How to Cook Up a Zero Waste Kitchen

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

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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.

Food Storage

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 favorites:

  • Wean Green & Pyrex glass storage containers
  • Jars (save more $$$ by cleaning jars and lids to use as storage containers!)
  • Reusable snack bags take the place of their plastic counterparts (and are much cuter)
  • Planetbox and other stainless, reusable lunch containers

You can even purchase devices for your fridge that can help extend the live of produce. I’ve been using a BerryBreeze (an O3 gadget) for the past few months and have found that it definitely reduces the waste from fruits and veggies that have gone moldy.

What to Do With “Waste”

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

Composting, Image courtesy of Kirsty Hall

The first tip I have is to 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.

The next step is to 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. This type of waste may not be entirely avoidable, but there is certainly room to reduce.

Shopping bulk foods, local farmers, and markets are all great ways to shop without 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.
  • Jars are easy to save: glass jars are great for fridge food storage and plastic jars are great for sorting craft supplies, small tools and building supplies, etc.
  • Find more great ideas on my ReUse Pinterest Board!

Last but not least, compost or recycle anything that can’t possible be used. Reusing is ideal, so you may even consider Freecycling items that are usable, but that you may not use yourself.

Clean Up

Clean up 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 and 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 non-toxic 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.

Shopping Trips

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

Reusable Produce Bags, Image courtesy of Kate Fisher

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 by simply bringing your own bags. Plastic or paper? No thanks, I brought my own! You can even buy your own produce bags. Within a few trips it’ll 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.

Next up is planning. Stores spend a lot of time and money tailoring their stores 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, but you can save even more by taking the time to create a meal plan. Even a flexible one 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.

One great way to cut down on costs and packaging is to ditch the store-bought beverages. Water is cheap and you can buy a filter affordably 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 the 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.

What are your favorite ways to reduce waste in the kitchen?

Great tips for creating a zero waste kitchenFeature image courtesy of Ella’s Kitchen Company Limited

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Amanda Hearn

Best known as the voice behind The Eco Friendly Family blog, where I've been writing since 2009, about topics like parenting, cloth diapers, non-toxic menstrual care, chemical safety, & healthy living. I've also been part of the team behind Green Child Magazine since 2012. My family inspires my passion to be involved in the movement towards intuitive living, and all that it encompasses.

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