This weekend I am taking a deeper dive into creating a waste-free kitchen. While I thought I was doing pretty well before I started this project, I’m now realizing how much trash was already lurking in my cabinets and freezer.
There are a few factors that go into a zero-waste kitchen: reducing packaging while shopping, making more things from scratch (which I will discuss tomorrow), food storage, cutting back on food waste, and cleaning products.
This is arguably the easiest one. You need some sort of jars for storing dry goods, small jars or containers for dry spices and seasonings, containers for storing oils and vinegars, and containers for storing leftovers and freezing food. Ideally these will be the same containers you take with you on your grocery trips.
I’m a little container-obsessed but these don’t have to be the fanciest, best containers. It seems cliched now but I find a lot of uses for the humble mason jar, and at $10 or less for a dozen of them they are pretty affordable. I originally bought them for pickling but now also use them for storing dry goods, storing prepared broth or other cooked food in the refrigerator, and growing sandwich sprouts on my counter. Some people also use them to take water or coffee on the go, and if you get the right kind you can also use them in the freezer (those tend to be a little more expensive).
If that’s still out of your price range, you can use the “bowl with a plate on top” method for storing leftover food, or reuse containers from purchased food like the glass jars from pasta sauce and spices or large plastic tubs of yogurt or cottage cheese.
Arguably, you don’t need food wraps and bags at all – you can use your containers instead. However, there are some good alternatives if this is something you can’t live without: reusable food wrap and reusable sandwich bags. If you do need to use plastic bags, try to wash and reuse them, and then recycle them. I just learned they can be recycled along with plastic grocery bags!
Reducing food waste
I hate the idea of wasting food. It still happens sometimes, but these are the strategies I use to minimize waste:
- Plan ahead. I take a little time each weekend to plan out a menu for the week and make a shopping list – including amounts of produce. I then only buy what’s on my list. This ensures you only buy what you need.
- Shop your fridge and pantry. Before I make my menu I see what I already have on hand and, in particular, check for any produce that needs to be used up. I then try to incorporate those ingredients into my menu.
- Use your freezer. My rule of thumb is if I’m not going to use it in a few days, it goes in the freezer. When a recipe turns out to make way more food than I was expecting, at least some of the leftovers go in the freezer. My freezer is also full of bits of leftover sauces, homemade broth, cooked beans, and especially canned tomato product leftovers from when a recipe calls for one cup of crushed tomatoes instead of a whole can. My favorite tip – when I have to open a can of tomato paste just to use a tablespoon or two, I measure the leftovers into tablespoon portions on a cookie sheet and freeze them, then transfer them to an airtight container to store. I also store virtually all breads and tortillas in the freezer, so I am never throwing out moldy or stale bread.
- Make the most of food scraps. I keep a container in my fridge to save vegetable trimmings and peels to make vegetable stock (I assume you could do the same with bones and meat trimmings?). I then pre-measure (usually in 1, 2 or 4 cup portions) and freeze it. I have always used plastic freezer bags for this to save space in my freezer but I’m exploring other options. Anything else gets composted.
A few years back we stopped using paper towels. We ran out and just kept forgetting to buy them for a while, and then it seemed silly to buy them because they’re expensive and wasteful.
Then we got a puppy.
And then we started fostering for a dog rescue. It turns out that paper towels are a nice thing to have when housebreaking dogs. Still, we try to reserve them for “special occasions” (if your dog having an upset stomach can be called a special occasion).
While we use very few paper products, cleaning is the area I most wanted to learn about. Here are the new tips I will be trying:
- Use cellulose sponges, ideally purchased loose but at least they use less packaging if you don’t have a place to buy loose ones. They can be composted when you’re done with them!
- Use a kitchen loofah for scrubbing tough messes. Also compostable!
- Buy dish soap from a bulk dispenser at the store or make your own. (This may require me becoming a grownup and getting a reusable soap dispenser for the counter, instead of having a plastic bottle sitting out.)
- Use bottle brushes made from natural materials instead of plastic. I won’t do this until I need to replace my plastic brush, but it’s a more sustainable option than plastic.
- Stop using, or at least reduce, kitchen trash bags. A lot of blogs say that if you’re doing everything else well, you won’t have wet and stinky trash, so no need to bag it up.