We started the process of going zero waste a while ago now. Since then, we’ve been gathering momentum and motivation… We’ve already covered the zero waste bathroom, but we figured it was time to write down our secret family recipe for a zero waste kitchen.
First, as a reminder, zero waste is a lifestyle that seeks to use products that can be reused or composed instead of just thrown away. We know the term zero waste can sound a bit intimidating. It gets used a lot, but it’s important to remember that it really is a term best not taken *entirely* literally. Going zero waste doesn’t necessarily mean you will generate literally no waste at all. Our environmental footprint is a lot more complex than that.
Just know that zero waste is really nothing more magical than simply trying to live less wastefully, one small step at a time. That’s why we believe zero waste is for everyone! So let’s get cooking and plate up some delicious zero waste swops to make your kitchen a less wasteful space.
This is an important one, and in fact is probably the easiest way to reduce the bulk of your kitchen waste. As far as dry goods go, you can find anything and everything in bulk, (like spices, coffee, granola, dried fruit, nuts, baking supplies, and so much more.
How does bulk work? Bulk food is simply that not sold in plastic bags (but don’t be tempted by the little plastic baggies hanging next to the bulk canisters; that would defeat the point!). Instead bring your own jar or other zero waste container, fill it up, write down the number of the product, and check out as normal. You’ll be charged by weight of the product. Just make sure you’ve weighed your container so the cashier can deduct the weight from the total.
Most large grocery store chains now include some sort of a bulk section, ranging from pitiful to plentiful. Luckily, more (and better!) bulk stores, like Whole Foods, are popping up worldwide. You can also use this fantastic Bulk Finder resource from Zero Waste Home, available online or as an app! If you live in Melbourne, our friends at Reusable Nation have a thorough localized map.
Produce can be tricky because even if you bring your own reusable produce bags, they’ll often be either wrapped in plastic or contain rubber bands and stickers.
The best way to go truly zero waste (and typically organic, too) about produce is to buy from farmers markets or market gardens. We either get our groceries from the farmers market or from local producers via an online service (delivered in boxes) to ensure it’s plastic free! For any shopping adventure, of course, don’t forgot to bring along your reusable grocery bags!
Start collecting jars (lots and lots of jars!) or really any sort of glass or metal container (tin coffee cans work well, too). Soon you’ll be putting anything and everything in them. For instance, maybe you have a nice sentimental bottle of wine from your wedding; give it use as an olive oil container! Use your imagination.
Zero waste food containers can be pretty much anything!
You can use these to not only buy and store bulk goodies, but to store prepped food and leftovers.
As with food storage, there are tons of zero waste containers to take your food in the go. We love our stainless steel containers, and there are tons to glass options out there too. Again, even just jars (have you checked out how many delicious mason jar recipes are out there?!).
For slimmer packing, some other really great zero waste swops you can make are:
- Beeswax or vegan carnauba wax food wraps instead of Saran and foil.
- Reusable sandwich bags and snack bags (ideally organic cotton) instead of ziplock baggies.
- Reusable cloth napkin instead of paper ones.
- Bamboo utensil kit (with stainless steel straw) instead of disposable plastics.
That said, don’t just trash your Tupperware. We still use plenty of our old Tupperware since we believe the best way to reduce waste is to always use what you have (whatever it may be) before buying something new. When you’re ready to retire old pieces, check whether they’re recyclable and where you can, replace with non-plastic.
Food scraps account for a huge percentage of national landfill waste. According to the 2015 EPA Study on Municipal Solid Waste, about 16.5% of ALL waste in landfills is just food. So much unnecessary waste for something so easily compostable and put to far better use than methane production.
Many food scraps can actually serve another purpose. For instance, place the scrap end of onions, leeks, spring onions and bulbs in a tray of shallow water to regrow them (or replant the scrap ends into the garden!). so many vegetable scraps can be used up to make Vegetable stock (here’s a great recipe) Keep old fruit and orange peels for soaking in vinegar and making into your own citrus scented cleaning agent or dry them to make potpourri. The possibilities are endless!
Anything you can’t use, compost! Composting is an excellent way to reduce your home’s footprint.
With the vast number of compact composters out there, you don’t even need large living space or a backyard to do it! There are all sorts of kitchen composters, with different price tags and levels of maintenance. You can choose from Bokashi bins, vermicomposters, high tech composters, and more. Check out our indoor composter article for help choosing the best one for you.
If you have your own outdoor compost bin or access to community composting, you can just collect food scraps in any spare container you have lying around or if you want to get fancy, something like this stainless steel collector bin which block odors while food starts to break down but doesn’t actually compost it. We usually just use a large old plastic container and throw it in the dishwasher for cleaning but if you really feel the need to use bin liners, make sure you use liners that are compostable in HOME composting systems as so many “biodegradable” and “compostable” bags out there only break down in industrial facilities. A good option is Unni’s plant starch bags which are certified as home compostable.
For you over caffeinated coffee addicts out there, time to toss the coffee pods! Turn that vice into a virtue by making zero waste coffee. Start by buying your coffee in bulk. You can typically either grind right there at the store (we tried 3 stores before we found one with a grinder so it may take a bit of perseverance) or do it yourself at home for an ultra-fresh brew – guaranteed maximum deliciousness!
To make the coffee itself, you can either use a glass/stainless steel french press, or an Italian Bialetti stovetop espresso maker like us. We personally LOVE the Bialetti, we’ve been using for years and love the routine of making it on the stove, is a special little morning routine!
Once you’re finished, just toss the grounds into your compost bin or even directly in soil as a pH neutral fertilizer and natural pesticide. Worms love coffee grounds too!
Then for those mornings when you’ve hit the snooze on your alarm one too many times, prep your coffee at home then take it to go in a reusable insulated container. We alternative between a small Hydroflask, a Frank Green Stainless Steel Flask and a Keep Cup.
P.S. Frank Green is actually an awesomely sustainable company that is making reusables cool, reusing their own waste to make other products and building sustainability into their operations (e.g. they use green energy and our favorite Who Gives A Crap recycled toilet paper). We recently interviewed their found Ben Young to learn more about their company – listen to the full episode.
If you prefer a good ol’ cuppa tea to a morning brew, many of the same rules above apply. Buy your loose leaf tea in bulk (they’ve usually got ton of herb and flavor combos) and store it a simple jar.
When tea time rolls around, boil your water with a stainless steel stovetop kettle. It’ll last you forever, looks way sleeker than most electric kettles, eliminates any concern about plastic leakage into your water and of course, e-waste at the end of the kettle’s life. We wish we knew all this before we bought our current electric kettle – once it dies, we will be replacing it with a stainless steel one!
Then just steep the tea in a classic stainless steel infuser (we use this one) and, again, compost the tea leaves once you’re done!
Just because you’ve gone zero waste and avoid plastic-bottled chemical-ridden household cleaners, doesn’t mean you can’t keep your kitchen sparkly clean. To wash dishes, ditch the plastic bottle and switch to zero waste bulk soap. Liquid dish soap can be bought in bulk at many bulk stores.
Pair this with a plastic free sponge that’s compostable and washable.
For stubborn, stuck-on food grab a reusable bamboo pot scrubber brush (that can be broken down when it does finally start getting gross) or just a simple course loofah. Fun fact: Loofahs are actually a vegetable and thus 100% natural and compostable (just check that you’re buying a 100% loofah instead of something with plastic added).
If you have a dishwasher, you can actually get dishwashing powders or even tabs from bulk stores! Sometimes they leave something to be desired (along with bits of crusted food…); we learned this when we experimented with the dishwashing tabs from our local bulk store.
Instead, we switched to the next best thing: Ecostore dishwasher tabs. Not only are they high on our list as far as ethical brands go, these Environmental Choice-approved tabs break down food through biodegradable enzymes, meaning they dissolve entirely, including the packaging. They also come in a cardboard box which can be composted or recycled easily.
Lastly, to keep countertops clean and bacteria free with a simple, all-purpose zero waste cleaner you can make out of just vinegar diluted with water. Vinegar can be tough to find in bulk so if not, consider just using another bulk all-purpose cleaner found at your bulk store.
Recycling statistics are extremely grim, we know. While ‘zero waste’ living strives to go beyond basic recycling, sometimes it’s inevitable. This is especially true in the kitchen considering it’s nearly impossible to buy only food that’s purely zero waste. Just do the best you can and be responsible about the rest. Rather recycle than not.
Be sure to check your local council guidelines about proper recycling procedure for your area. Learn what things can and can’t be recycled, sort it properly, and cleanse food out the recycled container (food contamination ruins whole recycling batches!).
You will be so surprised about what can actually be recycled – for example, we can recycle soft plastics at our local supermarket and our council has a recycling facility where we can take polystyrene, batteries, lightbulbs, electronic waste and metals (like old cooking pots) – so before you chuck it in the trash, be sure to check if there is a path that avoids landfill first!
We know, we know: Bed, Bath, and Beyond (and similar stores) are so much fun. Yet most of their nifty kitchen gadgets are completely unnecessary. They’re engineered to make super specific tasks only slightly easier! Don’t fall for the gimmick and buy things you don’t need. Seriously: you do really need a dipper for your cookies?!
Use what you have instead and wait until it really dies before replacing it. We highly recommend adopt a minimalist mentality. We call this the slow tech philosophy, which basically boils down to the simple rule of thumb: if you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you do buy it, make it worth it and make it last.
Plus, nothing makes a kitchen look more cookworthy than a clean, minimalist appearance.
You may have noticed many of things on this list are also found in our zero waste kit and that’s no coincidence. Creating a zero waste kitchen is a pretty seamless integration with basic zero waste principals as it really does seem to be the center of waste within most households!
Now we’re not saying this is the perfect recipe to a zero waste kitchen, but we think it tastes pretty darn good. So channel your inner Chef Gordon Ramsay and tell waste to “F*?# off out of my kitchen”. You’re the master chef of your own zero waste journey, after all.
We hope this guide will help get you one bite closer to that sustainability soufflé you’ve been dreaming of. Let us know if this is useful or if you have an amazing tip to share that we should add to this list!
We love to hear your comments, questions, tips, recipes, whatever! Drop us a comment or message us.