Zero Waste Household Guide: Kitchen Solutions

by Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

Welcome to our Zero Waste Household Guide – Today’s subject: The Kitchen

These are the solutions we’ve come up with for our own families over the past few years. We’re working our way around a typical house, room-by-room. You can see our list of basic zero waste living first steps here. If you’re just starting the shift towards zero waste living, we recommend picking just one step. Make one change, and make it your own. Once that has become second nature, move on to a second step. Move at a pace that works for you, grant yourself amnesty for the times when you fall short of your own goals, and remember that your own goals are the ones that matter – Leave the judging and competitive eco-sainthood race behind. Make one change that brings you more joy with less waste, and we promise you’ll be motivated to try another, and another…

Without further ado, here are our kitchen tips. Please share your own kitchen suggestions in the comments below so we can grow this resource for everyone.

Zero Waste Kitchen Solutions

  • Store your food in glass jars. Reuse glass jars of all sizes, and find used Mason jars at thrift stores, garage sales, or during summer canning season sales at your local grocery and hardware stores. Buy in bulk at your grocery store, putting your items directly into your jars (get a tare weight for each jar from a cashier before filling the jar, so the weight can be subtracted from your grocery items when the price is calculated). Jars work on pantry shelves as well as in the fridge and freezer. Even salad greens stay fresh when packed into jars instead of into plastic bags, and soups and other foods can be frozen in jars if you leave the top few inches empty to allow for expansion.

Zero Waste Cupboards, photo by Liesl Clark

  • Use alternatives to plastic wrap to cover food in your fridge or on your counter tops. Natural waxed paper can be composted when it wears out; to keep it in place over a casserole or tray of food, weight the top with a table knife or spoon. Plates can be inverted to cover bowls.
  • Turn an old sheet into bags for shopping and home storage. These don’t need to be fancy, just stitch up some simple pillow case style rectangles, with or without a drawstring at the top; you can tie string or yarn around the neck for a customizable, removable and reusable closure. Get bags slightly damp to store delicate greens in the fridge, use them dry for fruit such as apples, brown rice, etc. If you don’t have a sheet ready to become bags, check your local thrift store or Freecycle group.

Carol’s Produce Bag Made from a Sheet; Willa Likes it Too, photo by Liesl Clark

  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. You’ll get a better price per pound, and there’s less packaging to deal with. If you don’t know of a buying club or co-op around you, check the online directory of the Co-op Directory Service for a state-by-state listing of buying clubs and co-ops, and tips on starting one for your community: Even your local grocery store has bulk options on its regular shelves. Buy the largest package you can find of pasta, fresh green beans, rice, etc. Freeze extra in season vegetables and fruits for use when they’re not in season any more; store that extra pasta and rice in your pantry.
  • Eat seasonal foods. Things that are in season locally are fresher, less expensive, and frequently transported shorter distances which requires less packaging. It means no strawberries in January for most of us, but when you eat the berries that are ripened on farms closer to your home later in the  year, they really will taste better (much better), and they’ll likely be available in paper baskets instead of plastic clamshell boxes, and will cost less. And some foods that taste the best might be right under your nose. Try the 100 foot diet, undertaken by Liesl’s family last spring; to their delight they enjoyed the fruit of their land in ways they had never done before!

Collards in Spring Leftover from the Winter Garden, photo by Liesl Clark

  • Want Bread Less Plastic? Make your own. We purchased a Teflon-free bread maker years ago and make at least 2 loaves per week. It not only saves our family a lot of money, but we know the great organic ingredients that go into our bread now. There’s nothing like fresh-baked bread. But a dilemma posed itself to us when we then had to pack our bread into bags to store it, after baking. The solution? Store your bread in an old-fashioned bread box! It keeps the bread fresh for days and totally plastic-free. The same goes for many foods that are commonly packaged in plastics, from crackers to yogurt and way beyond. Check out our Food Less Plastic board at Pinterest for some recipes to get you started.
  • Never Buy Plastic Bags Again: We haven’t bought plastic bags in years. There’s no need. With the use of a bag dryer from Gaiam, we wash and then dry all the bags we use. You can also make your own countertop bag dryer using chopsticks and a toothbrush holder. Why treat a plastic bag as a single use disposable if that plastic is here to stay on this planet, forever? You’ll save money, too.

    Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

  • Double Your Ziplocs as “Freezer Bags.” If you freeze many of your fruits and veggies in the summer, one trick, rather than buying freezer bags, is to simply double bag your produce into your very own Ziploc bags. We reuse Ziploc-style bags from our favorite tortilla maker and use them as doubled-up freezer bags.

  • Cut way down on paper towelsKeep a basket of small natural fiber wash cloths or towel pieces on your kitchen counter or wherever you can reach it easily. If you have young children, keep a stack of where they can be reached and used without adult assistance – Kids love to be in charge of mopping up their own spills when it’s easy and guilt-free. Cut up an old towel or check your local thrift store for a collection of wash cloths or towels in colors that you enjoy. Run the dirty cloths through a regular wash cycle, dry them, and they’ll be good to go for the next mess. When they’re finally worn out, toss them into your compost pile or use them as weed barrier fabric in your garden. When you do use a paper towel, compost it instead of sending it to your local landfill or incinerator.

A Plastic-Free Sink is All-Natural and Non-Toxic, photo by Liesl Clark

  • Plastic-Free Sink. We love our all-natural sink accoutrements: A natural compostable sponge, a hand-knit organic cotton scrubby, a bamboo brush, a copper scrubber for tough stuff, liquid castile soap in a glass bottle, and baking soda in a stainless steel shaker. Wads of used tin foil can always substitute the copper scrubber for a great abrasive against baked-on food. And the baking soda is our most reliable hard-working abrasive scrubber for pots and pans. It starts its magic on your cookware as soon as its sprinkled on.
  • If you’re looking for more zero waste kitchen inspiration, please visit our Trash Backwards app, where we have hundreds of kitchen ideas to help you reduce, reuse and recycle all things kitchen-related. Here’s a sample of some of the green ideas we can connect you to:

    Click Through for Hundreds of Green Kitchen Tips at Trash Backwards

    Click Through for Hundreds of Green Kitchen Tips at Trash Backwards

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Categories: Best of Trash Backwards, Reduce Your Use, Repurpose and Reuse, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff, Zero Waste Guide


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13 Comments on “Zero Waste Household Guide: Kitchen Solutions”

  1. May 31, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Where did you get the båmboo brush? I have been looking for one.

  2. May 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    Definitely helped me so I have an idea what I can find. Thanks

  3. Kat
    November 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Hi – I’ve read that you shouldn’t continually rewash and reuse Ziplocs because they can start to degrade and release plastics into your food – especially if you use hot water. You could use tempered glass containers or wrap portions in butcher paper for short storage, and put paper-wrapped portions in one of those saved Ziplocs for longer periods of storage without worrying about the leeching. Don’t use actual “freezer paper,” as it’s coated with a plastic film.

    • November 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

      Hi Kat – Thanks for bringing this up! I’ve had great luck with Mason jars in my freezer, as long as I leave space for things to expand, although I know some people using the same jars who have breakage issues. I still can’t figure out why it works so well for me, but I’m happy that it does. I’ve read the same articles about the dangers of freezing food in plastic of any sort, and the increase of toxins in plastics that have been washed. When I do use Ziploc-style plastic bags, I wrap my foods entirely in natural waxed paper (unbleached paper w/ vegetable waxes) so that no food touches the plastic. I’m not sure how much protection that gives, but I’m hoping it’s something. I think the bottom line is that plastics and foods just don’t mix safely, and the concerns go up when there are extreme temperatures involved on either end.

    • October 13, 2014 at 6:12 am #

      HI Kat. You bring up a good point. Please know that in our family, we don’t use ziploc bags for storing any “wet” foods. We wash all resealable bags but use them mostly for when kids need one to store items or for dry foods. In the freezer, the things we freeze in them are not very wet, like blackberries and kale leaves so I’m hoping there isn’t any leaching going on.

  4. Ellen Maas
    July 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I’m coming a little late into the conversation, but last year my husband found a great non-plastic food wrap item from Abeego. They make a natural-materials replacement product for plastic wrap and even plastic bags (to a point). They are not cheap, but we are very happy with them and gave some as Christmas gifts to like-minded family members.

  5. Tina
    November 17, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    If you still have sponges out of synthetic materials you can just give it to your washer and wash it together with towels and things like it. Makes it almost new again.

    Greetings, Tina from Germany

  6. November 6, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    I love the Zero Waste Kitchen solutions and ideas! I am trying to learn how to use all the products as effectively as possible. I make jars with products from our garden, I freeze others and I try to cook without throwing anything but often there are food pieces that go to the compost! 🙂


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