Today I’m sharing with you the methods I’ve found most useful and manageable to keep the impact of my kitchen + cooking as zero waste as possible. If you’re unfamiliar with zero waste, it basically means reducing the amount of garbage you create, replacing disposable items with re-usable ones, and having recycling and the garbage can as a last-resort. Everything outlined here is easy, approachable, and doesn’t require a ton of extra effort or work, but it *does* make a huge difference in the environmental footprint we’re leaving behind with each meal we prepare.
As increasing amounts of environmental rollbacks are put into place, it’s more important than ever that we all do our part to help minimize waste in our own homes. Not only is it beneficial to the earth, but it’s also really cost-effective, too! Some of the things I’m talking about below involve an initial investment (like beeswrap) but they take the place of disposable items and save you the cost of investing in those materials over and over again. And changing the way you shop and taking advantage of the bulk section is waaaaay more cost-effective than buying pre-packaged ingredients, too. So, let’s dive in to this zero waste kitchen guide!
#1 Swap Your Disposable Plastic Produce Bag For a Reusable Cotton One
You know the plastic bags that are all over the produce section of every grocery store? Well, even the “biodegradable” ones don’t really break down unless you’re composting at home instead of throwing them in the trash, and even then it takes a very, very long time. Plastic bags are one of the worst pollutants in the ocean, and often end up being tangled around sea creatures or accidentally ingested.
Long story short—plastic bags suck and you should avoid using them at all costs. There are two options I’d recommend as an alternative. My top recommendation is to use these super affordable and super strong cotton mesh produce bags when you’re grocery shopping. I always keep one or two in my purse so that I have it handy when I stop by the store. They have a drawstring at the top to keep everything nice and secured inside, and I’ve weighed them down with heavy giant sweet potatoes and they haven’t shown any signs of breakage. You can also make your own, too, if you’re crafty, and my friend Chloe has an awesome guide to making them on her blog.
The second option is to use paper bags. Often times there will be paper bags by the mushrooms in the produce department, so just grab those and use them for all the other produce you’re shopping for. The same goes when you’re checking out at the register—ALWAYS use paper bags or a re-usable bag you’ve brought. Again, avoid plastic bags like the environmental plague they are.
#2 Use Beeswrap Instead of Plastic Wrap
Beeswho? Beeswrap! It’s a piece of cloth that is coated in a light layer of natural beeswax on both sides, and clings to dishes and foods the way plastic wrap does, except that beeswrap is infinitely re-usable! Seriously, this stuff is AMAZING and a total kitchen game-changer. To wash it, just rinse it in some warm soapy water by hand and hang on a towel rack to dry (don’t use really hot water, though, because it can melt off the wax).
Each sheet of beeswrap lasts about 6 months to a year before the wax wears off (depending on how heavily you use it), at which point you can either compost it or re-wax it yourself and use it over and over again (Conscious by Chloe has an awesome guide on re-waxing/making your own re-usable food wrap here!) If you get beeswrap, though, I recommend the one with the button and the string, since it makes it easier to get a really tight and secure fitting over the dish (you can also just pop on a button and some twine yourself, too). Beeswrap is a must-have for any zero waste kitchen.
#3 Buy in Bulk
GUYS. Bulk shopping is the besssttttttt. You get to purchase the exact amount you need of an ingredient, and it’s always much cheaper than the pre-packaged counterparts. More and more grocery stores are expanding their bulk sections, and you can shop for pretty much any dry ingredient there, from rice to beans to nuts to dried fruit to granola to flour to sugar…the bulk section has it all! The bulk section at some natural food stores also has bulk dish soap and laundry soap available, too, which is great because it eliminates the plastic packaging these cleaners usually come in.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If it’s not in a container already…then how do I contain it? I recommend using mason jars. Just weigh the jar beforehand and write the weight on a piece of tape on the bottom of the jar, that way you’ll always know the weight and the cashier can easily deduct the weight of the container from the weight of the purchased item at checkout. Super simple!
#4 Use Glass Food Storage Containers
Many plastic contains compounds called endocrine disruptors, whose chemical make-up is very similar to the hormones we have in our body. As a result, when these compounds make their way into our bodies, we start utilizing them like the hormones they ‘look’ like, which then wreaks all sorts of havoc in our reproductive systems. Endocrine disruptors leech into food and drinks through plastic, especially when the plastic undergoes an intense temperature shift, like a hot cup of coffee in a plastic to-go mug.
For the safety or your household, it’s a good investment to avoid purchasing plastic food containers and instead shift towards glass and metal containers. Things like metal tiffin containers are great for lunches, mason jars are perfect for storing ingredients purchased when bulk shopping, and also for leftovers. For more stackable leftover storage options, these glass ‘tupperware’ are awesome for storing leftovers within minimal amounts of plastic involved (the lid is plastic but doesn’t touch the food unless you go overboard and overfill the container.
#5 Re-Use Your Resealable Plastic Bags (They Are NOT Single Use!)
I have ranted and raved against using plastic bags, but if you have kids that you pack lunches for and really, realllly like using ziplock bags for those, then I have a proposal for you. Have your kids keep the ziplock bags in their lunch bag, and then you can re-use them. Just rinse them in some soapy room temperature water, stand them up on a towel or clip them up to dry. Once the outside is dry, turn them inside out for the ‘interior’ to dry, too. It’s super easy, saves you the cost of buying more of them, and saves 30 plastic bags from going in the landfill each month.
#6 Compost with Your City
More and more large cities are allowing residents to put their compostable food items in their city’s yard waste bin. Definitely check with your city’s policies to see if this is something you can do, or push them to begin allowing it. If you’d like to take charge yourself and save money on compost for your garden, then than you have a few awesome options!
If you live in a small space and want something compact with no smell, I highly recommend worm bin composting. We have a big worm bin outside and it’s a great way to put any non-meat or dairy products to environmentally sound use. The worm will eat any sort of vegetable or fruit scraps, old bread, stale rice…just avoid putting any acidic items like citrus in there, or anything really oily. Also, only organic items can go in the worm bin, since anything with pesticides on it might kill the worms.
If you have a bit more space and you don’t want to do a worm bin, then placing a compost tumbler in a sunny spot is a great solution. We also have one of these for items we don’t put in the worm bin (or when the worm bin is too full), and it works great. To speed up the composting process, turn it the tumbler over once a week.
#7 For the Love of God Don’t Wish-Cycle
I was guilty of this for a long time until I understood the impact of what I was doing. Let me start by saying that not everything with a recycle label on the bottom is actually recyclable. What is TRULY recyclable changes depending on your city, so look up your city’s recycling policies to see what recycling codes/objects it accepts. Write down a list of the things that are actually recyclable (whether it’s the recycling category number or the type of container) and tape the list above your recycling bin or on the inside cabinet door of where your recycling bin is stored.
Only put objects in the recycling bin that are actually recyclable in your city. If you put objects in there that aren’t, then the recycling facility will find them and throw away your entire recycling bin into the trash because the recycling is compromised and they don’t have the time to sort out all your non-recyclable items. Yep, by wish-cycling, you’re actually just causing all of your recycling to go straight into the garbage. Just because something has a recycling label doesn’t mean its recyclable in your town, so check in on your city’s policies. More and more plastics aren’t being recycled anymore, either, which is another reason to ditch plastics altogether.
#8 Use Rags Instead of Paper Towels
Old t-shirts, towels, or even once-lovely-but-now-grungey kitchen towels can be made into rags that you can use to clean up messy spills that you might normally use paper towels for. These rags can be washed and reused for years until they disintegrate, and since they’re rags you won’t feel bad about using them to mop up stain-inducing splotches like spaghetti sauce, red wine, or coffee.
For more zero waste guides + tips, I highly recommend checking out my friend Consciously Chloe’s blog, she is the zero waste kitchen queen and a wealth of information about the subject.
Also, this is not sponsored and has no affiliate links or anything like that, I just genuinely love all the stuff I linked to and really want you guys to get your zero waste kitchen groove-on! 😀