Converting to a completely zero waste kitchen sounds like it would be ridiculously overwhelming and we’re here to tell you that no…It’s really not that big a deal! Yes, you may have a small initial investment, yes there may be a few unhealthy habits we’ll need to break but at the end of the day, they are all very DO-ABLE and will ultimately lead to not only a greener planet but also, a fair amount of added dough in your pocket. So with that being said, let’s get cracking!
The unfortunate truth these days is that living en eco friendly lifestyle is suddenly a “modern” idea when in fact, the way I see it is that we are simply coming to the sad realisation that we actually had it right up until about 100 years ago… Think about it; what we think of as “back in the old days” was before plastic took over the world, before mass production… We all grew our own food, raised our own livestock, ate seasonal food, didn’t use plastic products… Suddenly, we’ve all become overwhelmed by options: We all want our damn mangoes, even when they’re not in season, lack of nutrients be damned! We all want our disposable products because “it’s just easier that way”.
And what exactly have we accomplished?
Many homes the world over do maintain a very eco-friendly lifestyle, sometimes without even realising it. It’s just common sense and second nature to them, while we’re all sitting here acting as if eating a damn vegetable is a fancy modern concept…
My parents for example, grew as much of their own fruit and vegetables as they were able to and traded with friends and family who grew different produce. They made their own skin and hair care products, created culinary masterpieces from scraps and leftovers, only ate seasonal produce, made their own clothes, and the list goes on and on! They weren’t just following a fad – That’s just the way they were raised to do things and in turn, that’s what they taught their children. My mother raised four kids, all in reusable cloth nappies – yes, disposable nappies would have most likely made her life that little bit easier but hey, she survived and so did we!
Sure, we have an enormous and ever growing population to cater for. Our lifestyles are considerably different in this day and age, and of course, we’re not all super ‘green thumbs’ (myself included!). But I do strongly believe that every little bit does count and if we can all try to make some cut backs wherever we can, we can definitely achieve something amazing!
Now, to start things off, I just want to point out that part of the whole ‘overwhelm’ of converting to a zero waste kitchen is that it can often feel like A LOT to take in all in one go.
The best way to proceed is to just do it in stages; start small, don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that every little bit counts. Give yourself some breathing space and do what works best for you – If zero waste is simply unrealistic in your household, little changes here and there will definitely go a long way!
Let’s get stuck right in!
Zero Waste Grocery Shopping
First things first: taking steps towards a zero waste kitchen means paying close attention to what you actually allow into your home. Most Aussie grocery stores are introducing soft plastics recycling bins in their stores which is a great first step in helping to reduce and recycle our packaging however, we can do better!
- Use reusable produce bags when shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables
- Take your own reusable storage containers when shopping for other fresh produce, for example at the deli or butcher
- Once again, opt for reusable storage options when shopping for things like grains and seeds
- Instead of purchasing snack food items wrapped in individual packaging, you can instead make your own easy snacks. Baked goods (think apple bars, muffins, banana bread, etc) make great, quick breakfasts or lunchbox treats and also offer a wonderful solution to using up any fruit that’s not on the fresher side!
- Extend the life of your fresh produce by storing things properly – You’ll find a ton of information over at She Knows!
Zero Waste Meal Planning
There’s a lot of talk about the topic of meal planning and how beneficial it can be for your budget. Meal planning can also be beneficial for the environment when you spend just a little extra time coming up with ways to re-use leftovers and scraps to create a new meal.
- To create an effective meal plan that will not only help lower your food spend but also decrease (or hopefully eliminate!) food waste, start off with making a detailed list of your family’s favourite meals.
- Next, it’s time to brainstorm! Based on your favourite meals, what new dishes could you potentially create using the leftovers? Pasta is a classic example; last night’s pasta can be made into a delicious pasta bake with the addition of a few pantry staples. Roast meats and vegetable leftovers can be baked into a hearty pie, while leftover bolognese can be made into tonight’s taco dinner.
- Using this method, not only are you saving some cash and reducing food waste, but you also have the added bonus of discovering new and exciting meal ideas that are similar enough to your family’s favourite meals, that they are pretty much guaranteed to be a hit!
- You can opt to freeze your newly made dishes in freezer safe, re-usable containers – Perfect for those days when you just can’t find the energy or time to be stuck in the kitchen.
An effective meal plan will help you dramatically reduce the amount of waste that comes out of your kitchen. After a while, you may even notice that the feeling of creating something new a delicious out of “waste” becomes seriously addictive!
Kitchen Compost Options
So now that we’ve found ways to re-use leftovers, what do we do with kitchen scraps? Certain things can be reused to create something new, for example fruit and veggie peels, those bread crusts we just had to remove from the sandwiches, etc. Otherwise, it’s off to the compost pile they go!
There are a few different options when it comes to setting up a composting routine for your home; the most popular choices are:
- Compost Bin (Outdoor solution): A traditional compost bin is an outdoor solution that accelerates food waste’s decomposition and converts it into a soil conditioner.
- Worm Farm (Outdoor solution): A worm farm is (obviously!) another outdoor composting solution and is basically as the name suggests: a community of worms that work to convert organic waste into a rich, natural fertilizer.
- Bokashi Bin (Indoor solution): With its origins in Japan, the Bokashi composting system is ideal for tighter spaces where there is simply not enough outdoor space for a more traditional approach to composting. You will need a Bokashi bin (these bins are completely air tight and also feature a small tap on the side) and a Bokashi accelerator spray. This technique basically ferments your kitchen waste; after a couple of weeks in there, you can drain the liquid using the bin’s built in tap and use the fermented waste inside the bin in your garden. The liquid can be diluted in water and used on your plants as a fertilizer or you can pour it down your drains to help keep those pipes clean.
For a more in-depth explanation of each composting solution (as well as some handy troubleshooting tips!) you can have a look at Sustainability Victoria’s website.
Ideally, we want to have eliminated as much food waste as possible or at least, have gotten as much USE of it as possible, before it ends up in the compost pile. We’ve already looked at effective meal planning for a zero waste kitchen; the following are just a few ideas on how to get even more use of your kitchen scraps before they end up in the compost heap.
- Veggie Scrap Stock: While you’re preparing your favourite veggies, save all the scraps that would normally end up going to waste in an airtight container or reusable zip-lock baggie in the freezer. We’re talking vegetable peels, pumpkin seeds, tomato cores, carrot tops, etc. Once your container is full, give it all a good wash and dump it into your slow cooker or pressure cooker to lock in that moisture throughout the cooking process. Add your favourite herbs and spices and fill up your cooker with water. Cook for about 8 hours in the slow cooker or roughly 30 mins in your pressure cooker, strain your stock and throw your softened veggie scraps into the compost, and there you have it: A rich, nourishing vegetable broth that can be used as a base for soups, added to your cooking for an instant flavour boost or frozen into ice cubes for future use.
- Fruit Scrap Cordial: We’ve made use of our veggie scraps, now its time for the fruit! Save fruit peels and cores in a freezer safe, airtight container. Once your container is full, give it all a very good wash and place in a large saucepan. Add in equal parts water and sugar with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice (do NOT skip the lemon juice – This will prevent your cordial from turning into a syrup!) and boil it all up, stirring until all sugar is dissolved. You’ll know it’s ready when your fruit bits become extra soft and almost mushy, and BAM: Homemade cordial!
- Discarded Crust Breadcrumbs: Save your discarded bread crusts (or even those crusty bits on the end of the loaf that no one seems to eat!) in an air-tight container or zip-lock bag and stash them in the freezer. Once your bag is full, you can easily make your own breadcrumbs for use in cooking. You’ll find the full method over at Frugal & Thriving.
Zero Waste Kitchen Storage
Next up, we have zero waste storage solutions. How do we normally store our food? We use cling wrap, single use plastic containers, foil, etc. There are much more eco friendly, reusable products available that once again, are not only great for the planet but will also save you money in the long run.
Options to consider include:
- Beeswax Wraps: Beeswax wraps are a reusable and washable alternative to the more traditional single use cling wrap
- Silicone Wraps: Silicone wraps are also a reusable and washable alternative to cling wrap – They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are usually also dishwasher safe!
- Glass Containers: Simple yet effective! Glass containers are an excellent alternative to single use plastics (an alternative to ANY plastic food storage option really!)
- Other: Aside from the food storage solutions as listed above, it’s also a great idea to eliminate any sort of single use plastic item from the kitchen once and for all! Opt for reusable items wherever possible: Stainless steel or bamboo straws, reusable food or yoghurt pouches, and of course, reusable water bottles rather than single use plastic bottles.
Zero Waste Kitchen Cleaning Products
Last but not least, we’re tackling our kitchen cleaning products. Most household cleaning products these days do contain potentially harmful chemicals but thankfully, there are many ways to keep your home clean without the use of store bought cleaners.
I use a lot of essential oils around the home and in most cases, I’ve found that they clean my home as good as, if not better than any store bought products. My all time favourite essential oils are: Peppermint, Clove and Tea Tree oil. These three all have their own unique anti bacterial properties, smell amazing and each have a huge variety of uses.
Some great examples to help you get started are:
- Mopping floor tiles: Dilute 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in a bucket of warm water. Add a few drops of your preferred essential oil (I like to use Tea Tree oil thanks to it’s germ fighting properties) and away you go! The vinegar will polish up your tiles while the tea tree oil will help to disinfect your floor’s surface.
- DIY Dishwashing Liquid: A simple mixture of liquid castile soap and your chosen essential oil is all you need here – Checkout this simple tutorial over at The Inspired Little Pot.
- DIY Dishwasher Powder: A few more steps and ingredients are involved in making your own dishwasher powder but the results are fabulous! Find the full tutorial on the Dr. Axe blog.
- DIY Glass Cleaner: No oils needed here: just dab a little white vinegar onto a damp glass cleaning cloth to polish glass finishes in your kitchen for a fabulous streak free shine!
To complete your eco friendly kitchen cleaning set, opt for bamboo scrubbers, biodegradable cleaning cloths, glass spray bottles for any homemade spray on cleaners and glass airtight containers for everything else.
Bonus Step: What to do with any unavoidable waste…
A bit of kitchen waste can sometimes be unavoidable, so what do we do with any bits and pieces that have managed to sneak their way through?
Any food waste (with a few exceptions) can potentially be added to your compost and most plastic, cardboard or glass food packaging can be recycled however, the best approach is to either to eliminate these items from the kitchen altogether or, wherever possible, find another use for these items. Upcycling is a great way to further decrease the amount of waste ending up in landfill: Tin cans can be cleaned, painted and re-used as herb planters in your garden, glass containers can be cleaned out and reused for pantry food storage and cardboard can be reused for craft projects, DIY book covers and more.
Starting off on your zero waste journey can seem overwhelming at first; taking it step by step is the best approach to ease yourself into it and remember that if completely zero waste is simply not suited to your lifestyle at the moment, that’s ok – Every little bit counts! As long as we all make some cutbacks here and there, we are definitely heading in the right direction!
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