If your family is anything like ours, the kitchen is easily the most used room in the house. With three children, a dog, and two adults to care for, the waste can really pile up if we let it.
For our family, part of living a more conscious lifestyle is taking a look at the everyday things in our lives and becoming aware of their values and shortcomings — and looking for ways to make them better for living and better for our communities and world.
These are a few of the tips we use to not only reduce our waste but also simplify our lives and feel better in the process.
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Plastic storage is not only wasteful, it’s unhealthy. Single-use baggies go straight into the trash, and even the “best” of plastic storage bins will eventually wear out, discolor, break, or warp — ultimately ending up in a landfill.
Switching to reusable containers offers a variety of benefits. While the costs to get started can be more, the investment will pay off in the long run, and glass bowls are especially versatile. We use ours for mixing, cooking, and storage.
Below are a few of our favorite reusables for your zero-waste kitchen:
- Wean Green and Pyrex glass storage containers
- Jars (save money by cleaning used food jars and lids to use as storage containers!)
- Reusable snack bags take the place of their plastic counterparts
- Planetbox and other stainless, reusable lunch containers
You can even purchase devices for your fridge that can help extend the life of produce. I’ve been using a BerryBreeze (an activated oxygen gadget) for the past few months and have found that it definitely keeps fruits and veggies fresh longer, helping reduce food waste.
What to Do With “Waste”
My first tip: Buy only what you need. This seems like a no-brainer, but keeping impulse purchases to a minimum will reduce potential waste, and it’ll be much kinder to your budget too.
Next, try to buy products with little to no packaging, and choose something that can be reused or recycled if no packaging isn’t an option. Packaging waste may not be entirely avoidable, but always consider what you’ll do with the packaging before you purchase an item.
Shopping bulk foods, local farmers, and markets are all great ways to help you avoid packaging. Be sure to bring your own egg cartons, berry containers, etc.
Some ideas for reusing packaging:
- Yogurt (and other) containers can be used to sprout seeds, grow an herb garden, and more.
- Reuse glass jars for fridge food storage and plastic jars for storing craft supplies, small tools, nails and screws, and more
- Find more great ideas on my ReUse Pinterest board!
Last but not least, compost or recycle anything that can’t possibly be used. Reusing is ideal, so you may consider Freecycling items that you no longer use but are still in usable condition.
Cleanup starts with the obvious — ditch the single-use paper items! Cloth napkins, rags, and “unpaper towels” will get the job done better and without the constant need to buy more.
I bought about three dozen cheap washcloths from a big box store for a few dollars per dozen. I’ve been using the same cloths to clean with for about five years now. I’m much happier with cloth, as they really do grab better and they don’t leave behind paper fibers.
Cloth napkins are another easy change. You can easily buy some, but making them is pretty easy too. I used some fabric I had been given, but you could easily use old dress shirts or blouses.
Cleaning supplies are a big way to reduce the amount of packaging coming in, and the amount of money going out. A bottle of truly nontoxic cleaner could cost upwards for $4 per bottle. You can buy a gallon of vinegar for less than that and it will refill a bottle (50/50 with water) many times over. Add in your favorite essential oils for some extra cleaning power, or for a friendly scent.
Plan Before You Shop
Stores spend a lot of time and money organizing their aisles to keep you there longer, which generally leads to you spending more money. All of this can be avoided by knowing what you need.
Keeping a good grocery list is a great place to start. And you can save even more by taking the time to create a meal plan or use a meal-planning app. Even a flexible plan will result in big savings. You’ll find that you spend less time in the store, less money on things you don’t need, and you’ll also have fewer trips to the store. As a bonus, you’ll be less inclined to order dinner or eat out because you’ll be more likely to have the items you need to create a meal.
Reduce Packaging Waste
Did you know there’s a growing number of zero-waste grocery stores around the world? I had no idea. Hopefully one will open up near my home soon.
When shopping, you can eliminate a big source of waste simply by bringing your own shopping bags. Plastic or paper? No thanks, I brought my own! You can even buy your own reusable produce bags. Within a few trips using them will be second nature, and if you forget them, buy a new one. You’ll learn quickly and you can never have too many reusable bags.
Another great way to cut down on costs and packaging is to ditch store-bought beverages. Water is cheap and you can buy an affordable filter these days if that’s of concern to you. If you prefer flavors, that’s easy too. Infused water is delicious, and adding things like lemon may even have some great health effects.
For coffee and tea lovers like myself, coffee grounds and tea leaves are perfect for composting. And even if you like the ease of a single cup brewer, there are stainless steel reusable cups. I adore my EkoBrew, and I feel much better knowing that I’m not creating additional waste, and my coffee isn’t brewed in plastic.
While these tips might not entirely eliminate waste, every step will get you closer, and that’s something you can feel good about. Bonus: Start-up costs aside, all of these tips can lead to big savings.
Editor’s note: Originally published on May 19, 2016, this article was updated in January 2020.
Feature image courtesy of Ella’s Kitchen Company Limited