast and lunch at home most days and 3 have dinner. Christy :)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 11:20AM
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I'm surprised no one has mentioned waxed paper .
It is easy to use - once you get used to it .
If you have problems with the paper staying closed , like around a sandwich , use a recycled rubber band .
Waxed paper decomposes in your compost pile - earth friendly .

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 7:47AM
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I keep waxed paper around and had a friend actually ask me what one uses it for? Back when I was a kid, the sandwiches in your lunchbox were usually wrapped in it.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:33AM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

I have waxed paper (for those occasional times I need it for candy or cookies)...Does that wax get gooey in the compost, or does it break down too? That would certainly work for the spring/summer/fall when the compost is going, and I have plenty of rubber bands from various things...

I guess I thought it wasn't good to put waxed papers/cups/etc in the compost pile due to the wax. Is that wrong?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 11:04AM
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Everything can go in a compost pile . You would be amazed ! Waxed paper disappears quickly . Does not get gooey at all . Try everything you have .
Waxed paper is also great to use in the microwave to cover against splatters . Much better than paper towels .
Check out the compost /soil forum here on GW . Tons of info . The archives and search are full of gold .

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 6:09PM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

Just a quick update for anyone interested. I did get an "over-sink" dish drainer:

And it's working quite well. The problem is solved for the most part, even though I'm still too lazy to wash things right away. I've been washing the "overflow" from the dishwasher by hand nightly and setting it in the drainer to dry. Having the drainer right over the sink reminds me to just get it done, because it's easier than laying towels out on the counter for stuff to dry overnight on.

For plates and other flat items that need to be covered, I can use aluminum foil - our recycling company emailed me back this morning that as long as I rinsed it off and shaped it into a ball roughly the size of a pop can (so it will go through the sorter), I can put it in with the rest of my aluminum/steel recycling. A good option, I think, since I won't be able to compost here year round, so the foil will be a "year round" solution.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 11:29AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Way to go, Jamie! Looking good!

That's great about the aluminum foil. My recycling program will not take it, just as they won't take the foil pie-plate type containers one gets with take-out. Not that I eat out much, lol.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 10:54PM
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Check out the soil & composting forum on the topic of year round composting in cold climates . From what I've read , sounds like lots of people continue composting 12 months out of the year .

Nice dish drainer . Good choice . Do you like your white porcelain sink ? I have stainless steel and am debating about switching .

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 7:51AM
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jamie_mt(z4/5 MT)

I've always liked porcelain sinks, gatormomx2. I'm not a big fan of stainless steel in the kitchen (just don't care for the appearance). My sink is very easy to care for - whenever it gets inordinately dirty, I scrub it down with baking soda and it's good as new. No fuss, no muss, no real maintenance, and it looks nice (I think). I do wish it was mounted under the counter like you see people doing these days, which would make it much easier to clean the counters (wiping gunk into it), but we'll get to that someday, when we replace the countertops.

I've read through the composting forums here...the problem is, our compost "piles" aren't on the ground, they're in large trash cans, because hubby doesn't want a big compose "pile" just sitting out (he's particular about how the yard looks, and we just don't have a good spot to hide an actual compost "pile"). The trash cans are our compromise, but they'll only hold so much when frozen in the winter, and hubby won't agree to a worm bin in the house either. So I'm pretty much stuck there for now, but at least I can have it going until it freezes...

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 10:46AM
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