Kitchens tend to be one of the most wasteful rooms in the home – just think of all the packaging, single-use cleaning materials, and food waste in this space. But with great waste, comes a great opportunity for a green kitchen ‘remodel.’ Here are some easy solutions you can implement to make your footprint in the kitchen a bit lighter.
“Unpaper” towels: We’ve mentioned this before, and we will say it again – ditch the paper towels! Depending on your preference, there are a few different options you can try. Bamboo paper towels are durable and easy to keep white and pristine with a bit of bleach – I like to use these for household cleaning and wiping up messy spills. Cloth towels are super durable, and visually appealing. I use these in place of napkins. When alternatives are this simple, it’s easy to ditch the paper for good!
Reusable grocery bags: Reusable bags (totes and produce bags) are inexpensive and can be used for toting around a whole lot more than just groceries. I like to keep a few in my kitchen to grab on my way out to the store and a couple in my car in case I make an unexpected stop. If you forget your reusable bags and have to use plastic (it’s ok, it happens to all of us!) check to see where you can recycle them locally. Plastic bags can’t be recycled with other hard plastics, but some grocery chains offer recycling services for soft plastics.
Food storage: Storing leftovers can be a major source of waste if you rely on plastic wrap and plastic bags. Fortunately, there are lots of earth-friendly alternatives. Consider beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap (if you can source beeswax, you can even make your own), glass containers (even mason jars!) to store leftovers, and silicone food savers to make the most of your fruit and vegetables.
Bulk up your pantry: Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to bulk food sections in their grocery stores, but if you do – take advantage! Besides being friendlier to the planet, passing on packaging is often budget-friendly. Sprouts, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Kroger, and King Soopers are a few of the mainstream stores that have bulk sections, although selection will vary. Specialty stores focused on offering zero or low waste options can be found in many cities, check out this list to see options in your city. Stores have varying policies on whether cloth bags or containers can be used, so make sure to check in advance. For example, you can’t use cloth bags at Sprouts, so I use glass containers with the tare weights permanently marked on them. These glass containers double as pantry storage, and they’re even kind of trendy! You can often stock up on glass containers like these at second hand stores for a fraction of the price.
Make your own cleaners: Household cleaners can be simple to make, are super versatile, and this simple tip will pare down your supply cabinet, save some cash, and reduce your reliance on plastics. Purchase a reusable spray bottle, repurpose some citrus rinds, mix in some vinegar and let it mature for a few weeks, and you’re good to go! A google search will yield lots of “recipes”, this is one of my favorites because it’s the winning combination of being simple, yet effective.
Go big: If making your own cleaners isn’t your jam, then consider buying in large quantities. Use refillable soap dispensers and spray bottles to portion out manageable bits at a time.
Adjust your caffeine habit: Make your morning (or afternoon) habit even better by ditching the plastic and paper. Many places have coffee beans available in bulk, complete with the option to grind the beans to whatever degree of coarseness is appropriate for your preferred brew method. Rather than using paper filters, consider switching to a French press, or purchase a reusable filter. Switch to whole leaf tea and pick up a tea infuser and you can permanently ditch single use tea bags. If these options are out of reach for now, at least consider saying no to the environmental foe that is the single use k-cup! If you want to keep using your Keurig machine, purchase a reusable k-cup.
Ditch the sponge: Let’s face it, sponges are breeding grounds for bacteria. Recommendations are often to dispose of sponges every week or two. Not very earth or budget friendly! Thankfully there are some alternatives. Repurposing old dishcloths works because it makes use of something you probably already have, and they are easy to clean. Other options include cleaning brushes and silicone wedges that can be cleaned (and sanitized!) in the dishwasher.
Reconsider trash bags: As much as we aim to reduce our consumption and reliance on single use products, the likelihood is that all of us will still produce trash. There are a variety of options to avoid plastic trash bags – consider reusable bags, bags made from biodegradable or recyclable materials, or you could even go without and commit to regular cleanings of your bin. This page has a great summary of alternatives. Personally, I only use bags for the kitchen trash, but am still using conventional plastic. One of my goals is to begin composting to reduce the amount of waste going in the bin, and to test out using just the bin (and if that doesn’t work for us – bags made from recyclable materials!).
Reuse and Recycle: Glass jars like those from pasta sauce and salsa can be given a second life when used for food storage, or keep some on hand to distribute leftovers or homemade goods without the stress of tracking down your container later. If you have as many containers as you can handle, make sure to recycle!
Wondering why you should care about reducing your waste? Check out our other features on food waste and plastic.