11 Step Recipe For A Perfect Zero Waste Kitchen
Have you ever found yourself looking at a pile of plastic bags and empty cardboard boxes after a run to the grocery store, wondering, “How can I go waste free in the kitchen?”
Luckily for you, we decided it was time to share our secret family recipe for a zero waste kitchen.
But first, what is zero waste?
We know it sounds intimidating, but it’s important to remember that it really is best not taken *entirely* literally.
Being “zero waste” doesn’t mean you will generate no waste at all. Our environmental footprint is a lot more complex than that.
You might instead think of it as low waste living, because at its core, zero waste is nothing more magical than simply trying to live less wastefully, one small step (for man, one giant leap for mankind) at a time.
Without further ado, let’s get cooking and plate up 11 delicious zero waste kitchen swaps to teach you how to have a zero waste kitchen.
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The Full List Of Zero Waste Kitchen Tips
- Buy in bulk
- Store food in zero waste containers
- Prep to-go meals like a pro
- Switch to reusable utensils
- Stock up on reusable produce bags
- Get rolling with reusable paper towels
- Find a second use for food scraps
- Sustainably satisfy your caffeine fix
- Start a zero waste kitchen cleaning routine
- Add a pinch of recycling to your recipe
- Keep the kitchen minimal
1. Buy In Bulk
Wondering how to become plastic-free in the kitchen?
Simply stop buying it as much as possible.
Option for alternatives to plastic wrapped groceries and, in doing so, creating a zero waste panty is probably the easiest and most impactful way to reduce the bulk of your kitchen waste.
When it comes to dry goods, you can find anything and everything in bulk, like spices, coffee, granola, dried fruit, nuts, baking supplies, and so much more.
Bulk food is anything not sold in plastic packaging (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 reusable container to fill up on as much, or as little, of a product as you need. Make sure you know its “tare weight” (the weight of the container when empty) so the cashier can deduct that from the total.
Either way, you’ll likely find it’s cheaper to shop zero waste.
You’ll be charged by the weight of the product, meaning you’ll pay less for packaging and more for product.
Best of all, you probably don’t need to go out of your way for your bulk shopping needs.
Most large grocery store chains now include some degree of bulk offers, ranging from pitiful to plentiful, bolstered by an ever-increasing number of dedicated zero waste stores.
Sun & Swell Foods is one of our favorites, offering a comprehensive selection of dry pantry staples, sustainable snacks, and self and home care products—all locally-sourced, plant-based, organic, and free of sugars, preservatives, and artificial flavors.
Sun and Swell ships products right to your door in compostable bags or glass jars, meaning you won’t have to leave the comfort of your low waste kitchen.
A Note On Plastic-Free Produce
Not all bulk products are made equal.
Despite it often being wrapped in nature’s own form of packaging, zero waste produce can be notoriously tricky to find. It’s often still wrapped in unnecessary plastic, bound with rubber bands, and littered with annoying stickers.
If you want to take it a step further, you can support farmers who use organic or regenerative agriculture practices, or venture into the world of backyard or apartment gardening to begin growing your own.
2. Store Food In Zero Waste Containers
After you stock up on all your bulk goods, you’ll need plastic-free jars for food storage. A zero waste warrior is only as good as their weaponry.
Why plastic-free? What can’t you reuse plastic food containers you already have?
Because they may contain numerous chemicals (like phthalates) in them that can leach into food, making this one of the most important plastic-free kitchen swaps from a personal health perspective.
For old Tupperware you currently own, we encourage you to repurpose them or recycle them in other ways—like turning them into a planter or a countertop compost collector.
Glass jars are perhaps the most popular choice (not to mention a free one, since pretty much everyone can upcycle jars from foodstuffs). For example, maybe you have a nice sentimental bottle of wine from your wedding; give it a try as an olive oil container.
From silicone to stainless steel to bamboo, almost anything can work—and we’d be willing to bet you have a lot of it lying around the house or buried in your cupboards.
The only limit is your imagination.
3. Prep To-Go Meals Like A Pro
Home reusable food storage is just part of the low waste kitchen equation.
Using reusable containers for your to-go meals instead of single-use takeaway products (the third-largest category of ocean plastic pollution) can save lots of space in the ocean.
Like your zero waste home kitchen food storage solutions, an eco-friendly lunch box can consist of many materials, like stainless steel or bamboo.
Or again, go simple and hang to that empty jar of pasta sauce. Have you seen how many delicious mason jar recipes are out there?!
One of the easiest zero waste swaps is replacing single use plastic wrap with easy to use beeswax wraps or vegan wax wraps. They’re also easy to clean, and won’t end up choking some poor seabird at the end of their long usable life.
4. Make The Switch To Reusable Utensils
Adopting eco-friendly cutlery sets both in your zero waste home kitchen and on the go is one of the smallest and easiest changes you can make to start living more sustainably.
Over 40 billion plastic utensils are thrown away each year.
Plastic straws, spoons, forks, and knives end up being ingested by wildlife, who either have their internal organs punctured by the sharp plastic or who have a feeling of “fake fullness” and die from starvation.
Having a reusable cutlery kit is a great way to reduce your plastic output and thus, your harm to the environment and wildlife.
A bamboo utensil kit (and perhaps some bamboo cooking utensils) is an excellent choice because bamboo is natural, biodegradable, and has a lower carbon footprint due to the fact that bamboo plants sequester inordinate amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
5. Stock Up On Reusable Produce Bags
We’re all inhabited to reusable bags for our groceries, but how often do we forget those for produce?
Don’t let those tiny plastic bags in the produce aisle come in between you and a plastic-free life.
You can always just carry your loose fruits to the register as is, without any bag holding them (perhaps, the purest form of zero waste).
But we understand it can be a bit tricky to keep them organized and in place with this method. You don’t want to end up bruising your apples after a failed juggling session.
For that reason, there are plenty of options for reusable produce bags to add to your zero waste kitchen starter kit that work better than plastic bags.
They weigh practically nothing (so they won’t affect the weight at the register) and they haven’t been sitting out for anyone with anything on their hands to maul.
We recommend starting out with around five, so you don’t find yourself in a pinch at your local farmers market.
6. Get Rolling With Reusable Paper Towels
When it comes to pollution, paper products run neck and neck with plastic products—plastic products being Usain Bolt, paper products being Yohan Blake.
If you’re looking for zero waste kitchen supplies with the biggest potential to reduce waste daily, some paper and plastic-free kitchen wipes are it.
According to the EPA, Americans produce a whopping 3.8 million tons of tissue paper and paper towel waste in a given year.
And while you can compost paper towels (provided they’re not soiled in grease or cleaning products), they are not recyclable, meaning all those trees cut down for that sake of that one spill don’t even get to live on through a second life.
Fortunately, more zero waste kitchen towels and reusable paper towel alternatives are hitting the marketplace.
A super absorbent Swedish dishcloth, like those by Papaya Reusables, will give ShamWow a run for their money and, being made of plant-based cellulose, can compost after they’ve helped mop up the equivalent of 17 rolls of paper towels.
For large spills and cleaning efforts, you might want to keep a plastic-free kitchen sponge on hand, too, preferably a biodegradable eco-friendly sponge made of actual sustainably-harvested sea sponges or wood pulp.
7. Find A Second Use For Food Scraps
While there are many types of waste produced in the kitchen, a truly zero waste kitchen means, perhaps most importantly of all, a zero food waste kitchen.
Food waste accounts 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.
This is tragic not only because it’s necessary waste that’s otherwise compostable, but because when organic waste is left to decompose anaerobically (without oxygen) in landfills, it produces methane gas, a GHG 25 times more potent than CO2.
One of the primary rules in our waste-free kitchen handbook is to say no to food waste.
Using Food Scraps To Make Your Kitchen Zero Waste
Where there’s food waste, there’s almost always a way to repurpose it.
For instance, did you know that the scrap ends of onions, leeks, and spring onions can be put in water to be regrown into full sized stalks in just mere days?
Other vegetable scraps can easily be turned into a delicious vegetable stock to create an even more delicious vegetable soup. Just keep a container of scraps and peels in the freezer until you have enough to boil them into stock.
Don’t forget the fruit (of our scraps and especially of our efforts.)
Old fruit and orange peels can be soaked in vinegar to create eco-friendly cleaning products. Alternatively, use them to flavor kombucha you brew at home or create potassium-rich fertilizer out of banana peels by soaking them in water for a few days.
Reuse eggshells as plant seedling pots or even chalk.
We could go on and on about ways to reuse all your food scraps, but you get the point. Let’s scrap this conversation and move on.
Composting To Create A Zero Food Waste Kitchen
Composting repurposes organic kitchen waste into nutritious food for plants and will help the soil retain nutrients.
Start by rounding up a compost collector bin you can set on your counter to catch food scraps while you cook.
As mentioned earlier, old Tupperware makes for ideal compost collectors. Plus, they can just be periodically thrown in the dishwasher to clean instead of needing compostable liner bags.
If you prefer to use biodegradable and compostable trash bag liners, make sure they are certified as compostable in home composting systems (like Biobag) since many bags only break down in industrial facilities.
Better, yet, use brown paper bags.
When it comes to actually composting, you’ll need some form of outdoor or indoor compost bin. They come in many shapes, sizes, and types: indoor and outdoor, stationary and tumbling, with worms and without, manual and electric, the list goes on.
If you’re still on the fence about composting yourself, look into community resources, like municipal composting programs or community gardens that will happily turn your food scraps into fresh produce. Chicken owners will also often take donated food waste to feed their flock.
8. Sustainably Satisfy Your Caffeine Fix
Zero Waste Coffee
Before you panic, going plastic-free in the kitchen doesn’t mean you have to give up coffee completely (phew).
It just means it’s time to toss the coffee pods—even the man who invented them wishes he hadn’t—and turn that vice into a virtue.
The first step to making zero waste coffee goes all the way back to buying in bulk. You can typically grind bulk beans right there in store or grind them at home for an ultra-fresh brew. A manual crank grinder will help you conserve energy at home, too.
Once you’re finished brewing, toss the grounds into your compost bin or directly into the soil. The beans act as a pH neutral fertilizer and natural pesticide. Worms love to eat (er, drink?) coffee just as much as you do.
Zero Waste Tea Time
If you prefer a good ol’ cuppa tea to a morning brew, many of the same rules above apply.
Start by buying loose-leaf tea leaves either locally in bulk or from zero waste tea companies. That way, you’re avoiding both plastic waste and the risk of ingesting billions of microplastics released by plastic tea bags.
When tea time rolls around, boil your water with a manual stove top kettle or electric eco kettle. Stainless steel options look sleeker than most electric kettles, eliminates any concern about plastic leakage into your water, and creates minimal e-waste at the end of its life.
9. Start A Zero Waste Kitchen Cleaning Routine
Plastic bottle waste makes up a large percentage of plastic pollution, which is why plastic-free kitchen cleaning products always reign supreme when it comes to keeping your waste-free kitchen sparkly clean.
Not only are these plastic-free kitchen cleaners, but also tend to exchange chemical-laden ingredients and synthetic sulfates for natural ones.
But not all the au naturale options work (we learned this when we experimented with the dishwashing tabs from our local bulk store), but Dropps has been a reliable option.
Keep floors and countertops clean and bacteria free with a simple, all-purpose cleaner you can make out of just vinegar diluted with water.
If you’re having a hard time finding vinegar in bulk, there are plenty of brands offering refillable cleaning products by mail.
10. Add A Pinch Of Recycling To Your Recipe
Pop quiz: What are the 5 principles of zero waste?
Also known as the 5 Rs, they are: refuse, reduce, reuse, rot, and recycle.
Take note of what’s last on the list. This is partly because recycling doesn’t actually attack the plastic problem at its source, and partially because recycling statistics are extremely grim.
Even so, sometimes it’s inevitable as a last resort. This is especially true in the kitchen, considering it’s nearly impossible to buy only food that’s zero waste.
Just do the best you can and be responsible about the rest. Trying is better than not.
Be sure to check your local council guidelines about proper recycling procedure for your area. Learn what can and can’t be recycled (types of plastic, especially), sort it properly, and clean containers properly to avoid food contamination ruining whole recycling batches.
If something isn’t recyclable by your municipality, look into alternative private recycling services for specialty items like polystyrene, batteries, lightbulbs, and electronic waste.
Most of these items can be recycled through Terracycle, through which you can buy a zero waste box, load it up with all your difficult-to-recycle items, and send it off by mail for proper disposal.
So before you chuck it in the trash, be sure to check if there is a path that avoids landfill first.
11. Keep Your Zero Waste Kitchen Minimal
So, what does a zero waste kitchen look like?
We’ll start by telling you what it doesn’t look like: cluttered.
We know, we know: Bed, Bath, and Beyond-type stores are so much fun. Yet, most of their nifty kitchen gadgets are completely unnecessary.
They’re engineered to make hyper-specific tasks only slightly easier—who needs an apple corer when a simple kitchen knife does the same trick?
Don’t fall for the gimmick and buy things you don’t need, whether they’re plastic-free kitchen items or not.
Use what you have and wait until it really dies before replacing it with quality eco-friendly cookware.
Adopting a minimalist mentality will help you (non) stick to just the zero waste kitchen essentials. Doing so boils down to two simple rules 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.
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How We Found The Best Zero Waste Kitchen Products
We did the research on sustainable kitchen products and habits, so you don’t have to.
The plastic-free kitchen products featured on this list are made out of sustainable materials that are naturally more eco-friendly, such as bamboo and other sustainable fabrics.
We prioritize companies who source materials and ingredients locally, as local sourcing contributes to a lower carbon footprint and more environmental transparency. If not sourced-locally, products should otherwise be ethically-sourced.
Supporting small businesses and corporations that follow ethical business practices is key. Whenever possible, we take into consideration brands with sustainability certifications like B Corporation and Fair Trade—ideally paired with a healthy dose of transparency to avoid the greenwashing that still creeps into certifications schemes.
Lastly, we prioritize products that are available with plastic-free packaging and zero-waste shipping.
Final Thoughts On Your Zero Waste Kitchen
You may have noticed many of the things on this list are also found in our zero waste starter kit, and that’s no coincidence.
Creating a zero waste kitchen is a pretty seamless integration to your zero waste lifestyle with basic zero waste tips, tricks and hacks. After all, kitchens are the nexus of waste within most households!
We’re not saying this is the perfect recipe for 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.
If you’re planning to add this recipe to your zero waste kitchen book, pass it along so others can do the same.