When we first moved into our apartment in Austin a month ago, I had to buy all the pantry essentials again, like flour, sugar, spices, etc. That initial investment always feels so expensive, even though it is stuff you have to have. Because I did it twice this year (once in Utah, and again in Texas), I tried to buy as little as possible both times.
That meant a number of things didn't make the cut, including plastic wrap, sandwich bags, and tin foil. These items always make me cringe just a little, because I usually only use those items once. It feels so wasteful, and most of the time those materials can't be recycled, because they have food stuck to them.
Out of necessity, I have come up with a few alternatives to these items. They are not ideal, and they don't work quite as well as plastic wrap, tin foil, and plastic bags, but they work just fine in a pinch. Or just about every day, if you are me.
Instead of plastic wrap and plastic bags, consider using:
1. A damp towel to cover food that will be stored temporarily (4 hours or less). I almost always cover my bread dough with a warm damp towel when it is rising.
2. Tupperware or glass jars for food storage. I often think plastic wrap would be a great solution for storing food that is already in a container, but lately I have been shifting away from this, because it only takes an extra minute, and sends less plastic wrap to the landfill. I like using glass jars for almost everything, but they are particularly great for storing small portions of food, or part of a carrot/onion/whatever.
3. Other containers with lids. We have two pyrex baking dishes that have plastic lids. I use them to store muffins and biscuits overnight. They aren't airtight, but they do preserve some moisture and keep bugs away. It is also great for casseroles, enchiladas and other meals cooked directly in the pyrex dishes.
4. Beeswax Wrap. Earlier this year, I made some beeswax wrap. It is by far the best thing I have ever used for storing homemade bread and biscuits. Beeswax has anti-bacterial properties, and it keeps bread fresh for 2 or 3 days.
I have a tutorial coming, so you can make some for yourself and some for all you friends for Christmas. If you don't feel like making it, you can also buy it online here. I have never used professional wrap, but I have heard good things about it. The beeswax wrap can be cleaned by rising it with soap and cold water.
Instead of tinfoil:
1. When cooking foods that are supposed to be covered by tinfoil, place a baking sheet on a rack above the item you are cooking, to prevent browning. You can also set it directly on the baking dish, if there is no risk of smushing your food or overflowing sauces.
2. Rather than wrapping your vegetables to roast them, peel and chop them, and lay them out on a cookie sheet to roast them with a drizzle of olive oil. Just make sure you rotate them every few minutes while they are in the oven to keep them from forming a hard exterior.
3. Line your cookie sheet with a silicone mat. I use this brand.
4. For an easy release on brownies and cakes, try buttering your pan thoroughly, then coating the butter with a layer of cocoa powder instead of lining the pan with tinfoil(see this tutorial for directions on how to butter and flour your pan).
As a full disclaimer, I am not totally above using plastic bags, tin foil, or plastic wrap. In fact, I currently do have tinfoil and plastic bags in my kitchen. The tinfoil is to cover up a pie crust so the edges don't burn. I tried it without tinfoil, but caved and bought it, because I really did need it for a recipe.
I also always store my vegetables from the CSA box in gallon sized plastic bags. I try to get heavy duty ones, and use them 3 or 4 times before throwing them away. I haven't found a good alternative for storing vegetables in the fridge. So, for the most part, I try to be more eco-friendly by using an alternative. If you have suggestions, send them my way!