Finding alternatives to aluminum foil - Steps to a zero waste kitchen

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Although I have never been an avid aluminum (aluminium in South Africa) foil lover, I married a man who is. And as part of my zero waste journey, I am trying to change all single-use items to more sustainable alternatives. So aluminum foil has to go.

But why you may ask?

Not only are we filling up landfills with items that are unnecessary, but we are also using up natural resources, some of which are non-replaceable. Even if you try to soothe your conscience by saying the item or product will be recycled, it is only half the truth. Much of the everyday items we use in and around the kitchen is recyclable, yet never recycled because it is usually full of food and food particles. So it ends up on the landfill in any case. Aluminum (or aluminium) foil is one of those products. The metal that it is made from is 100% recyclable, but only a fraction of the time does it get recycled because food tends to stick to the foil. Even if you try to clean it, it is only sometimes successful.

Zero waste movement

Although the zero waste movement is all about reducing waste, I am attracted to it for other reasons as well – the money-saving aspect (if you re-use instead of single-use, you save money. It also makes you pay attention to things that you buy without really needing them) as well as the health aspect. Aluminum foil is made from thin sheets of aluminium, which is a light metal, and the verdict is still out whether or not it is safe to use for cooking. During the cooking process, as well as when storing foods for prolonged periods of time wrapped in aluminum foil, the metal leaches out into the food. When you consume that food, you then ingest the metal as well, raising your levels of aluminum in your body. Your body can safely handle small amounts of the metal, but when a large amount barrages your system, it can have dire consequences – from osteoporosis to Alzheimer’s to total kidney failure.  Something you want to take a chance on? No thanks. Not when I can successfully (and cheaply) replace the foil with something less health-threatening.

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In my experience and opinion, aluminum foil is mostly used for the following things:

1.       To cook with

a.       Cover food during roasting/braising/steaming/etc.

b.      To line pans with to make cleaning easier

c.       To stop food from sticking to the grill or pan

d.      To stop food from browning too much (like when you are baking a pie)

e.      To wrap food in to ensure even and faster cooking e.g. baked potatoes

2.       To store food

3.       To cover food before and after service

My alternatives are:

1.       To cook with:

a.       Use a casserole pot’s lid, or cover the food with a cookie sheet or baking tray

b.      Use a silicone mat, like a Silpat, to make cleaning easier, or simply leave the pan to soak in warm water with baking soda in.

c.       Grill food that might stick on top of other food, e.g. whole fish can be grilled on lemon slices, or use a metal grill basket or fine metal grid to keep foods from falling through

d.      Invest in a pie shield (to keep the edges from browning while the pie is still cooking), or use a silicone lid.

e.      Simply grill or roast or bake the food item without wrapping. Or if you want to wrap, buy wood wraps (thin sheets of wood that is used to wrap food in for steaming, smoking, grilling, etc.) and use as you would have foil. You can also wrap in banana leaves, or make a salt or bread crust to enable even cooking.

2.       To store food – invest in a few glass containers with silicone lids, or even good quality plastic containers that can be used again and again. I also keep all of the glass jars that mayo and sauces come in, and I use them to store smaller amounts of leftovers. In cases where you just want to cover a bowl that doesn’t have a lid, I use bee wax wraps.

3.       To cover food before and after service – sometimes food must stand for a while before being enjoyed, or before being taken care off. You don’t want the food to sit uncovered in case pests fall in, or the food dries out. In this case, cover with a kitchen cloth, or if pests are your only concern, a food net is great. In cases where I am scared the food will dry out, or if I need to cover it in order for the food to heat up, I use a very thick cloth made from curtain material. It is thick enough to keep heat in, and pests out, and also to help with moisture loss.

All of these alternatives are easy to find, very cost-effective, and reusable many times. Compared to aluminum foil that you use once…

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Found anything on your zero waste journey that you cannot find a substitute for? Share, maybe we can help!

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