Plastic bags, plastic bottles, food scraps, and kitchen waste are just some of the not-so-good things that come out of the kitchen. Your kitchen as it is now may actually be a nightmare if you’re trying to live a low or zero waste life.
The good news is that creating a zero waste kitchen isn’t as difficult as you might think. With a few changes, your kitchen will generate less waste and become a better haven for a zero waste enthusiast like you.
The following are some of our most loved zero waste tips, some of which were incredibly useful for when we transitioned into a plastic-free and zero waste kitchen.
Is A Zero Waste Kitchen Necessary?
We do not want to sound dramatic. However, it is crucial to understand that plastic pollution is getting worse by the day, and we have a part to play. Although plenty of pollution also comes from the industrial sector, we cannot deny that the level of consumption in the modern age has exacerbated our pervasive plastic problem.
Did you know, for example, that (1):
- One in four fish tested contain plastic? In addition to killing marine life, this means plastic re-enters the food chain (and our stomach).
- By 2050, there will likely be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
- Nearly all plastic ever created still exists today, in one form or another.
- Every minute, the equivalent of a truck full of plastic is tossed into the oceans.
- Plastics have been linked with health issues such as cancer, impaired immunity, and endocrine disruption.
And it isn’t just plastic either! Our kitchens generate plenty of waste like bones, scraps, loose fruits and veggies gone bad, and many other non-plastic forms of waste.
Humans, by nature, consume—that much is true. But we can do it responsibly. Simple switches like using a reusable water bottle and filtered tap water, using castile soap as your main dish soap, using loose leaf tea, among others, are easy, cost-effective replacements that even save money in the long run!
So, while a zero waste kitchen isn’t necessary per se, it is a tremendous help.
Smart Food Shopping
Among all things in your kitchen, food is the first thing you can start changing in your journey towards a zero waste lifestyle. Food is something you consume regularly, making it a fantastic starting point for your zero waste kitchen.
Let’s break it down into a couple of categories:
It’s no secret that packaging is a terrible zero waste offender. According to the EPA, more than 28% of the total municipal waste generated in 2018 was due to packaging alone . Many of the food items we can buy in the grocery are wrapped in plastic waste, and more often than not, the packaging isn’t value-adding to what we buy.
Cutting out packaging from your grocery runs can be as simple as switching plastic bags for more sustainable packaging like cotton bags. We recommend getting organic cotton totes as those generally have a lesser environmental impact than conventionally made cotton ones.
If you have access to one, a farmer’s market is also better to buy your produce and other food necessities. They typically use less packaging and provide better goods overall. Plus, you get to support local farmers directly.
However, if the closest one is an hour’s drive from where you live, then it might not be worth it to do regular food shopping runs from a farmers market. Remember, waste and emissions go hand in hand in building a zero waste life, so it’s crucial to consider other factors as well.
And it isn’t just reusable bags, either! You can also bring glass jars, lunch boxes, Tupperware, and whatever you can think of! It might seem a bit odd in the beginning, but bringing your containers is pretty doable in most scenarios.
Buy In Bulk
Buying from your local bulk store or the bulk section is also an intelligent way to shop for food. It allows you to buy food without much of the packaging associated with smaller portions.
This way, you can stay aligned with the principles of zero waste living while also saving money!
As the next section will illustrate, there’s no tradeoff to buying in bulk, provided it is done mindfully.
Buy Only What You Need
One of the pitfalls of buying in bulk is that you might generate a lot of unnecessary food waste. Sometimes, you can’t keep up with your pantry, and something spoils or goes bad before you get to it.
Carefully plotting and determining what food you can consume in a given amount of time is crucial to zero waste. It might also be good to do a few meals every week with a few odds and ends in your kitchen. This way, you’ll easily spot if something is about to go bad.
If you have trouble buying the right amounts of food, meal prepping could work wonders for you! Create a list of meals you want to make in the week and prepare them ahead of time. This should allow you to determine better what you need to buy and what you can get from your kitchen.
Here’s our guide to zero waste meal prepping if you need a quick primer.
Responsible Food Storage
After buying food, of course, you would have to store it. While it might be tempting to use disposable plastic containers and Ziploc bags to store leftovers, there are countless other ways to organize your kitchen necessities without any waste.
The key here is to utilize your reusable containers.
If you target a Zero Waste Pantry, there is no need to buy fancy and similar glass jars. Reuse glass jars you already have at home to organize the space according to your habits and needs. These jars are useful for storing dry goods from the bulk bins like pasta, rice, and even your zero waste coffee grounds or tea leaves!
For a better aesthetic quality, using transparent jars is your best bet. It will make you more aware of what food you currently have and thus reduce the amount of food you’re likely to throw away due to spoilage. This tip isn’t applicable to products that might be affected by the sun like your coffee beans.
You can also replace plastic wrap with beeswax wraps. There is no need for unnecessary waste generated by cling wrap or aluminum foil when you can easily make some wraps yourself. You can buy a few of these beeswax wraps from the store, or you could avoid packaging and make them at home!
We have a detailed guide here, but the gist is just sealing some cotton in beeswax to make them more resistant to liquids.
Your Waste As An Asset
Food scraps don’t have to be a bad thing. As much as we’d like to optimize our food storage and shopping, there will always be food scraps like bones, stems, stalks, and other food-related scraps.
Some may come from the cooking process, while some may be leftovers from the dinner table.
Whatever the case is, there’s probably something you can do about it. For instance, those vegetable scraps you’ve been throwing out could actually be used for excellent vegetable stock!
You can collect a week’s worth of vegetable ends in a freezer-safe container and boil them together during the weekend to create the perfect broth.
After you’re done, you can chuck them into the compost bin.
Composting is an excellent way to get rid of your food waste. It acts as a natural fertilizer, so it’s a perfect option for people who have backyards or some garden space.
But if you live in the city and don’t have access to a vast space, it’s not an issue. There are many compost bins made explicitly for use in apartments or condominiums.
The best part about composting is that it isn’t limited to food! You can also include any compostable materials in there, including small clothing items! Even deodorants are entirely zero waste with packaging you can compost.
Minimalism In Your Kitchen
Many kitchen items you use regularly are ones you can buy for life. When making the switch to zero waste, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that everything must be plastic-free or that no plastic packaging must exist anywhere.
This leads many of us to go and fall into the trap of overconsumption—buying just about everything zero waste we can get our hands-on. But that’s not how we reduce waste at all!
While you are at the beginning of going zero waste, use up all you can. Use those extra paper towels and paper napkins (and dispose or compost accordingly), drink that plastic bottle of water (if there are any left), and so on.
If you aren’t comfortable using them anymore, donate them instead of throwing them away.
The same goes for jars. If you’re building a zero waste kitchen, you might have received numerous recommendations for Weck jars or stainless steel lunchboxes, which are outstanding items! But if you already have glass jars or wine bottles at home, use those instead.
Once you are comfortable with how your kitchen looks and feels, buying new kitchen gadgets and little knick-knacks is the next hurdle.
Trust us; you don’t have to. Unless you’re sure you’re going to use it regularly, it’s better to stick to the basics and borrow special-use items from friends who have them.
For example, you might not need that sophisticated espresso machine when a french press could work just as well for you. You might also not need an air fryer since most meals you cook don’t need it. There are tons of other items like this that serve niche purposes that you might not enjoy after all.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy anything new at all! The point here is to evaluate your needs and purchases constantly. Make sure they add value to your kitchen life, even if it’s just decor.
Here are some great ideas for keeping your kitchen eco friendly and minimal:
- Start by listing and ordering what you have in your kitchen.
- Consider donating duplicates and items you have not used AT ALL for the last year or so.
- Reorganize your kitchen in a way that food, cans, utensils, and the like are visible and bulked per category (either color, purpose, type, or when you need it during the day).
- Think of how you could reuse or upcycle particular objects; for example, mason jars can be used as a container for laundry detergent or your dish soap. Bonus: Some mason jar toppers work as soap dispensers.
Zero Waste Cleaning
Of course, let’s not forget about one of the essential parts of maintaining a kitchen: keeping it clean.
Many of us might fall into the trap of buying different cleaning products packaged in plastic bottles and not using good alternatives to thrash bags, but cleaning is not that complicated!
The standard zero waste solution to cleaning solvents is pure castile soap as an overall cleaning formula. Use it for your hands, for your dishes, and in other areas of the kitchen that might need scrubbing.
You can buy any brand of castile soap, but the most popular one is Dr. Bronner’s. Their products come in a variety of sizes which are still (unfortunately) made from plastic.
However, if you are able, we would highly recommend purchasing a large container and then repurposing it for some other household activity.
Castile soap is also highly concentrated and saves money in the long run. While it might be a bit costly to buy such a huge bottle upfront, it’s an excellent investment to keep your zero waste home in tip-top shape.
We are big fans of natural dish brushes (ideally, with replaceable heads) and washable rags. Once your old plastic dish brush wears out, replace it with a zero waste dish brush alternative.
Replacing paper towels and cleaning brushes was one of the first zero waste kitchen swaps we ever made!
Paper towels seem to be a mainstay in any North American household, and life might seem unimaginable without them. But in reality, it’s completely okay to use cloth napkins and reusable rags for cleaning your zero waste kitchen.
And once your napkins reach the end of their life, you can move them to more heavy-duty uses like deep cleaning. For cleaning rags, you don’t even have to buy new ones! You can easily repurpose some of your old socks and use them to wipe down grimy corners or hard-to-reach areas.
Here is a more in-depth guide on zero waste cleaning tools and materials.
Starting a zero waste kitchen is a daunting task for anyone. By being part of the zero waste movement, you have to make certain adjustments, whether with household waste or food packaging, among many others.
But it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. The zero waste journey takes time.
You can’t just uproot your entire kitchen and replace everything with zero waste kitchen swaps and ditch everything else! Doing so would completely undermine the good you’re trying to do.
Instead, take it slow. Replace items as they wear out, find what to do with your food waste, and slowly adjust your habits to align with zero waste shopping.