Is it just me or is the kitchen the biggest waste-generator of all, no matter how low waste you get? From food waste to packaging to water waste, the kitchen is a minefield of potential excess. Particularly for someone like me who spends a lot of time cooking and just generally snacking in the kitchen.
After months of feeling frustrated about what was going on in my kitchen, I finally settled in and completed a trash audit to figure out exactly what kind of trash I was producing. Once I did that, it was much easier to identify my issues and find zero waste kitchen swaps for the products I used the most.
Here are ten easy zero waste kitchen swaps you can make with minimal pain and big payoff!
About 31% of all the food created in the USA is wasted at the retail or consumer level, which doesn’t even address the ‘imperfect’ foods that don’t even make it to retail in the first place. To put that in perspective, that’s about 60 million tons of food heading to the landfill each year; or $160 billion. Remember – food going to the landfill doesn’t have the chance to decompose, so it’s just sitting there without a chance to return to the earth!
What you could be using: Watch Wasted and be depressed/inspired. Next, be prepared to refuse excess food you don’t need and rot anything extra in your shiny new compost bin! Learn more about composting in this post.
Plastic produce/grocery bags
This is a no-brainer but something people still struggle with since we’ve so long been conditioned to just accept them as fact. Take a look around any store and you’ll see tons of mindless consumption, particularly since many places in the USA actually have laws banning banning plastic bags in stores. (Yes, really. Indiana is one of them.)
What you could be using: make sure you always have a cloth bag with you, hanging next to the door, or tossed in your car. Never let the excuse of being unprepared make you fail! Good items to have are cloth produce bags, larger tote bags, and even a bento bag to carry spur-of-the-moment snacks and sandwiches.
I’ve never been a paper towel person, so I never had to transition away from them. However, it seems like a lot of people feel the pain. On average, it’s estimated one person uses 45 pounds of paper towels per year (source). That’s so much waste in both resources and money!
What you could be using: rags, ideally sourced from t-shirts which recently bit the dust. You stop using paper towels and save a shirt from heading to the landfill. Win-win! (Some people also like to be fancier and get these things called un-paper towels but they’re totally not necessary.) I like to keep a small container under the sink so I can just toss the rags in when they’re too dirty. Then it’s easy to just toss them in the washer!
So convenient, so easy, so wasteful. Avoiding plastic wrap can be difficult, but not impossible.
What you could be using: wax wrap that mold into shape when you warm it up. BeesWrap is a big company with some amazing products. If you don’t have that, go old school: stick your food in a bowl and cover it with a plate.
Want even more information on how to create the zero waste life of your dreams? Enroll in Zero Waste 101 – a 5-week email course dedicated to helping you find confidence in your zero waste journey!
‘Sneaky’ plastic packaging
You buy an item with the best of intentions, thinking it’s in cardboard that you’ll be able to compost it. You get home, open it up, and find everything else surrounded by a plastic bag. Sadly, this double-wrapped option is all too common with most items meant to have a long shelf life.
What you could be using: hopefully you can source it in bulk to be sure you don’t get any sneaky packaging. If not, either keep buying the product from different brands until you find a plastic-free option or find a way to DIY that product with less waste.
Sponges and cleaners
Plastic sponges and chemical cleaners are cheap and convenient, but not great for the environment. Those plastic sponges head straight to the landfill – FYI, “a year’s worth of discarded sponges from one household could take up landfill space for upwards of 52,000 years” (source) – and those chemicals you don’t want to ingest head straight into our water sources.
What you could be using: rags or a bamboo scrubber instead of sponges. There are also some great 100% biodegradable sponges on the market which I’ve used and can recommend. Bulk castile soap or simple vinegar is a great alternative to chemical laden dish soaps or counter cleaners.
Americans go through a lot of milk and those bulky plastic gallon containers take up space and remain incredibly wasteful.
What you could be using: most places now have at least one glass option in a store near them. Alternatively, consider giving up milk (or drastically reducing your consumption). You can make nut or oat milks from bulk items whose impact is drastically less than the dairy industry.
Once of the things I struggled with most at the start as it’s very hard to find inexpensive bread unpackaged. If you don’t enjoy baking bread (or like specific sandwich-type breads), this can seem like an almost insurmountable feat.
What you could be using: find a local bread producer and start a relationship with them. Purchase in paper or your own containers. If you do end up buying bread in a plastic bag, use it as a trash bag. (If you’re composting, it shouldn’t be very messy and you’ll be able to reuse it many times.)
I love a good snack, but man can they be wasteful, particularly when marketed toward children or as “healthy alternatives”. Name a delicious snack and they’re all heavily packaged.
What you could be using: find a store with bulk options and find your favorite new, unpackaged snack. Most bulk spots have candy, nuts, crackers, and all sorts of items that don’t require tons of plastic packaging! If bulk isn’t available, consider going with unpackaged produce and adding homemade nut butters or nutella-like spreads.
What are some easy zero waste kitchen swaps you’ve used that have helped you reduce your waste? Please spread the knowledge in the comments below!