Being low-waste is an important part of my life, and having a sustainable kitchen is the latest area of my home that I’m working to greenify.
The kitchen is the heart of a home. Spencer and I spend time every single day in ours, which means it has the potential to create a lot of unnecessary waste. This is especially true now that I’m working from home and eating three meals a day here.
I’ve always recycled. My mom made it a priority growing up, and an entire corner of our little kitchen was dedicated to towers of cans and piles of deconstructed cardboard boxes. But sometimes, recycling just isn’t enough. Now that China won’t take our recycling anymore and we don’t have the infrastructure to recycle many plastics here in the States, a lot of recyclable products get sent to the landfill. If we can stop the waste from coming into our homes in the first place, it’s better for everyone.
When you think about putting together your own version of a sustainable kitchen, it’s important to consider each step of the food preparation process: from grocery shopping and cooking to serving and saving leftovers. So that’s what I’ve done below! Here are the tried and true low-waste products that I’ve added to my own sustainable kitchen over the last few years.
Swap plastic shopping bags for a canvas bag
Paper or plastic? Neither! Instead of taking home plastic bags from the grocery store and stuffing them under your sink until you can’t fit anything else down there, make it a point to carry a canvas bag or two along with you. You likely have one from a conference — I keep ones from Merriam-Webster, Bananagrams, and my trip to see Harry Potter and The Cursed Child in my trunk.
If you don’t have one, might I suggest something from one of my favorite nerdy apparel companies, Jordandené?
Swap plastic produce bags for reusable produce bags
Fruits and veggies are important parts of a balanced diet. But do you really need to put them in thin plastic bags for the time it takes to get them back home? I’ve made the swap to these reusable mesh bags, and I love them! Each pack comes with different sizes for different items, and the drawstring closure keeps everything secure. They’re also breathable, so I can use them for storing items in my refrigerator bins when I get home.
Swap the landfill for a kitchen compost bin
You know those carrot ends, apple cores, cucumber peels, and more that you chuck into the trash? Why not get yourself a kitchen compost bin instead? When we put materials that decompose in landfills, they release methane gas, a huge contributor to our global warming problem. With a compost bin, your scraps can decompose naturally, producing nutritious organic matter for your plants.
We have a compost bin in our backyard, and this kitchen bin makes it easy to store scraps before moving them out to the bin every week. You could also see if your city or county has a composting system where you can take your food scraps. Some areas will even have them picked up on the street with your trash!
Cooking and Baking
Swap aluminum foil for silicone baking mats
It wouldn’t be a sustainable kitchen if we didn’t find solutions for the waste that comes from actually cooking your food! Our recycling center won’t take balls of aluminum foil, and I felt so guilty every time we’d tear off a sheet to bake cookies, nachos, or frozen foods in the oven.
Now, we have these silicone baking mats that fit every single one of our many baking sheets! I honestly think they’ve cut down on the time it takes to heat things up, and we just pop them into the dishwasher rack to clean them.
Swap K-cups for a French press
I’m going to be honest with you: I love my Keurig. It’s so fast and easy to use, but the waste it produces is unnecessary. And Keurig knows this; by the end of 2020, they have pledged to make all their K-cups recyclable!
That’s a big win, but if you’re looking for a completely no-waste solution to your caffeine habit, I’d recommend a French press. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you get it down, you’ll get great coffee in minutes with only compostable coffee grounds left behind.
Swap tea bags for a tea infuser
This one is something I’ve been doing gradually since I have quite a large collection of tea bags! Loose-leaf tea is typically cheaper (because you can buy it in bulk), finer quality, and fresher than what you get in individual tea bags. Plus, the process is pretty much the same when you use an infuser: add the tea, let it steep, and enjoy!
Also, how stinkin’ cute are these infusers?
Swap single-use paper towels for cloth napkins
Cloth napkins: they aren’t just for your grandmother’s fancy china. When we added these napkins to our wedding registry years ago, I never expected them to be used outside of Thanksgiving dinners and birthday celebrations.
And then I thought, “Why wouldn’t we use them all the time?” Paper towels end up in the landfill whereas I can wash these babies over and over again for years!
Swap plastic straws for a reusable straw
Here’s one that we’ve all heard before! There’s literally no reason to still be using plastic straws. Whether you go for a stainless steel one like I have, a fancy glass one, or a silly silicone bendy straw, it’s going to be better than breaking open a new plastic straw each time you go to Starbucks.
You can also find straws in different sizes, very important for your Venti iced drinks or teas with big, juicy bobas.
Swipe disposable chopsticks for reusable chopsticks
If you’re anything like us, you likely use chopsticks every month. (Or really every week. Who’s counting?) So doesn’t it just make sense to invest in some reusable chopsticks that you can wash and save?
Spencer prefers metal chopsticks, but I adore a set of bamboo ones that he got me for Valentine’s Day a few years back. They even came with the little ceramic chopstick rests! I found the next closest thing and linked them for you below.
Swap plastic wrap for silicone bowl lids
You guys, I got these awesome silicone lids for Christmas last year, and I am not exaggerating when I say I use them daily. The set comes with seven different sizes in a carrying bag, and there’s only one ginormous bowl in our kitchen that they don’t cover.
We use them for storing leftovers, covering up veggies that have been prepped for dinner, keeping drinks covered in the fridge, helping round cakes stay fresh on the counter, and so, so much more!
Swap plastic sandwich baggies for reusable sandwich and snack bags
I wonder how many Zip-lock bags I’ve used and thrown away in my lifetime. Honestly, I would be horrified to know. My grandmother — part of the Great Depression generation aka the OG sustainable kitchen generation — used to rinse out her plastic baggies and save them, but they still only have so long of a shelf life. Instead, you can invest in these reusable ones that will work for years.
I’ve also heard that beeswax wrap is great for these kinds of items, too! I’ve just never used it before and so don’t know yet if I would recommend it.
Swap Styrofoam storage containers for reusable storage containers
Right now, we’re still working with a set of plastic Tupperware food storage containers. But in ten years or so, when they’re too stained and scratched up to use anymore, I’ll be upgrading to a glass set.
Regardless, anything is better than the big, clunky foam containers that you have no choice but to send straight to a landfill.
What swaps have you made to turn what could be a wasteful space into a sustainable kitchen? I’m sure there are other tips out there, and I’d love to hear them!
P.S. You can find eco-friendly products for the rest of your house in my beginner’s guide to zero waste.