Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

April 12, 2017

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Like I mentioned last week in the beginner's guide to zero waste, I'm continuing the series by sharing some of my essentials, divided up by area of use.  This week, we're starting with the kitchen, since that tends to be the area where you make the most trash.  Let's put an end to it!

I mentioned before that the best way to figure out where you're being wasteful is to study your trash.  Examine everything you're putting in there and try to think about how you could prevent that item in the future.  I also already talked about food waste in the last post, so this is about the other things that could be ending up in your kitchen trash.

Here's what I use on a regular basis to keep trash out of our kitchen:

Cloth Napkins.  It's really a very easy switch to quit napkins and paper towels and embrace cloth napkins instead during meal times.  Plus, it feels fancier.

Kitchen Towels.  You probably already have these, to dry dishes or hands.  If you've been using paper towels for those tasks though, it's definitely time to stop that habit and hang a kitchen towel near your sink.

Travel Mugs and Bottles.  I recommend always having a travel mug on you.  You can make coffee at home and bring it with you and then use your travel mug throughout the day for water so you never have to buy a plastic bottle or cup.  Even if you get coffee at Starbucks, they will use your own cup you bring in.  They even give you a discount for doing so.

Reusable K-Cups.  If you use a coffee pot, you can ignore this, but if you still you plastic k-cups, that's an easy fix.  Just get a reusable k-cup and fill it with any brand of ground coffee beans you like (which you can buy in paper bags, please!)  You could also consider switching to a french press, which requires no paper or plastic and is easy to clean.

Stainless Steel Utensils.  You likely already use these at home, but you should have a set you bring with you or keep at work as well, so you don't have to rely on any plastic utensils if you eat away from your house.  They have nice bamboo options too.

Stainless Steel Straws.  I have to say, I don't use straws all that often but it's come up enough times with guests that I felt like we needed to have straws on hand.  I refused to get plastic ones and the paper ones, although compostable or recyclable, are also wasteful.  I went ahead and bought a set of stainless steel ones.  Glass straws are an option too.

Reusable Bags.  There are a ton of options out there, I already mentioned the Earthwise ones I use.  A lot of places, including Chicago, charge for use of plastic bags when you go grocery shopping so you need to bring your own every time you go!

Cloth or Mesh Bags for Produce.  Never grab those plastic bags on a roll they offer near the produce!  Do you really need a bag on your produce at all?  Probably not.  I almost never bag produce, the exception being brussels sprouts and green beans.  Peppers, onions, bananas, avocados?  Nope.  For the produce I do bag, I bring cloth or mesh bags.  You can also use one of these to get bread at the bakery counter.

Glass Tupperware.  We have those Pyrex ones because John's mom bough them for us, so the lids are still plastic.  But they last great and work great so we're happy with them!  Since they're reusable, we're not wasting things like plastic tupperware and ziploc baggies.  Or bowls with cling wrap on top.

Another big one is to stop buying packaged goods.  They're likely not healthy for you anyway so as much as you can reduce things that come in plastic bags and boxes, the better!  For the other items (besides produce), get to know the staff at your store and begin to bring your own containers.  Places like Whole Foods expect this, and will weigh your glass containers before you buy bulk items and mark the weight on them for you.  They also let you bring your own containers for meat and the salad bar.  Other stores were more resistant, like my local Jewel, because Chicago has pretty strict bring your own container laws for what they consider health reasons but since we're much more strict than other perfectly healthy cities, we're not actually accomplishing anything beneficial with those backwards laws.  The mayor was drunk at John's firefighter graduation so I don't expect much in the way of progress any time soon.  In the meantime, I just buttered up the Jewel manager and he's used to me and my containers by now.

Going vegan helps immensely with going zero waste, since many of the items that have packaging are meat or dairy.  I realize that's not for everyone, but it's worth mentioning because I personally avoid a lot that way.  Much of our kitchen waste is from John's meat, eggs, and dairy, though I try very hard to get things in glass, paper, or in my own containers.  Still, recycling is not the best option.

If you have a lot of plastic things in your kitchen currently that I didn't list, just be aware of that next time you go to replace them.  There's no need to run out and get all new stuff right now but keep it in mind when you're shopping next - stop buying plastic cutting boards, plastic cooking utensils, plastic ice cube trays, and even those dish sponges.  When yours stop working, be sure to bring wood and other natural products in as their replacements.

I really hope something on the list inspired you to make a change in your kitchen.  I'm all about baby steps so if you just want to concentrate on cutting out plastic bottles or paper towels for now, then I think that's fantastic!  If you have anything to add, or any questions about a wasteful product you can't seem to quit, let me know in the comments.



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