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14 Tips for a Zero Waste Kitchen

Growing our own food and preparing it all from scratch feels like an impossibility nowadays. Buying pre-made foods wrapped in shiny plastic and filled with preservatives has become the new standard in our modern world. So, why try to build a zero waste kitchen?

What is zero waste?

The term “zero waste” comes from the idea of living a lifestyle that simply doesn’t produce waste. The term has largely gone out of fashion, as living without waste is virtually impossible. Many people use the term “low-impact” to describe this lifestyle.

To have a low impact lifestyle, a person limits their consumption of wasteful products—usually most single use plastics and paper products. Living in this way is a great way to reduce your environmental impact, but also to save money and to have more creative and organic rhythyms in your life.

The work of healing our bodies and healing the planet through natural processes has never been more dire. Let’s start with rediscovering and reinventing our kitchens. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to start. 

1. Shop Local

To get started on a zero-waste kitchen, start shopping at a local food co-op or farmer’s market. Not sure where to find one? Here’s a tip: subscribe to a “CSA.” CSA stands for “community supported agriculture—” it’s a subscription box to a farm near you.  Whether you’re looking for a CSA, farmer’s market, or food hub in your zip code, check out this directory of local agriculture provided by the USDA. Not only does supporting local agriculture reduce waste in your kitchen, but it also reduces carbon emissions caused from transportation. Remember: supporting your local community is the best way to make the world a more sustainable place.

Without prosperous local economies, the people have no power and the land no voice.” —Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

butter lettuce in soil with water droplets

2. Grow Your Own Food

It’s that simple—grow something! Whether it be lettuce grown in a hydroponic gardening tower or herbs in a windowsill garden, skip buying packaged food altogether. Despite noble attempts made by many companies, single-use plastic is far from being eradicated. Living simpler is often the best choice.

rainbow swiss chard against white linen background

3. Buy Bulk Foods 

If you can support a local zero-waste store, you can easily build a zero-waste kitchen. (Find one near you with this state by state zero waste store guide created by Litterless.) There are also a number of grocery chains that offer refillable staples and make plasticless shopping painless:

  • Sprouts
  • Wegmans
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Wincos
  • Whole Foods Market. 

4. Invest in Jars… Lots of ‘Em!

Here’s the good news: being zero-waste is both the more sustainable option and the more aesthetically-satisfying option. Also, it’s not as expensive as it looks. In fact, it will even save you money in the long run! Start with investing in the best glass jars for food storage, you won’t be regret it. You also might score big at thrift stores—that’s how we got started.

freshly picked cherry tomatoes in market tote against black background

5. Use Reusable Bags, Produce Bags, + Bread Bags

There’s nothing better than having cute reusable grocery bags. Did we mention this is also one of the easiest zero waste kitchen hacks? All you have to do is take these to the store and skip the paper or plastic bags altogether. Count us in! But don’t forget about reusable produce bags for things like fresh herbs, apples, swiss chard, sourdough, carrots—you name it. 

6. Invest in Zero-Waste Food Storage

If you’re serious about going low impact in your kitchen, it’s time to break up with your plastic baggies. We know, this one hurts. Get acquainted with beeswax covers, stasher bags, and glass food storage.

7. Reliable Cookware 

We get it. You love your affordable skillet you got for cheap. Here’s the thing—cheap cookware is just that, cheap, which means it’s destined to waste away in a landfill. Invest in cast-iron cookware, silicone baking mats, and pyrex dishes. Better yet, find them second-hand at a thrift store or on FB market. 

8. Meal Prep + Freeze

Here’s a life-changing tip: you can freeze pretty much anything you cook. One of the easiest ways to cut back on waste is to stop ordering takeout and to stop eating freezer dinners. Not only will this hugely lower your consumption of waste, but it’ll save you big bucks.

9. Make Everything from Scratch

Living a zero-waste lifestyle can feel incredibly uncomfortable because it is going against the grain of how many of us were raised to live. It forces us to live naturally, which means without the processed comfort foods most of us were raised on. If you can’t live without tortilla chips or ranch dressing, find a local company that is happy to refill your jars for you. Or, better yet, learn to make your own. Make it in bulk and share with a friend. Make sure you learn what it means to get started eating seasonally.

eggs mushrooms and chives against parchment paper background

10. Emphasize Climatarian, Plant-Based Foods

Think about where your groceries are sourced from. Once again, the more local, the better. What could be made simpler? Rather than buying packaged cereals, try grabbing granola from the bulk section. Find rhythms of cooking plant-based meals and supporting local farmers to expand your zero waste kitchen.

11. French Press is Your New BFF

Ditch the coffee filters; ditch the K cups! French press coffee is an affordable upgrade for making your coffee routine zero waste. Just don’t forget to compost your coffee grounds. And if you can’t let go of your pot of coffee in the morning, learn to make your own reusable coffee filters. It’s all about finding what works for you.

12. Discover Food Scrap Recipes

Think: homemade broth, citrus peel candy, and bread pudding. When cooking with whole foods, most food scraps can be repurposed into nutritious recipes. Get creative with repurposing what you have on hand. 

dishwasher pods in jars against white cabinet background

13. Trade Plastic Items for Wooden Items

This one’s easy! Swap out plastic products for wooden ones—whether it be spatulas, dish scrubbers, cutting boards, or anything in between. If this step feels overwhelming, make small increments of change. This month, thrift some nice wooden cutting boards. Next month, treat yourself to a dish block and wooden dish scrubber. Change doesn’t have to happen overnight. 

wooden scrubs and brushes and unpaper towels on wooden table

14. Trade Single-Use Paper Products for Cloth Products

If this idea seems revolutionary, try to remember that paper napkins are a recent innovation. Try swapping paper towels for unpaper towels, cloth napkins, and lots and lots of dish rags! It’s a simple switch that saves big bucks and hugely cuts back on waste over time. 

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