Photo: Kathryn Kellogg
It is important for anyone interested in going zero waste to start with the kitchen. The kitchen is the number one waste area and the most important part of our lifestyle. Keeping a clean and safe kitchen is very important for our lives which is why we have to make sure to use the right products and ingredients.
A lot of people today suffer from many illnesses that seem to always point back to our kitchens. What types of food do we eat? What ingredients are in our food? How clean is our kitchen? And what types of materials are we storing our food in? These are all questions that can help us filter our kitchen to make it a safe, sustainable, and healthy.
So here’s a guide to help you clean out your kitchen and begin a healthy lifestyle!
1. Start By Keeping Those Pasta Sauce Jars and Making Them Your Reusable Jars!You can easily start this process by investing in pasta sauces that are stored in glass. It’s a few bucks more but you’re also paying for that glass jar that will save your health and the planet. Plastic containers have toxins that are not good for our health and cause many different types of cancers. So it is really important to keep those plastics out of your fridge and food. You can use these pasta sauce jars for pretty much anything that fits in it. I use mine to store blueberries, mushrooms, asparagus, nuts, and sauces. Not only do they make perfect containers but your veggies will last longer too. Just make sure to add a bit of water to the jar and store some of your veggies upright, like for asparagus and leeks.
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2. Swap Your Plastic Wraps and Ziploc Bags With Plant-Based Food Wraps!
Plant-based wraps are so fun to use and they are washable and reusable. They come in so many fun designs that your food can be wrapped in style. They’re also fun and safe for little kids to use, they’ll be happy to see food! These wraps are ten times better for your health since they’re made with natural materials, and make for an even better food wrap. They overall have a better function. They can be used to cover many different shapes and sizes of foods since of course, they come in different sizes. Plenty of times we use a Ziploc bag to store one small little item and end up having all that extra space for nothing. What a waste! Plant-based food wraps can be used to store your half sliced lemons, unfinished orange, a muffin, and even loose dried herbs! Everything you plan to use ziplock bags for, just replace it with these and you’ll never go back!
3. No More Wasting Paper Towels With Reusable Towels!
Once I started getting into sustainability, I realized what a waste it was to constantly use paper towels. Think about it! When we shower and clean our bodies, do we use a disposable towel? No, because that is absurd! Our bodies are already clean since we washed it with water and soap and the towel is to dry us off. Similarly, we should use a textured cloth to use for cleaning the dirty parts of our kitchen and a reusable towel to dry it off. Mostly though, the reusable towel should be used for drying foods after they’ve been washed since plenty of kitchens out there already have kitchen towels to dry dishes and your hands.
Just make sure to have enough so that you don't have to keep using a dirty one. Have some for those dirt and spills, a separate one for food, and another for the dishes and your hands. Five should be a good amount to start with and you can go from there based on your needs.
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4. Use Wooden or Steel Cooking Utensils!
Plastic cooking utensils are so bad for cooking, I’m not sure why they even exist! Everyone knows plastic melts with heat. So when you use plastic cooking utensils, it sometimes melts into your food and you end up eating plastic! Yuck! Using wooden cooking utensils would be your best bet for the longevity of your cookware. Steel cooking utensils would work too but they often scratch your pots and pans which would kill its quality. Wooden cooking utensils are a win-win for everyone. Your pots & pans, your health, and the environment would be happy you used it!
5. Separate Your Fruits and Veggies With a Reusable Produce Bag!
Using produce bags makes it so much easier to store your fruits and veggies and your fridge can be plastic-free. Make sure to use the mesh or string produce bags when shopping so you can opt-out of using the plastic produce bags. The fun thing about them is they're see-through and light and they also have a tare weight on the sides of the bag so when you weight it, you can subtract the tare weight of the bag. You can also weight your food separately and then add it to the bag so you don't have to subtract the weight of the bag.
Once you get home from the store, you can rinse your veggies and fruits right away, and even with the bag. These produce bags make for a great strainer and will keep your food in your fridge clean, fresh, and organized. This way, you can literally just open your fridge and eat anything right away without having to wash and dry it.
6. If You Haven’t Figured Out Your Water Situation, Invest in a Glass Water Pitcher!
So I’m hoping by now you’ve ditched the plastic water bottles and figured out your drinking water situation. But if you haven’t, here are some options for you. If you’re unsure about tap water and just don’t feel safe drinking it, you should definitely invest in a water filter. Now there’s those that are attachable to your kitchen faucet and those that come in a water pitcher. Whichever one works fine based on your preference, just make sure it’s in a glass pitcher. And if you’re cool with the tap water, just a regular glass water pitcher or glass bottle would do wonders. I personally prefer the glass water pitcher since I want cold water. The faucet water filter sometimes isn’t cold enough for me, but it’s all up to you as long as it’s not in plastic.
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7. If You Dine-Out, Make Sure to Bring Your Dining Containers In!
This has been such a tricky one for me since I would forget to bring my own to-go container. But a good tip for this is to have a designated to-go container so you don’t end up lost in the kitchen trying to condense food or lose hope last minute. So depending on how much you expect on bringing back, I would say bring two glass containers. Make sure one is smaller than the other and you can put it inside the larger one. This way, you’d be carrying one container for two.
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8. Have a Toxin-Free Kitchen With Natural All-Purpose Cleaning Spray!
We, as people, have really become such germaphobes that no wonder our body finds nature so foreign. We use products that kill 99.9% of bacteria all the time that we kill off good bacteria, and our body doesn’t build the right tolerance for the bad bacteria. This is why so many people have such poor immune systems and develop allergies. All you really need to keep things clean is soap and water. So for your kitchen, you can make two natural cleaning sprays. The first is just soap and water in a spray bottle. Yes! It's that simple. It really has always been that simple but marketing tactics scare us into believing we need all these other products. Second, you can make a simple cleaner with 50% vinegar, 50% water, 2 tbs of baking soda, and add your favorite scent. You can add scents such as essential oils, orange peels, lemon slices, pine, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, and herbs (such as lavender, mint, oregano, and rosemary). That's a bunch of options for you, but you can get as creative as you want with the smell, whichever one works fine. Just note that the vinegar solution mostly works for stains, glass, and silverware. Since while vinegar has antibacterial properties and does kill germs, not enough studies show that it kills harmful bacterias. That’s where the soap and water solutions come in.
9. Invest In Some Biodegradable Dish Washing Sponge or Brush!
I'm sure you've all heard by now how sponges are one of the dirtiest parts of the house, even worse than the bathroom. Sponges are the ideal breeding ground for germs and bacterias since it has the perfect combination of moisture and food residue that will lure in bugs and bacterias. Disgusting!! Traditional sponges also contain toxins such as plastics, dyes, and synthetic disinfectants that are cancerous and cause skin irritation. So if you're likely to throw yours out right now, just keep in mind that your sponge will likely take up landfill space for about 52,000 years. And not to discourage you from throwing it away, but from buying the same one that will eventually be tossed out again, only to join the rest of the sponges for 52,000 years. Instead, you can keep your kitchen clean and sustainable by replacing it with sponges made with natural fibers such as sisal fibers, bamboos, and coconut fiber, to name a few. These are better for your health, once again, and are easily recycled and decomposable.
10. It's Not a Zero Waste Kitchen If You Don't Have a Compost Bin or a Worm Farm!
Now that your kitchen is plastic-free, you still need to make sure to account for some of those leftovers that end up being waste, such as your moldy fruits and veggies, and your fruits and veggie pulps. I know, we're human and we still end up having to waste some food, but instead of throwing it out, you can recycle your compost. So there's a couple of ways of doing this. A compost bin is great for apartments and tight indoor places, or if you don't grow many plants. You don't have to worry about the smell since compost bins have a bedding filter attached to the cover to get rid of that rotting smell. You can also place it under your kitchen sink to keep the smell tucked away. Once you've accumulated enough compost, you can go to your local garden or farm and give them away as fresh fertilizer for their gardens. Composts have lots of nutrients that are really good for the ecosystem and in growing plants.
Another option is a worm farm, which is my personal favorite. You can either buy these, but they are pretty expensive, or you can make your own. All you will need is three plastic bins of the same size, a top lid, some red wriggler worms, shredded newspaper, and moist soil. To set it up, make sure to poke a bunch of holes at the bottom of your two middle bins, it doesn't have to be neat. This is where the worms will climb to the next layer once they're all done with the compost on the later they're on. To create a layer, prep one of your bins by filling it out with moist soil as the bedding, this will keep your worms hydrated. Add some shredded newspaper for moisture control and odor control, and mix it. Then, add your worms. Now you're set up!
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To start it, you want the starting bin to be one of the middle bins since the very bottom bin will be where your compost tea will come out. So that's all the liquids from the worms and the compost. This is packed with nutrients for your plants, but it's highly concentrated so you would have to dilute it with water before you feed it to your plants. Once your worms have finished the compost on the bin their in, they'll start crawling upwards to the next bin. So once they move up, you can then use the leftover soil as fresh fertilizer. You will know right away when it's time to take it out. Another important thing to note is to make sure to give the worms enough food to finish and put the next batch on the bin on top. This way, you don't end up being stuck with two fully operating bins where your worms having nowhere to migrate, and you won't be able to use the fertilizer since they're still occupying that space. If this happens, you'll just have to create a new bin to add on top, so the worms have somewhere to go. To avoid overpopulation, you can also reduce the worms by giving them back to nature since the worms can reproduce quickly.
I highly suggest that before you add your compost, you can really maximize this process by having a small blender designated for the compost and just blend everything in there before you feed it to your worms. They have small mouths and it will take them about 1-2 weeks as opposed to a month or two to get through eight-ounce of compost. And you can also blend in it some paper or toilet paper, which is why a separate blender is my suggestion, it'd be much better if it's an old one you already have.
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