The Plastic-Free Eco Challenge: Food Storage Edition

By Jolee Keplinger | July 1, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

Today marks the first day of The Plastic Free Ecochallenge, which is a month-long global challenge from July 1-31. Basically, this challenge is focusing on the reduction and refuse of single-use plastics. This is especially relevant due to the surge of COVID-19-related waste, (such as disposable masks, gloves, and single-use food utensils and packaging from curbside deliveries.)

Are you wondering if this challenge will actually make a difference? It’s worth referencing the 30-day Earth Day 2020 Ecochallenge which had 10,210 participants and 120,661 completed actions! For example, one of the top actions was “Use a reusable water bottle”, which was completed 2,105 times.

Now is the perfect time to take action and create new habits. You can also share your progress with others who are part of the challenge. We recommend spreading the word with your friends and family to increase the challenge’s positive impact!

The action categories of the challenge are Food, Personal Care, Community, Lifestyle, Family, and Pets. (You can also create your own action!) The category of focus for this post is Food, and the daily action is Use Reusable Containers. This action means that you will avoid single-use plastic food storage items such as sandwich bags and plastic wrap.

How to Reduce Plastic Bag Waste

You may be wondering what the best eco-friendly food storage containers are. My top recommendation is the Stasher Bag. This is an endlessly reusable storage bag made from platinum silicon.

This material does not degrade over time and it can withstand a range of temperatures. Stasher bags in incredibly versatile products as well. They can be placed in the freezer, microwave, oven, and dishwasher.

They are also Free & Clear, meaning they do not contain toxins which include BPA, BPS, lead, latex, and phthalates. These bags come in a variety of sizes and colors, so there is an option for every style and storage need.

Sustainability Spotlight

Although they can be reused endlessly, if an unexpected accident damages the bag, the website explains how unusable Stashers can be repurposed into kid-friendly playground pebbles! Stasher even uses 70% post-consumer material for its cardboard packaging. To stay up to date on this innovative company, you can follow them on Instagram @stasherbag.

Fun fact: Stasher bags aren’t only useful for storing food and snacks, they can also serve as the bag for your carry-on liquids when flying. The Stasher sandwich bags are completely leak proof and are nearly the same size as the recommended quart-size ziplock bag. Swapping a single use ziplock for a Stasher bag means you won’t need to worry about tiny holes being poked by products in your overstuffed ziplock. (No more liquids leaking into your luggage!) Once you arrive at your destination, you can wash and dry the Stasher and use it for snacking on the go. The sandwich bag size is great for storing cut fruit/veggies, trail mix, crackers, sandwiches, cookies, and so much more!

Tip: After washing your Stasher, ensure it has dried completely. You may dry it with a towel, but I prefer to let it air dry. You can turn it inside out and set it upside down, or place a small object between the opening to allow for air circulation.

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend, & don’t forget to sign up for the Ecochallenge!

Oat Bar Recipe + A Sustainable Sugar Swap

By Jolee Keplinger | June 14, 2020
Principia Center for Sustainability
Special Projects Officer

This healthy & tasty recipe was submitted by community member Pam Fox, who works part time at Principia College’s C-Store. Pam is a plant-based food enthusiast who often shares her favorite recipes with me. Recently, she sent me an oat bar recipe which I made shortly after settling in for summer in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. Although I’m busy balancing three jobs and a nutrition course, I always make time for creativity in the kitchen. I specifically made these bars to take with me as a snack for my work at Browns Kitchen, a local gourmet kitchen shop!

Modified Oat Bar Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Makes 12 bars


  • 2/3 cup chopped pitted dates (reserve 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp nut or seed butter (I used almond butter)
  • 1 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup flour of choice (I used arrowroot flour)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit of choice (such as cherries, apricot, prunes, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup add-ins of choice (such as chocolate chips, coconut flakes, seeds, or nuts)
  • Optional Ingredients
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp maca powder
  • Fresh ground nutmeg to taste

Notes: I used dates as my dried fruit of choice since I did not have others on hand. My add-ins were unsweetened coconut flakes and pumpkin seeds.


  1. Preheat oven to 375o.
  2. Place 1/3 cup of chopped dates and water into a blender and process until smooth.  Add the nut butter, process again, and set aside. 
  3. In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients, except the reserved dates, dried fruit of choice, and add-ins. 
  4. Add the mixture from the blender and the remaining dates, dried fruit and add-ins of choice and mix with a spoon.
  5. Spread mixture into an 8 x 8 baking pan and either spray with oil or line with parchment paper. Bake until firm and lightly brown around the edges, 18-20 minutes. 
  6. Cool in the pan, then loosen edges and invert entire pan over a flat platter. (If using parchment paper, pull the bars out of the pan using the paper edges and place on a cooling rack). 
  7. Cut into about 12 bars & enjoy!

Tips: I store the in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer. They taste best reheated slightly in a toaster oven. You can also crumble them up and sprinkle on top of yogurt or eat them like cereal with milk.

I like to use this reusable to-go box for storing baked goods. This is a sample product from AASHE, an annual conference for sustainability in higher education. This container is made by OZZI, a company which specializes in reusable container exchange systems.

Fun Fact: 100% Plant-Based Ingredients!

What I love about this recipe is that it’s completely plant-based, so it’s perfect for those who follow a plant-forward and vegan diets. Plant-based styles of eating are often less ecologically intensive when compared to the Standard American Diet. This is because plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce (in many cases) versus animal products which are often highly resource intensive and polluting (especially when produced industrially).

Now, to get specific, not all plant-based foods are good. For instance, refined sugar, which is plant-derived, is definitely a food you want to avoid for both environmental and health reasons. Below are some reasons why I prefer to avoid refined sugars. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I replace refined sugars with natural and eco-friendly foods such as dried dates.

Opt for Organic

Since I am now 90% in control of my food intake, I’ve made a point to purchase mainly organic ingredients. It can be more expensive, but I’ve been purchasing many in bulk at Costco so I end up saving more than I would at the typical grocery store. I also like to purchase smaller amounts organic products at Farmer’s Markets, Trader Joe’s and Aldi. (Although I don’t enjoy shopping at Walmart, I’ll admit that they do have a selection of affordable organic ingredients as well.)

I opt for mostly organic ingredients because they are often more environmentally friendly than conventionally grown or raised foods. I also do not like the idea of harsh chemicals being sprayed on my food, and not knowing what chemicals I am consuming. Organic food is not always completely chemical-free, but it’s a widely available option for promoting optimal environmental and human health.

Sustainable Sugar? Switch from Cane Sugar to Dates!

  • Did you know that sugar cane production is a major environmental catastrophe in Florida? Click here for the article to learn more (Tampa Bay Times).
  • Have you always dreamed of seeing the Great Barrier Reef? Unfortunately, sugar farms in Australia are contributing to the reef’s decline. Waters around the reefs suffer from effluents, pesticides, and sediment from sugar farms, in addition to the wetlands that have been cleared. Read more at

You have the power to make a difference! You can skip the refined sugar and use dates to satisfy your sweet tooth. Dates contain plenty of nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. They make delicious stand-alone sweet treats, and are incredibly versatile ingredients. Date sugar, made from finely chopped dehydrated dates, is a great option if you are looking for a sweetener (similar to cane sugar) that has gone through minimal processing.

In contrast, refined sugars are considered empty calories since they contain virtually no vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, fiber, or other beneficial compounds. Nutrient-dense foods are both energizing and satisfying, so it makes sense to replace refined sugars with naturally sweet and nutrient-dense whole foods (like dried dates)!

Sustainability Spotlight

Most dates are grown in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and properly managed and well-tended date trees can live up to 150 years! The trees can withstand long periods of drought under high temperatures, but do require large amounts of water. Despite the high water footprint, many date farmers in traditional production areas use sustainable practices such as natural fertilizers, cover crops, and intercropping-often with other fruits, vegetables and pasture (

  • Ecological Lens: Date palm groves are important environmental niches for local wildlife and play a central role in the desert ecological system.
  • Date palms have been effective for the control of desertification and land reclamation in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Locavore Lens: Since date sugar is mostly produced in North Africa and the Middle East, finding locally produced varieties may be difficult for American consumers. To help offset the food miles, you can look for organic options. This ensures that no harmful pesticides or other chemicals were used during production.
  • If you want a challenge, you can buy some whole organic dates and make your own!

If you make the oat bar recipe and would like to share your thoughts or modifications, please respond in the comments section! Thank you for reading. You may suggest future article ideas as well. Happy baking!