Zero Waste Living doesn’t have to be painful. Just one change will have a dramatic impact on your life and the environment. I’m starting in the Kitchen. Here are 7 easy ways to start the zero waste lifestyle (without plastic)
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Zero Waste Kitchen For Beginners – Clean Lifestyle Version
This year I decided that my family is going to join the zero waste movement. I love the philosophy behind the movement and was excited to get started. The kids were on board, but my husband was not! But that didn’t surprise me because if there is one thing that 20 years of being together has taught me, it’s that my husband does not like change! I have to start planting ideas in his head and then 6-12 months later he will come around. But this time was different because I had the kids on my side! If the three of us were reducing our trash, he will have to get on board sooner rather than later.
Zero Waste and Clean Living
When I first started researching zero waste, I loved all the ideas I was seeing. Surely I would be able to make these same changes. But then I noticed that almost all solutions involved plastic. Why?? It appears that their main goal is to reduce waste, not avoid toxins. To each their own. But, that was not Ok for me. So I spent countless hours researching products and trying to find items that were affordable and toxin free (I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on this). It’s harder than I expected, but not impossible! I’ll save you some time and show you what I found. (Be sure to check out the PDF at the end of this post!): 8 steps to a zero waste kitchen)
Getting started with Zero Waste Living – Kitchen First
It seems that it would be more wasteful to throw out everything we already have just to buy more items that are considered zero waste. Which is how I justified the baby steps in my mind! But really, it has some merit. So I started small and made everything sound exciting so the kids would help out. So far we have been fairly successful. Before I list the steps we have taken, I want to be clear that I am being realistic about this approach. I already know that it will take us years to even get close to zero waste, but the steps we have taken are already paying off. We are saving money in paper towels and other items, and it just feels good to not have a garage full of recyclables that didn’t fit in the bin.
Reuse those Amazon boxes
I had just started watching the Tidy Up series on Netflix when we decided to do zero waste. I saw how she used carboard boxes to organize drawers and cabinets and I was inspired. She said to use boxes that inspire joy, but honestly, it they are in a drawer, you won’t even be able to see them. So I cut off the flaps of several boxes and used them as drawer organizers. They were especially useful in the kitchen, under the sink and in the cabinets. The boxes could be used in the trunk of your car for groceries or to organize small items. It could also be used as a trash can. Get creative!
Our city banned plastic bags a long time ago so I fell like this is one that most people are already doing. But if you aren’t, it’s a really easy place to start! Be sure to find a bag that is machine washable so you can periodically wash it. You don’t want your groceries going into a contaminated bag. For everyday/weekend shopping, something like these standard cotton shopping bags would work. I find that the square shape is easier to keep the bag from falling into itself while packing and it sits nicely in the cart. Also keep a few folded bags in your purse or car for unexpected shopping trips. This is one of the easiest ways to start a zero free kitchen.
This is along the same lines as the reusable grocery bags but there is one additional challenge…these are not as accepted as grocery bags. When you use them, you may get strange looks and the cashiers may not know how to tare them. I just ignore the strange looks, but when it comes to the tare part, I don’t know how to help them. So instead I buy produce bags that weigh almost nothing. That way I don’t worry about getting it down to the exact price. The other trick to these is finding bags that are not plastic or vinyl. Fortunately there are companies that make organic cotton produce bags and they are reasonably priced. They should also be easy to see through so the checkers can see what is in the bag (and you when you get home!). Keep in mind that most produce can not be stored in these bags. For example, greens will wilt.
When we visit gift shops, I always see these thin mesh towels with decorations. I always thought they were non absorbent dish towels, but it turns out these are called tea towels. And they have a ton of uses, especially when you are going zero waste. I like to use them to wrap greens (lettuce, chard, spinach, etc) in the fridge. The one thing plastic bags were good at was keeping greens crisp. so this is a great alternative. They can also be used to cover rolls to keep them warm.
These UnPaper towels from Marley’s Monsters are so cute that they ALMOST make cleaning fun! My kids like the different patterns and they are so soft. But they are also pricey. If you aren’t looking for anything too fancy, you can find cheaper ones on Amazon or Etsy. Thought not nearly as fun, these reusable napkins will do the trick too: Washable and Reusable UnPaper Towel
One way to reduce waste is to shop in bulk bins at the supermarket. However, I just can’t do that because I have seen kids putting their hands in the bins and people breathing over them. I’m not too concerned about germs but that’s too much for me. So instead I focus on buying large bags of food or supplies (like Puracy Dish Soap which sells a larger refill pouch). It usually saves money in the long run and it results in less packaging waste. I like to store my food in Mason jars or Glass Tupperware like the set above. These can also be used for lunches or storing leftovers. I have also heard of people taking them to the butcher counter and having the meat/seafood placed directly into the containers.
When I first bought these, I only used them to pack sandwiches. But then I ventured out and started using them for nuts, snacks, small items and even art supplies. They don’t keep food fresh for longer than a day or two so I wouldn’t recommend storing anything that can get stale, but I was surprised at how often I reach for these! Even if you only use them for sandwiches, you will save money on buying Ziploc bags (which have bpa).
We have rabbits that eat most of the vegetables and fruits that we throw out. But there are a lot of compostable items that they are not able to eat. Like cauliflower, broccoli, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc. For these items we started composting. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t want to spend a lot, and compost bins are $80+ so instead, I dug a hold in the ground at the edge of our property and started throwing our food there. When it fills up, we dig a new hole (More to come on that). Not everyone has this option, so the next best thing would be to put the food in your compost bin. In the meantime, collect the compostable items in a bin on your countertop. Look for one with a carbon filter so you don’t have to smell anything when you open the lid!
Just one change
It is important to keep the process from overwhelming you. When I first started looking into what I could do, there were so many options that I didn’t know where to start. So I did nothing. Once I was really ready to start, I decided that our family would just make one change at a time. We started with grocery bags. I thought I was doing it for the kids, so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed, but it actually turned out to be what I needed as well.
Pick the change that you would be able to stick to and be sure to congratulate yourself after each step! The zero waste lifestyle takes years to fully adopt and that is a long time to be miserable. SO be sure to have fun along the way.
Click here to download and print a pdf copy of the list below. Keep it close and check ok each step as you complete it! 8 steps to a zero waste kitchen
How do you plan to start? Be sure to stop back and me know what changes you made and how it went!