Ever since learning the three R's in elementary school, I have worked hard at reducing my carbon footprint, especially in my kitchen. I love Meatless Mondays, I use plastic-free storage containers for leftovers, and I gave up bottled water in favor of a Brita tap.
With all the negative things going on in the world, though, I decided I needed to try something even more radical to connect me with what I feel is most important.
That's why I decided to try a zero-waste week at home, and the experiment was completely eye-opening.
What Am I Wasting?
The first step to going waste-free in my kitchen was examining what exactly I was throwing away every week. Like most households, my kitchen trash is filled with the usual suspects: food packaging, like plastic greens containers and boxed snacks; uneaten leftovers and the materials, like ziploc bags and tinfoil, used to put them away; expired food, spoiled meat, and rotten produce; and paper towels and other non-recyclable cleaning products.
After inspecting my trash, it was clear that if I was going to go waste-free, I would have to do a lot more than switch to reusable grocery bags. I was going to have to completely change the way I shopped, cooked, cleaned, and saved products in my home.
I would have to do a lot more than switch to reusable grocery bags.
Getting the Right Supplies
While it may seem counter-intuitive to get more stuff when you're trying to minimize trash, the next stop on my journey to waste-free living was to make sure I had all the right supplies. I dug out the half-dozen reusable shopping bags I've collected over the years, rinsed out my glass containers, and stocked up on reusable produce bags, new products that quickly became my best friends.
I also bought strong cleaning cloths to replace my usual paper towels, and made sure my kitchen hand towels were clean and ready to report for duty. Whether I needed to go shopping at the grocery store or clean up at home, I made sure I was prepared to do it with as little waste as possible.
Creating the Perfect Grocery List
Once I saw what was generating my trash, and got the supplies I needed to reduce it, I was able to rework my regular grocery shopping list to include less wasteful items. I focused on food without packaging, bulk-bin items, and farm-fresh ingredients I could pick up in my neighborhood.
I also tried to purchase complementary ingredients, and buy less ingredients than normal to make more meals. My goal was to generate enough food to feed myself and my partner all week with the fewest ingredients possible. That meant including items that could be used in multiple dishes and ingredients that generate little to no waste.
My no-waste grocery list
- Peanut butter
When I went grocery shopping, I brought my reusable bags, my produce pouches, and containers for the bulk bins. I even came prepared with reusable wax paper to the butcher to wrap my meat in, but the store's health code prevented them from giving me my chicken without store packaging.
Out of all of my groceries, the only item that had packaging was the chicken. I was able to purchase everything else in reusable packaging or no packaging at all.
Finding a Purpose for Every Ingredient
One of the biggest things I learned from living waste-free in my kitchen? Every little food scrap has a purpose. As I began my food prep for my waste-free week, an activity I usually do at the beginning of every week, I took stock of my ingredients and tried to think of the best way to use them to their fullest potential.
From the roasted chicken, rice, and carrots I made on day one, I was also able to create (with the help of other ingredients) the following:
- Chicken stock
- Natural dog food
- Vegetable and rice soup
- Chicken and avocado toast
- Chicken fried rice
Every little food scrap has a purpose.
I used my first meal of the week to inspire others by turning my leftover food into new dishes. What's more, I didn't let any part of the food I was using go to waste. After using the chicken bones to make soup stock, I dried and ground them for bone meal for my garden. I used carrot peels and kale scraps for my morning shake. I even kept the egg shells for a compost pile for my neighbor.
When you're living waste-free, every ingredient has a purpose.
Adopting Greener Cleaning Methods
One thing I never realized about my wasteful kitchen habits was how much trash I generated when I was cleaning. I am constantly wiping up after myself with paper towels, and when I am in a rush, my go-to is a pre-packaged, pre-moistened bleach wipe.
During my waste-free week, I left all that behind in favor of some reusable cleaning supplies. I stocked up on washable cleaning cloths, doubled my number of kitchen towels, and even opted for a dish brush over my usual sponges (which I typically throw out every week because I'm afraid of germs). Although I did have to wash these items more often, I felt like my kitchen stayed tidier because I more mindfully rationed my cleaning supplies.
While I didn't really switch up the cleaners I used because I already had plenty of spray bottles under the sink, I did run out of dishwasher soap midweek. Instead of buying a big plastic container of pods, I tried making my own homemade dishwasher soap with regular soap, salt, and baking soda. My dishes came out as clean as they would have with my regular soap.
Once you start to live waste-free, you realize just how much food, trash, and money you're actually throwing away every week. Grocery shopping, cooking, and eating create a lot of waste — but they don't have to.
By changing just a few of my habits for a week, I went from my usual three to four full kitchen trash bags, to only one all week, to one Mason jar that was only partially filled up.
3 Easy Ways to Start Cutting Waste
If you're trying to reduce your own waste, here are some easy ways to reduce trash and cut costs in your kitchen.
1. Buy package-free food.
Avoid buying pre-packaged products like snack bars and yogurt cups. Instead, opt for bulk items, dairy in glass, and foods that don't need packaging at all. Use your own reusable items, like produce bags, bulk containers, and reusable shopping bags, whenever you go to the grocery store.
2. Use leftovers to make new meals.
Instead of letting leftovers go to waste, try and reuse them in creative ways that turn the same ol' meal into something new. Great twists include fried rice, burritos, and salads.
3. Eliminate paper in the kitchen by switching to cloth cleaning supplies.
Cleaning generates as much waste as cooking can. Swap out your paper towels and sanitizing wipes in favor of reusable kitchen cloths, kitchen towels, and DIY cleaners you can make at home.
When it comes to cutting down waste, it's the little things that make the biggest difference.
Have you ever tried a no-waste week? What did you discover?