Our biggest source of trash used to be kitchen waste- food scraps, plastic food packaging, ziplock baggies, saran wrap, straws, aluminum foil, paper towels, sponges, and cleaning products. Over time, what used to be the trashiest place in our house has turned into an efficient, simplified, easy to cook and clean area. I can breathe when I look in the fridge and cabinets and everything is easy to see and use. Here’s what I do to keep it that way.
– I don’t buy single use items, and instead I found reusable solutions. Instead of paper towels, I use rags. I got rid of plastic wrap- there’s no need for it anyway. I bought a mismatched set of colorful cloth napkins at World Market instead of paper napkins. Instead of sandwich baggies, we started using a stainless steel lunchbox for Carmelas lunch and a bigger one for our own. Or I simply wrap in a kitchen towel. We stopped using garbage bags since most of the wet items were compostable. Many of the single use items we were using, we really didn’t miss at all- on the contrary, I felt free letting go of them and the way it automatically de cluttered the kitchen.
under the sink from left to right: recycling crate, stainless steel compost bucket, dishwasher detergent with metal scoop.
– I buy in bulk instead of in packaging, at Davis Food Co-op and once every few months I make a day trip to Rainbow Grocery for harder to find items. I bring my own jars and bags to the store and use those to buy grains, beans, nuts, peanut butter, vinegar, and more in the bulk section. If you eat meat or cheese, you can take your clean jars to the deli counter, too. The deli bar is a great source for olives and pickles, especially if you’re entertaining. If you don’t have bulk access in your area, talk to the stores you have and encourage them to bring on even a few bulk options. You have the power as a consumer! (post on reducing impact without a bulk store)
– I go to the farmer’s market to avoid produce twist ties and stickers, and to find veggies like cauliflower sans packaging. find a market near you here.
– I wash dishes with compostable wooden scrubbies, a knit cloth, and a stainless steel scourer instead of the plastic sponges and brushes I was using before. For soap, I buy in bulk from Refill Madness, but liquid castile soap works well too, and I’ll be experimenting with this french block soap for dishes too (update 3/29/2018: I’ve since switched to the french block soap for dishes and it’s fantastic. Lathers nicely, cuts grease, smells fantastic and looks beautiful on the counter. Food 52 shipped it to me with zero plastic packaging, too- all recycled paper). As a rule, I generally prefer to avoid liquids when possible for soap and detergent as they involve more plastic for transport and use. For dishwashers, opt for bulk powder or powder in a cardboard box. I save the water from washing dishes to water outdoor plants.
– We started composting (check out this post for more info) and also reducing the amount of food waste by buying less at a time, and eating/using every part of the plant (beet and celery leaves, potato peels, freezing peelings to make veg stock with, adding coffee grounds to houseplants).
veggie scraps ready to roast with miso, kombu + fresh onion for broth
– I preserve food in season to enjoy it out of season without the packaging: pickling, fermenting, and canning are all very simple once you learn how and are a great way to preserve. I visit u-pick farms for cheap berries (and a fantastic family day) in the summer to stock up the freezer for winter without the plastic. I can over 100 quarts of tomatoes every year with my mom to get us through the winter without cans of tomatoes. You can freeze, too, if canning intimidates you. But it’s so easy. We just follow the directions that come with the pressure cooker!
– I make a select few items that I can’t find in bulk. It has to be easy, though- I don’t have time to make complicated stuff and I don’t like feeling overwhelmed. Some examples of DIY staples here: coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, hot sauce. Next up, mustard.
– If I cannot find items in bulk and I can’t/don’t want to make it myself, I go to the source: ice cream in my own jar at Good Scoop, bread from Village Bakery, chips from a taqueria, corn tortillas wrapped in a napkin from a restaurant I work at.
bulk vanilla coconut locally made ice cream
– I store food leftovers directly in glass jars and containers in the fridge. No leaching of plastic, easy to see what’s in there, aesthetically pleasing, and can go straight from the bulk shop into my jar into my fridge. No need to buy separate storage containers, canning jars do it all and are freezer safe too. In depth guide to plastic free fridge storage here.
– We eat all our leftovers- I freeze, repurpose, or reuse all of it.
– I’ve simplified appliances, gadgets, tools, pots and pans AND our cooking. I only kept what we needed and used regularly. Everything else- multiple sets of things, one trick ponies, things that only saw the light of day once a year, panini press, toaster that I hated cleaning, kitchen aid mixer that I had unrealistic expectations of my baking skills/time available attached to – got donated to friends or our community via Freecycle.
What are your biggest struggles with kitchen waste? Leave questions/comments below!