The kitchen is one of the major sources of waste in most homes. Finding simple ways to identify and reduce waste in this room can make a huge difference to shifting to a zero waste lifestyle or just becoming greener.
There really are so many options for cutting down on kitchen waste and this week's challenge will provide some basic ideas and tips for getting started or improving your current habits.
(If you missed the post of food waste, you can find it here, and I'll be covering how to grocery shop for less waste and green cleaning in a separate post)
>This week, I'm challenging you to find that ONE thing to change. Test it out and see if it works.
>Some actions do take a few attempts to find the best solution.
> and you might need to encourage other members of your household to get onboard with the change.
As I've mentioned before, plastics that end up in recycle bins are often downcycled (turned into lower grade plastics) and some do just head straight to landfill, so although we can recycle quite a lot, it doesn’t completely solve the problem of too much plastic and other waste.
One of the most common kitchen challenges is single-use plastic such as clingwrap, sandwich bags and other soft plastics. They are usually used once, and sadly only a small percentage is recycled. These plastics also pose a danger to wildlife and will last hundreds of years in the environment.
1. Recycle Your Soft Plastics
If you are just beginning, and want the simplest change to make then begin by recycling your soft plastics. Australia has many RedCycle drop off points and they accept a heap of items, providing they are clean and dry. The picture below shows just some of the many items you can recycle. If you have already started doing this from the recycling part of this challenge, then read on for lots more tips to pick from.
2. Replace Plastic Food Bags and Gladwrap with an Alternative
These items are an everyday convenience and many of us can't recall not ever having them, making it seem impossible to stop using completely. Fifty or so years ago these wouldn't have been found in an average kitchen, yet somehow everyone managed just fine. This step has a huge impact on long-term waste and is one of the best changes you can make.
I also know this can be pretty daunting, so if you're not quite ready to give it up completely, then you can simply start by washing and reusing plastic bags. I do have a set of plastic Ziploc bags, that are designed to be reused many times and this isn't perfect, but it is far better than disposables.
Alternatives to plastic food bags and gladwrap include using paper bags or compostable bags for lunches, beeswax wraps or investing in reusable fabric bags. I began making my own plastic free sandwich and snack bags which have been super handy and you can check them out on my Etsy store.
You can store pretty much any food in containers you already own and no food really requires plastic wraps or bags. If you have mason jars, Tupperware or any sealable container, then you already have alternatives ready to use. I recently invested in a set of silicone food wraps that have been brilliant for wrapping food and they are designed to replace clingwrap, foil and baking paper. (They do come attached to a sheet of plastic, which I recycled and considering it is a one off purchase, I'm not too worried about it.)
>You can read some more ideas here on how to replace clingwrap.
>If you're wondering about how to about freezing foods without disposables. This is surprisingly simple, here's how I do most of my freezing.
3. Quit Using Baking Paper
Baking Paper is NOT recyclable, and for years I absolutely thought it was! These days you can find greener options for baking paper and patty pans, some of which are compostable. Or quit using it completely!
Just using butter, olive oil or coconut oil will prevent cakes and cookies sticking to tins and trays along with so many other foods. It does make it slightly more work to clean up, but if you have a dog, let them do the hard work for you! (Yes, I seriously do this, but I do wash them in hot soapy water afterwards)
To try baking completely zero waste, head to this post.
(And if you want the recipe for these chocolate zucchini muffins, head here)
Gippsland Unwrapped has a super clever idea of re-using butter wrappers, these are amazing for baking and fridge storage when you want to separate items like slices of bacon, plus they can be hot washed.
4. Give up Paper Towel Waste For Good
If you are using paper towels for mopping up spills, wiping or cleaning surfaces then the best substitute is a tea towel. Using fabric cloths or towels instead of paper towels is going to save you money and reduce your waste. We made the move gradually and now everyone in the house automatically goes for a tea towel now and our last roll of paper towel might actually decompose before we ever use it. You can make your own ''unpaper towels'', which involves cutting and sewing fabric squares and putting them onto a paper towel dispenser. I personally haven't bothered as it seems a lot of effort to go to and I prefer lazier options.
5. Swap Out Liquid Soap For Less Plastic
Opt for Bar soap, not liquid soap for handwashing. It lasts so much longer, with no plastic containers to fill up your recycle bin and will save money too!
Most bulk stores stock cleaning liquids like dish detergent, which allow you to refill existing containers and skip the trash. It is possible to use laundry soap bars for washing dishes, or you can try a recipe to make your own from Castille soap (also available at bulk stores).
Even just double checking you are using the correct amount of detergent, or swapping to a grey water safe variety is a step in the right direction.
6. Choose Low Waste Sponges and Scrubbers
You can now buy all sorts of greener sponges and scrubbing brushes and considering how frequently we are supposed to dispose of them, that is a lot of waste. Before throwing out your next dishcloth or scrubber, consider washing it in boiling water, giving it a spin in the microwave or place it in with your next dishwasher load. This will kill bacteria and any smells.
Look for natural or recycled materials when you can and of course consider the disposable options before you make a swap. I am hugely jealous of the clever people that can crotchet their own dishcloths, if you're handy, then this would be a cool project to start on.
7. Ecofriendly Bin liners
Firstly, if you have separated most, or all of your food waste out of your kitchen bin, then your need for bin liners will dramatically decrease. Secondly, if you are buying things to hold trash, then you are kind of throwing money away, think about it.
Food waste can really stink out a bin, and once this has been separated your trash can will stay pretty clean. We don't use a bin liner at all, but if you still feel you need liners, check out this clip on how to line it with newspaper, I like this because it is simple enough to actually be able to do without being an origami expert!
Compost caddies may require a liner though, and tend to need frequent cleaning. Check with your council if they provide free bio bags, otherwise you can line with newspaper or purchase your own biobags. (Biobags are compostable, not biodegradable, meaning they break down and compost rather than turn into tiny pieces of plastic, which is super important).
8. Skip Disposable Party Ware
We have avoided disposable plates, cups, straws and other party items by only serving finger food and offering serviettes when it is a large gathering, or using our own regular plates, cups and cutlery. I have slowly built up a collection of forks, plates, cups and other useful things purchased for next to nothing at the opshop and this means we don't need to create a pile of rubbish when we celebrate. If you do entertain regularly I strongly recommend you give it a go too. I do get that this isn't always possible for everyone, and there are many compostable options now (just be sure you can dispose of them in a green organics bin as these are not great in landfill).
Here are the colourful cups I've collected from the opshop, all are dishwasher safe and far sturdier than disposable ones.
9. Think Before You Buy
Need to buy or replace something in your kitchen? Go for metal, glass, bamboo or wood rather than plastic when you can. Some items are unfortunately designed to break and although they seem cheap, it actually costs much more in the long run to continuously replace them. There is an abundance of kitchen ''stuff'' at opshops and garage sales, meaning you can come home with good quality items and no packaging for a fraction of the cost of buying new.
If it is an item you will rarely use, think about borrowing it from a mate (it will also be one less thing cluttering up the kitchen) this is especially true for appliances! Aim for quality, longevity, multi-functional, and think about the potential of repairing the item or how to obtain replacement parts AND how it will be disposed of. If you can’t see yourself using or wanting it in 10 years time then maybe just don’t.
A little confession...I bought an egg boiler several years ago, and everyone always laughs at the silliness of this gadget BUT I still use it at least once a week and I totally love it as it does do perfect boiled and poached eggs. I'm definitely hoping to still be using it in 10 years, but I can't imagine I would really bother to replace it when I can just use a pot.
10. Show Your Bread Boards Some Love
The forgotten hero of the kitchen is the bread board. Where would we be without these! If you are lucky (or sensible) enough to have a collection of wooden boards, then don't forget to maintain them. With a little TLC they will last for many years, and I have one or two that are almost as old as me. Try mixing up a batch of your own wood butter to condition your chopping boards and utensils. It works a treat on wood and bamboo and takes about 5 minutes to do. Head here for all the details.
11. Energy & Water Use - Almost Invisible Waste
Set your major appliances, like the dishwasher, fridge and high use items, to eco settings to use less energy and water. After testing out several settings on our dishwasher, I realised that the lightest wash setting does the job just about every time and we skip the drying cycle and just crack the door open.
Did you know, that unless you are baking something that needs to be crunchy, you don't actually need to prewarm the oven? You can also turn it off completely and allow foods to continue cooking on residual heat.
Don't be scared of using your microwave. If you are only making one cup of coffee, the energy used to boil a kettle is far higher than a minute or so of microwaving.
There are many ways to save water and one thing I now do is have a jug or bucket by the sink at all times. If I'm rinsing something or running the tap to get hot water, this clean-ish water can be collected and used to water the garden. You can do the same with water used to boil veggies or pasta provided it doesn't have salt added.
12. Grow Something
Most of us have a source of light and hopefully a windowsill in our kitchen. this is such a fantastic place to grow a small pot of herbs and provide a waste free source of your favourites. I adore having a few experimental seeds on the go and it makes me smile when they succeed. It can be a fun activity that takes a minute of your day and is a great spot to tip out the residual water from your reusable drink bottles.
13. Are You Wasting Time on Junk Mail
Junk mail is a classic kitchen clutterer and is a waste of paper, space and time. It tends to hang around on kitchen benches trying to tempt you to buy stuff you don't actually need, before finally heading to the recycle bin. If you have had enough of this waste, then head here for all the info you need to stop it. It's about 99% effective, those real estate agents and Dominoes Pizza ads do slip through occasionally.
14. Repurpose Your Waste
I've talked a lot about refusing, reducing and recycling kitchen waste, however there are many items that can be repurposed. I can never really get my head around the fact so many good quality jars must be produced every year and yet people throw them into the recycle bin and rush out to buy jars at homeware stores.
Jars, tins, containers and sometimes broken items can be repurposed with very little imagination. If you don't think you have a use for it, but it still seems useful, then offer it to friends and family, advertise it on a container swap group, donate it to a grow free cart or check with your local school or community groups.
If you are planning on growing some windowsill herbs, tin cans make great little planter pots.
15. Waste Less Coffee and Tea
One of my favourite things to do in the kitchen is make a cup of coffee. Coffee grounds and tea leaves have many uses including in the garden, so be sure not to waste it. One thing many people are not aware of is that tea bags contain plastic. This can be avoided by sourcing loose leaf tea either at a bulk store or in the supermarket. Instead of bags, use a strainer or get hold of reusable coffee and tea bags, both work really well to make a great cuppa.
If you feel like a laugh, you can check out my zero waste coffee hack I tried when our machine bit the dust.