We’re moving soon, and in the endless process of sorting and shedding, I’ve discovered that what I’d thought was an exemplary model of a zero waste kitchen still needs improvement.
My kitchen attests to my inability to resist gadgets, tools, and a variety of gizmos that, at one time, I firmly believed were necessary for my transformation into “super chef.” Many of these contraptions have never been used (the pancake batter dispenser is one notable example). They’ve sat for years in drawers, gathering dust.
None of this is to say that you should eliminate everything! That’s not the goal of a zero waste kitchen. Instead, with the following tips as your guide, work towards reducing unnecessary waste while stocking up on durable, reusable items.
Getting Started: Easy Single Use Swaps
The first step towards a zero waste kitchen is minimizing any reliance on single-use items, plastic, paper, or otherwise. Made from natural resources, single-use products are designed to be used once, then thrown away.
To get you started, try these simple replacements in your zero waste kitchen:
- Cloth napkins, instead of paper napkins
- Cloth wipes, instead of paper towels.
- Metal, glass, or silicone straws, instead of plastic straws
- Metal silverware, instead of plastic cutlery
- Metal tea strainer, instead of disposable teabags
- Reusable tableware, instead of disposable plates and cups.
Clean, Save, and Reuse Single-Use Items
If you’ve used a single-use item, you can actually reuse it a few more times before tossing:
- Plastic storage bags. Wash and dry thoroughly for reuse multiple times.
- Aluminum foil. Wipe down, fold and store for reuse.
- Plastic packaging bags from various products (bread, deli, newspaper, cotton balls) can be reused for pet waste, storage bags, and/or packaging.
- Jars from food products. Use them as storage containers.
- Gift-wrap paper, boxes, and bows. Store and use for future gifts.
Wrap it Up With Reusables
Instead of reaching for the plastic cling wrap, try these alternatives:
- A plate to cover leftovers.
- Beeswax. Bee’s Wrap brand comes in assorted sizes for any use. Just wash and reuse.
- Stretch lids. Reusable silicone food covers work well on bowls, containers, and even produce.
- Parchment or wax paper. There are tons of brands to choose from. I like If You Care brand. The parchment paper is chlorine-free and certified compostable.
Contain it With Reusables
- Zipper. (Re)zip bags come in a bunch of sizes to suit every need. Leakproof and safe for the freezer. Stasher brand are dishwasher and microwave safe.
- Silicone baggies. Stasher brand has a wide variety of sizes and colors. The firm seal keeps food fresh.
- PEVA baggies. (Re)zip storage bags look and feel like zip-top baggies, but are made from FDA-grade PEVA (BPA and lead-free). They’re perfect for snacks and sandwiches.
- Bread bags, made from natural fabrics like linen or organic cotton, allow bread to “breathe” and keep it fresh for a longer period of time.
Instead of buying new ones, take a look at what you already have at home. Re-purpose them for food storage:
- Glass jars – small. I use the smaller spice jars to hold my homemade spice mixes.
- Glass jars – large. The larger sizes are useful for storing, well, anything: crafts, pasta, sugar, coffee, flour, loose change, sewing supplies… Or use those pretty mason jars to display fresh flowers.
- Large plastic containers from yogurt, sour cream, soups. I use these all the time for leftovers and for freezing food. Bring them to the supermarket as containers for bulk purchases.
- Baskets, to store dried goods, such as onions, potatoes, or garlic.
Avoid unnecessary packaging by buying food items and kitchen supplies from the bulk section.
Clean Up With Reusables
Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
Tear up those frayed and old towels, sheets, and clothes and reuse them for all types of cleaning jobs.
If You Need New, Buy Durable Items
Instead of paper towels and disposable wipes, buy cleaning
- Sponges. Twist Euro Sponge Cloths are reusable, plant based, and dye free. Just put them in the dishwasher when they’re dirty.
- Microfiber Cloths. Evriholder Bamboo Naturals Greenery towels are perfect for any cleaning job and can be used dry or dampened.
For a Clean Smelling Zero Waste Kitchen, Go Natural
To keep your kitchen smelling fresh, freshen naturally with:
- Baking soda. This all-purpose natural cleaner also absorbs smells. Keep a box in the fridge, in closets, and in cabinets. To clean, sprinkle on rugs, and in waste bins, vacuum bags, and kitty litter boxes.
- Room mist. Aura Cacia Room Mist freshens with natural scents and essential oils. It gets top marks from Environmental Working Group.
- House plants help absorb moisture and reduce smells.
Instead of Bottled, “Make” Your Own Water
Do you buy bottled water because you’re worried about the quality of your tap water? Try filtered!
- Installed Filtration Systems. I love the convenience of our Aqua Pure under-counter filtration system with its dedicated faucet. You can also get filters that mount directly on top of an existing faucet.
- Water filter pitchers. The Brita brand carries a wide variety of sizes and styles, but I like the Montery Pitcher with its longlast filter that reduces chlorine, particulate class 1, cadmium, mercury, lead, asbestos, and benzene.
Make Your Own Sparkle
Love sparkling water? Make your own. My husband decided to give up soda recently and now relies on our Sodastream for flavored fizzy water.
Zero Toxins for Your Zero Waste Kitchen
A zero waste kitchen is also one that’s free of toxins and chemicals that could be harmful to you and your family.
I’ve devoted an entire post to “green cleaning” that includes resources and my green products picks. Consider swapping cleaning products that contain potentially harmful chemicals and replace them with natural alternatives or practices.
Keep Food Waste at a Minimum
Did you know that food waste is one of the leading contributors of climate change? Surprising, but true. In fact, nearly 40% of food in this country ends up wasted.
One way to prevent food waste from ending up in landfills is to “recycle” into nutrient rich compost through food recycling programs. There are a number of ways to compost, including backyard, community composting and participating in an organics recycling service. Read more in my recent post about food waste.
A lot of resources are used to produce and distribute food. Reduce food waste by storing and repurposing leftovers into new meals.
Read more here for food storage and freezing guidelines, including meal ideas using leftovers.
Stock Up On Zero Waste Shopping Gear
Stock your zero waste kitchen with reusable shopping gear to avoid waste on the go. Plan ahead with a shopping list and menu so you reduce duplicating food items.
- Shopping tote. Chico’s collapsible shopping tote packs up small and includes a handy carabiner clip.
- Tote or lunch bag. Baggu totes have an attractive pattern to suit every taste.
- Large shopping bags. For those big shopping trips try Bee Green foldable bags.
- Net bags. Stoncel net bags, made from sturdy cotton, are made to last.
Produce Bags and Containers for Bulk Food
- Cloth. Simple Ecology’s organic cotton muslin bags come in a variety of sizes to suit every need.
- Net/Mesh. My ChicoBag Produce Stand mesh bags have lasted for years. Although a bit more delicate, I also like Earthwise mesh bags.
- Glass containers and jars in assorted sizes for the bulk food section.
When You Buy, Buy Durable Items
Look for products that are made with durable materials (stainless steel, wood, glass) that last, and avoid poorly made, single-use items.
Keep At It!
Are you still reaching for the plastic baggies at the supermarket, or ordering that wildly impractical but oh-so-tempting truffle shaver, designed to slice white and black truffles?
Don’t beat yourself up! It’s an ongoing process that I too need to work at, and guilt is a paralyzing emotion. The key is to recognize the goal of a zero waste kitchen, understand why it’s important, and work towards it!