Food waste, and waste related to eating are a ridiculous portion of our waste stream. In fact, it’s estimated that
50% of all produce in the US gets throws away, totaling an annual 60 million tons of produce worth $160 billion – just trashed. Wasted food occupies about 20% of our waste stream. And that just accounts for food alone – we still haven’t discussed the looming problem of disposable plates, forks, spoons, plastic clam shells, coffee cups and lids, plastic bags, and so much more.
On top of that – much of this food has been shipped from far places in single-use packaging, like plastic containers and plastic-coated cardboard boxes. Let’s just say the first step is admitting we have a problem.
With these staggering images in mind, there is so much we can do in our home kitchens to alleviate some of the environmental stresses of such excessive waste.
A way to compostIt’s only logical to start by considering what kind of waste a kitchen primarily produces, which is likely food scraps.
I know what you might be thinking – but food is biodegradable.
If I throw it in the trash it’ll end up biodegrading in the landfill anyways, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, because most landfills are so tightly packed, they create an environment free of oxygen, making it very difficult and sometimes impossible for items like an apple core or orange peel to biodegrade.
And even if those items did biodegrade in a landfill, where would they go? They wouldn’t return back into the earth, and instead would release methane gas which is anywhere from 20-150 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 100 year timeframe.
This is why the process of composting – which allows space and oxygen for items to breakdown properly – is so crucial.
In order to keep compost, you don’t have to go through the whole stinky (but awesome!) process of actually turning your rotting food scraps back into soil. Instead, try keeping your scraps in a container, big bowl or paper grocery bag in the freezer to eliminate any potential smells or bugs – until you can properly dispose of it. Google “composting near me” to find resources on farmers markets near you that collect compost, local organizations that offer compost drop offs or pickups, or maybe you’ll find your city offers composting for free if you sign up!
Pro tip: keep a big bowl next to you while you cook to toss in stems, seeds, peels and any food scraps you plan to collect for compost. That way nothing will accidentally get thrown in the trash or down the garbage disposal.
Quality old-school cookware
Don’t bother with new fangled contraptions such as plastic-coated Teflon pans, which are all too easy to ruin and aren’t known for their lifespan. Instead, stick with tried and true cookware such as cast iron pans. Cast irons are straight up baller because they basically last forever.
My cast irons are a hand-me-down from my grandma. And they double as a weapon if anyone tries something funny in my kitchen. Just sayin’.
Get another zero waste star by checking out the home goods sections in thrift stores for secondhand cast irons and other cooking tools.
Just simply give them a good wash (but not your cast iron pan, they shouldn’t be cleaned with soap), and start cooking up a storm.
Compostable and recyclable dish washing tools
Washing your dishes shouldn’t require producing trash. Check out options such as this wooden dish brush with replaceable heads, copper sponges for scrubbing away cooked-on food on your pans and cookie sheets, or try using a hand towel made of 100% natural materials such as cotton – the dish brush and towel are 100% compostable and the sponge is 100% recyclable once they all get too funky to be trusted to clean anymore.
A reusable coffee cup
Ditch the leaking paper cup and flimsy plastic lid, and upgrade yourself to coffee luxury with a real cup. Not only is a reusable coffee cup better for our mother earth, but it also features other perks such as being spill-proof and keeping your coffee hotter for way longer. Plus, it just tastes better when you’re sipping out of a nice container.
Insulated to-go mugs are great for cold drinks like smoothies too!
Reusable strawsYou knew it was coming – if you haven’t already, get on that reusable straw wagon with the rest of us! Plastic straws are basically just awful – most recycling facilities can’t recycle them, it’s the 11th most common item found in ocean trash, and in the US we use an estimated 500 million per day. I mean, come on.
Glass or metal storage and to-go containers
Store your food right and tight with reusable options such as metal or glass containers. If you’re taking your food to-go and intend to microwave later, glass might be a better option. If you are more concerned about weight, go with the metal containers.
Jars on jars on jars
Is any zero waste kitchen complete without the quintessential mason jar? Wash and reuse jars that foods like peanut butter, pickles, and spaghetti sauce come in to build up your mason jar collection on the cheap. Check out thrift store for more size varieties. For maximum flexibility, get yourself some wide mouthed masons, the ones with straight sides – you can even freeze food in those bad boys (just leave a few inches space at the top for frozen expansion!)
Pro tip – let your jars and lids dry completely after washing, then store them together with the lid securely screwed on. That way you never have to scramble looking around for the right lid.
Here are some of the things that I swapped since my transition to this lifestyle:
What other tips or hacks do you have for reducing waste in the kitchen? I’d love to know!