The kitchen can be a very wasteful room in the house, especially when considering the large amounts of plastic packaging for food, storage containers and cleaning products that could end up in the bin.
Working to get rid of possible waste can be daunting. But not to worry, there is no need to lose sleep over doing it perfectly. Reducing waste is a step by step process that will take time, that’s why we’ve put this list of zero waste tips and swaps for the kitchen together following our own trial and error process.
There are a few principles that are helpful during this process such as always avoiding disposable and single-use products e.g. paper towels, napkins, plastic etc. The longer a product’s lifetime, the more sustainable it becomes – in most cases nonetheless.
Purchasing things with intention is also good for reducing waste, environmental impact and the impact on your finances. Let’s take a look at great tips for building a zero waste kitchen.
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Zero Waste Cooking
Use Toxin-Free Utensils
When it’s time to replace your kitchen utensils with something more sustainable and safe, you can’t do better than this non-toxic bamboo or stainless steel cooking utensils. They’re the perfect alternative to plastic ladles and spoons, is healthy and long-lasting, elegant – perfect for a zero waste kitchen.
Alternatively, silicone sets are better than plastic if you’re after a softer material than bamboo or stainless steel. Although silicone is still tricky to recycle and usually has to go to a special facility, it can be recycled.
If you’d like to learn more about zero waste kitchen utensils overall, read our sustainable cookware for a list of durable items that you will use and love forever.
Ditch the Non-Stick, Go Durable
We don’t often encourage anyone to replace items that are still perfectly functional, but non-stick pans are one exception as they can potentially be toxic. Choosing non-toxic cookware is an absolute must. Stainless steel or cast iron cookware will last longer and have less chance of contaminating your food with toxins.
When it comes to sustainable cookware, being a traditionalist rather than buying into the latest marketing ploy will likely be the safest option in the long run. Most non-stick pans don’t last forever, it needs replacing even if you’re buying a more expensive brand, so don’t waste your time or money on these. Rather find an alternative both for your health and zero waste goals.
Buy Seasonal Veg Boxes or Grow your Own
Seasonal veg boxes from someone like Riverford contain a lot less packaging as they collect used boxes, is 100% organic and will help you to cook fresh food every week. Cooking from scratch and avoiding processed foods is better for your health and the environment, especially with concerns over the quality of processed foods.
Alternatively, you can buy from your local farmer’s market.
Growing your own food either indoors or in your garden is also a great option for reducing food packaging, pesticides, carbon emissions and toxins.
Make Packed Lunch in a Reusable Lunch Box
Meal deal sandwiches and shop-bought lunches almost always come in non-sustainable plastic packaging that will end up in the waste bin. These handy sandwiches can also be very pricey in the long run. Shop bought lunches are often filled with questionable ingredients and/or low-quality produce so making a packed lunch is a much better option for your waistline, health, wallet and environment.
When it comes to packing your lunch in a reusable container these stainless steel lunchboxes are compact, durable and non-toxic and are perfect for packing last night’s leftover dinner, a salad wrap or even a sandwich. Your health and your finances will love this swap!
Eat more Fresh Veggies
Eating more veggies, especially organic or homegrown veggies helps to reduce waste and your overall environmental impact. According to Spoon Fed by Tim Spector a professor at King’s College London, most of us eat too much meat and can get away with drastically reducing meat consumption and increasing the variety of veg we eat. Following a diet that contains mostly veg is good for your body and the planet.
The worst offenders in the food space are “food-like” products that are mass-produced, often marketed as healthy and wrapped in plastic. These foods usually contain chemicals and way too much packaging. Watch out for meat replacement products as these are oftentimes made of factory-farmed soy, which is damaging to the environment and can be damaging to you. Go for the simple package-free organic vegetable. Back to basics, fresh and whole foods are definitely better all around.
Save your Leftovers
Food that is sent to landfills won’t decompose thanks to the way landfills are managed. Freezing leftovers is a great time-saver and it will help you to reduce the waste long term.
Some foods like curry are even better once it’s had time to rest and infuse with a great mix of flavours. We love freezing leftovers for a rainy day when cooking isn’t the first priority as you can still eat a home-cooked meal without the fuss.
Go for Reusable Baking Mats and Trays
Grabbing the aluminium foil or parchment/baking paper is super easy, however, these are single-use products that are difficult if not impossible to recycle. Sticking to reusable is always better. We recommend using a pre-greased aluminium baking tray or if you must a silicone baking tray. If you need to cover it, pick a dish with a lid, it works just as well.
Ovenproof pyrex bowls with a lid or ceramic bakeware can cover most baking/roasting scenarios and it will last you a very long time, if not a lifetime.
Zero Waste Beverages
Make Great Coffee Without the Waste
For delicious fresh coffee at home, start by buying your coffee beans in bulk. But don’t buy too much and remember to store them in an airtight container as coffee beans can go stale relatively quickly. Pre-ground coffee will lose its lustre even faster, which is why we recommend buying whole beans to grind at home if you can. A good quality burr grinder will give you a more even grind, ensuring an absolutely scrumptious cup of coffee.
When it comes to brewing your coffee, machines that use pods may be quite efficient but they generate a lot of waste that can be avoided. The pods can also be pricey so moving to a more sustainable way of drinking coffee will save the planet and your money.
Why not ditch single-use coffee pods for reusable or if you love filter coffee, swap it for a more traditional gadget that produces a lot less waste? The French press is a great alternative if you prefer filtered or if you enjoy a coffee with a bit more oomph you can opt for a stovetop espresso maker.
Don’t forget to read our post about what to do with used coffee grounds to see how you can discard your grounds safely.
Use Looseleaf Tea
Did you know that most teabags contain plastic? That’s right they contain plastic, so switching to loose leaf tea is a no brainer. The flavour of loose-leaf is usually better and if you have a nifty tea strainer or even a traditional teapot and sieve you’ll have a better and more sustainable brew!
Unlike coffee beans, dried tea will keep its flavour for up to two years if stored in a cool, dry and dark container so don’t be afraid to buy your organic and fairtrade tea leaves in bulk. It’s a good little trade for your zero waste kitchen, right?
Creating a Zero Waste Pantry
Buy in Bulk or at a Zero Waste Store
Buying food staples such as pasta, flour and nuts in bulk will help to reduce packaging, is usually easier on your pocket and will save you time in the long run. Using Zero Waste stores or even online sellers to buy whole, organic foods in bulk every few months is a good sustainable option for buying pantry staples. Knowing that you’re always well-stocked also means you’ll be prepared for surprise visitors or doomsday scenarios, so it’s a win-win right?
If you are lucky enough to have a zero-waste store in your area you are a few steps closer to creating a zero waste kitchen, but bulk buying is a sensible alternative if not.
Use Reusable Food Storage
When it comes to storing foods, always look for reusable containers. Durable plastic or glass are two sensible options. However, the safety of plastic food storage containers are highly debated, and they are of course made of plastic which can end up in our oceans, even if you have sent them to get recycled. Unless you buy the traditional branded Tupperware, which last ages and can be sent back to Tupperware for recycling once you’re done with them, going for glass will work really well.
You can save and use old glass jars or mason jars for storing foods in your pantry or freezer or use durable snapware. These snapware glass containers are very durable – unless you drop them of course – and a good alternative to their plastic counterparts, they can be used safely in the freezer or microwave if you have one.
Saving jars from products you have bought and re-using them are the most zero waste choice of course. But, you can look into buying your own mason jars if you’re looking for specific sizes. However, we have found collecting jars from store-bought products work just as well.
Always Have Reusable Bags Handy
Remember to take reusable shopping and produce bags along when you go shopping next time. Even though single-use plastic bags are chargeable or banned in many countries, taking a reusable bag with you when you go shopping is easy to forget. Make a note, put up a sign or set a reminder so you don’t end up buying one anyway!
Zero Waste Dinnerware
Buy Second Hand or Buy Durable
When it comes to dinnerwear you can either buy second-hand or go for a good quality, classic set that will last. There is nothing worse than buying dinnerwear that quickly loses its lustre, either by chipping, scratches or the patterns fading quickly.
You can often find good quality dinnerware at local charity shops or thrift stores that will cost you a fraction of the price. But if you’re not interested in a potential mix and match approach then you can buy a good quality, classic set that will last for many years.
Alternatively, you can buy interesting sets from a local artisan that makes small batches with love and care.
Swap for Cloth Napkins
Paper napkins became super popular thanks to the convenience of just throwing them away. But we have now learned that disposable products aren’t good for people or the planet. Paper napkins can be responsible for deforestation and well, creating waste.
You can find beautiful organic and even hand-made cloth napkins that can add a splash of colour to your table decor that can be washed without much hassle.
What Else Can you Do?
Repair or Buy Refurbished Appliances
They don’t make them as they used to is a popular saying with good merit. These days appliances aren’t made to last and until recently repairing them was difficult. But thanks to the right to repair movement this is slowly changing as more countries are working to force manufacturers to make spare parts available so that products can be repaired without having to replace them when small things break.
If you absolutely can’t repair it, then consider buying refurbished and don’t forget to look for a product with a good energy rating.
Composting is a sure-fire way to help reach your zero waste kitchen goals. Throwing scraps in the bin will most likely mean that they will be incinerated or end up in landfills where it’s not likely to decompose thanks to the way landfills are sealed and compacted.
To do your bit you can start composting on a countertop or in the garden if you have one. Compost that strikes the right balance between green and brown material won’t get smelly. If you’re short of space or live in an apartment, that’s not a problem you can still compost, read our guide on apartment composting for tips on getting started.
Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to have a curbside compost collection a countertop composting bin like this, is a great way of storing food scraps until the next collection. Or for the ultimate zero waste kitchen in a tight space, you can start composting in the bin itself, right on your countertop.
Eco-Friendly Cleaning and Washing Up
When it comes to cleaning, a little bit of vinegar, lemon juice and bicarb soda can work wonders on tough cleaning jobs and limescale. Use these ingredients on their own or mix together to create a toxin-free cleaner. For more tips on cleaning with bicarb soda read this handy post.
You can also replace your plastic washing-up sponge with a more sustainable one when it’s time to replace it – it’s such an easy zero waste kitchen product to swap. We’ve written a detailed post about eco-friendly washing-up sponges previously, but to make a long story short these are more sustainable and will last longer:
Compostable cellulose sponges available from Amazon
Walnut scourers are available from Amazon.
Don’t forget to swap your laundry detergent for an eco-friendly, zero waste one. Drops, Bower Collective or Tru Earth are all good brands you can try.
Refills and reuse options are available directly from Bower Collective
Beeswax or Vegan Food wraps
Plastic food wrap is single-use, rarely recycled and is very wasteful overall. It contributes to the marine plastic problem, is dangerous for animals and most likely leaches chemicals into your food. Need we say more. we’ve swapped plastic food wrap for sustainable beeswax and vegan wax food wraps.
If you’re in the UK this company in Leicestershire makes a mean vegan wrap find them here.