Ever toyed with the idea of going zero waste in your kitchen? Chances are the idea made you panic a little. It seems such an incredibly big mountain to climb, after all. To eliminate all waste from your life seems a monumental if not impossible task.
That would mean no more toilet tissue, zero plastic bags and bottles, reusing every glass bottle that comes into your home, composting your scraps, and completely ditching those disposable feminine products.
In the kitchen specifically, it would mean finding an alternative to that grotty kitchen sponge and paper towels, creating ways to repurpose your old and ineffective bakeware, and never buying salad in a bag, which might be the biggest hurdle for busy, nutrition-conscious families.
Small Steps = Big Change
Now I don't know about you, but I've noticed that human beings, myself included, are much less likely to conform to a particular set of behaviors when confronted with social pressure. While pointing out all the ways in which we are wasteful human beings inspires guilt, which can indeed be an effective tactic for change, causing shame is not. Shaming someone or ourselves for our all-too-human tendency to be wasteful actually has the opposite effect.
Last year I was madly motivated to attempt living one year completely zero waste, until I considered how gargantuan a task it is. Of course, it's only a massive undertaking at the start until you adapt to a new way of life. Still, I decided that reducing waste was a more achievable challenge for me at the time, and would result in much less shame when I simply couldn't make my efforts perfectly zero waste. Heroes work in small ways too, after all. I also considered that learning all the ways in which I could reduce waste, one step at a time, would compound over time, like interest in a bank account, until my lifestyle was almost zero waste.
Impulse Control For Waste Patrol
Like any change we wish to implement in our lives, we must first recognize what we want to change and why. Then we must observe how our behaviors are aligned or incompatible with our ideals. We all know how easy it is to talk the talk; walking that talk requires far greater consciousness and effort.
I'll be honest, those first couple weeks I was hellbent on reducing my personal waste, it was hard. Everywhere I went I found myself in a situation of having to choose convenience over ethics. Thankfully, I was already a fairly nutritious, whole-food eater, so those shiny foil packages didn't beckon to me the way they would a child or someone who loves their salty snacks. Nonetheless, I still had changes to make.
I started ditching the prewashed, packaged, "safer" baby spinach and opted for the locally-grown bunch, still donning fine dirt dusted root tendrils. I learned to make my own almond milk and peanut butter. I found ways to reuse the gazillion glass jars I'd been harbouring for months. I learned how to create and cultivate a permaculture garden and dove deep into the psychology of composting.
The following seven tips demonstrate how easy it is to make those little changes that have a big impact. You may discover that reducing waste is actually more convenient than having to sort out all that discarded packaging and other useless leftover matter.
Before you dive in, start by being mindful. Be conscious of all those sneaky little ways seemingly harmless waste creeps into your life. Mentally note or jot down how much plastic you consume in the kitchen, how many times a day you pitch something in the trash can, how often you use paper towel, and more. Then, choose a couple tips from the following list to start your personal campaign to reduce waste in the kitchen.
Kitchen Waste Management 101
Waste management is neatly organized into five 'Rs' to help us remember the simple actions we can take to minimize stuff ending up in landfills:
REDUCE > REUSE > RECYCLE > REPURPOSE > REFUSE
Wrap leftovers in beeswax wraps.
These ingenious cotton/beeswax creations are excellent fresh-food storage solutions. Wrap bread and cut produce, cover lidless jars and cups, fold a square into a pocket to hold sandwiches and finger foods, You can even use them to loosen tight jar lids! I also use these for travel. I wrap my bar of soap in a medium-sized wrap rather than using one of those clunky, too-big plastic soap containers that turn my bar soap to mush.
Beeswax wraps are available everywhere these days, and they come in multiple sizes, colors, and designs so you can make a style statement in your kitchen too.
Can The Keurig.
This is probably not what you want to read! But remember that fifth R--refuse? Reducing waste involves a bit of sacrifice, but it only feels like sacrifice if we value that insidious little plastic cup of convenience more than we value a cleaner world and commitment to our own personal ethics, right? Besides, humans adapt to new ways quickly, so it will only feel like a sacrifice for a short time.
So, what takes the place of your Keurig? A reusable coffee or tea filter. You can either buy a posh stainless steel filter or fashion a funnel-shaped one from a piece of sturdy cotton and a wire coat hanger. You can also buy generic reusable versions of the Keurig cup, into which you put your own ground coffee. Be warned though, I've never found one that fits the way it's supposed to.
Keep a stash of reusable produce bags in your reusable shopping bag.
Most supermarkets these days are in the habit of charging people for a plastic shopping bag to encourage customers to bring their own. Most of us have caught on. However, for some reason this logic doesn't apply to those flimsy plastic bags on a roll in the produce section. Many of us still use several at once to stash our broccoli, peas, carrots, even bananas, which have a protective skin!
Since you're already bringing your own shopping bag, why not bring your own produce bags too? There are loads of inexpensive options available on Amazon, and you'll even find them on the shelves of many wholefood organic supermarkets. Those mesh nut milk bags double as produce bags too, allowing for just enough airflow to keep vegetables fresh and wilt-free.
Buy in bulk and bring your own container.
Buying in bulk doesn't just reduce the need for packaging, it's also less expensive. Rather than reaching for those single-use plastic bags that bulk food shops are known for, save up those glass jars and use them to store non-perishable items found in bulk at your local supermarket. Things like rice, lentils, nuts, baking ingredients, spices and more can be purchased in bulk and you can choose how much or how little you need of each, so they maintain their freshness too.
Compost your organic waste.
Starting an at-home compost bin is an easy DIY activity that the kids can help with too--it's an excellent science activity! Eartheasy offers a useful guide with easy steps for learning how to compost. Here's a quick summary:
Begin your compost pile on bare earth.
Place twigs or straw on the earth, a few inches deep.
Alternately layer moist and dry compost materials.
Add manure, green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any other nitrogen source.
Keep compost moist.
Cover and turn the pile every few weeks to aerate it and add new materials.
See this source for full details on the whats and hows of at-home composting.
Create a permaculture garden.
It isn't as hard as it sounds! I have nary a green thumb, let alone two, and I still managed to grow spring onions. A personal-sized permaculture garden inspires a sixth R in my books: Regenerate. When you chop off the stems and bases of vegetables like spring onions, carrots, and zucchini, put them aside and later plant them in compost-rich soil at a shallow depth and water regularly. You should begin to see signs of life within a few weeks.
Ditch the paper towels.
Here are a couple of dirty facts:
Discarded paper towels result in 254 million tons of trash every year across the globe.
Discarded paper towels account for as many as 51,000 trees per day.
If every US household used 1 less sheet of paper towel, 544,000 trees would be saved.
They're easy, but they're also single-use, and can be replaced by reusable cloths. There are plenty of stylish reusable cloth rolls that function just like a paper towel roll, and they're great if you're willing to spend the money. If not, cut up old towels or t-shirts into manageable sizes and keep a generous stack of them in a handy drawer in your kitchen. Whip one out any time you need to do a quick wipe up, use one as a base for dying herbs and freshly-washed lettuce, and more. Like many other waste-reducers, you'll save money with this one too. While you're at it, consider making your own natural kitchen cleaners!
No Shame Solutions…
Take one step at a time until it feels like a natural part of your day. There's no need to go whole-hog into a complete lifestyle change and chances are, it won't be sustainable anyways. Every little bit of change to reduce kitchen waste makes a positive impact. And it motivates other people to do the same as you, which helps to start a mini, less-waste revolution. To learn more about how you can go zero waste in your kitchen, see this month's free guide.
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