Your Guide to a Zero-Waste Kitchen

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

For those embarking on a journey to make their home zero-waste, the kitchen—with food scraps and plastic food packaging galore—may be the most daunting room to tackle. But don't worry! With some research and planning, you can achieve the zero-waste kitchen you've been dreaming of!

The choice to drastically reduce your family's waste is accompanied by a significant lifestyle change, and you shouldn't expect to achieve a zero-waste home overnight. Zero-waste is an international movement that draws on the knowledge of waste experts and continues to pressure companies to change the waste system. Those participating should not only reduce their own waste production but also support companies doing the same and encourage businesses to change their practices.

Know Your Waste

To eliminate waste, you first have to know what's in it. A trash audit can help you understand what you're actually throwing away. Every few days, gather the household to go through both your trash and recycling bins. Are you recycling everything you can? Is trash making its way into the recycling bin? What items do you throw away most often?

With these questions answered, you'll be better prepared to seek out different brands and shopping locations to swap out your most trashed items with zero-waste alternatives. You can also look for new ways to reuse or recycle items that will still produce trash. Consider an option such as TerraCycle's Zero-Waste Boxes to cover those items you can't seem to recycle on your own.

Shopping Waste-Free

Once you know what's in your trash bin, it's time to hit the stores. Your zero-waste mission may require a few different stops. Your local farm or farmers' market is typically the best bet for waste-free produce—be ready with your own reusable bags or containers to hand to the farmer. If you are lucky enough to live near a bulk food store, it will likely be your new favorite place. There, you'll find beans, grains, sweets, and baking staples in self-service bins that pour directly into the container you brought to store your purchase in. You may want to stock up on these dry goods while you're there so you can make fewer trips.

Beyond produce and bulk food, you might need to ditch some of the more processed foods your family usually eats. Most freezer boxes and bags can't be recycled. However, paperboard boxes used for crackers or cereal can be recycled. One essential to eliminating waste is identifying the disposal restrictions of any packaging before you make a purchase.

bulk food containers in a row with someone filling their own container of beans

The Dairy Issue

It's not uncommon for many zero-waste homes to be vegan—in which case, dairy product waste is typically not an issue. For those who haven't chosen a vegan lifestyle, milk jugs and cartons are recyclable in most communities, but cheese and yogurt products often create trash. Most cheeses are packaged in plastic, but there are a few ways around that reality. Mozzarella and paneer are both easy starter cheeses that can be made at home with the right tools! You can also look for cheeses sold in their own brine, or even ask at the deli counter at your grocer if they will put the cheese right in your own container.

Yogurt is another product that is difficult to find in zero-waste containers. A few brands are sold in glass containers, but they still typically have a foil lid that isn't always recyclable. Fortunately, yogurt is another product that's easy to make at home.

Food Storage

You've likely done away with single-use plastic baggies, and that's great! But, with more efficient bulk shopping, you may find that you need more storage containers. Where you can, avoid plastic containers, since they can't be recycled at the end of their life. A cheap and easy food storage hack is to upcycle your cast-off glass jars from store-bought pasta sauces, apple sauces, or pickles. Another option is using canning jars, which are durable and inexpensive.

Kitchen Paper Products

To achieve a zero-waste kitchen, you've got to commit to reusable products. This means using cloth napkins instead of paper, tea towels and rags instead of paper towels, and never using paper plates or cups. Once you're used to these switches, you'll find that cloth cleans up better than paper, and you won't want to go back!

orange and white cloth napkins folded in a grey flower patterened bin

Food Waste

A zero-waste kitchen can't exist without a solid compost system. Some cities offer curbside composting, and there are also companies that will process compost for you for a small fee. If you have a yard and garden, you can recycle kitchen scraps into black gold to spread on your crops. If compost is not an option, consider using vegetable scraps to create a delicious stock or broth. If you have roots or seeds, you can regrow your own veggies to create new produce.

Starting a zero-waste journey doesn't have to be daunting, and the kitchen is a great place to begin. If you're looking for more zero-waste inspiration, check out the Thinking Sustainably board on the @tomsofmaine Pinterest account!

Image Sources: Pexels | Pexels | Flickr

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Reducing waste helps the planet in so many ways: fewer resources used and less landfill space needed! By incorporating zero-waste practices in your kitchen, you're doing your part to help keep the environment healthy.