We Americans are trashy people. We heap tons of trash into landfills every year, and the waste keeps piling up. But if each of us takes a few steps toward making our kitchens zero waste, we save the environment, money, and time.
Here are five ideas for creating a zero-waste kitchen.
Start with the easiest zero waste principle of all. Refuse to buy products that have too much packaging or come packaged in single-use plastic. That doesn’t mean finding a replacement product in different packaging. Think outside the box or plastic bottle.
Instead of buying laundry detergent, which often comes in a big plastic bottle, softener (ditto on the plastic bottle), and dryer sheets, which are not recyclable — consider outsourcing your laundry to a service that buys everything in bulk.
Imagine how much waste you’ll eliminate over the course of a year. Bonus: You’ll also save on your energy bill by not using electricity to run a washer and dryer.
Buy less, and use less. That goes for everything, from food to household cleaners and everything in between. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks about $160 billion in food waste every year. That adds up to a lot of trash!
And that’s not counting everything else that gets tossed. The Environmental Protection Agency says Americans produce just under 270 million tons of trash a year.
Not only will reducing what you buy and use mean less trash, it means fewer ants and other pests in your kitchen. The most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of bugs is to not invite them in in the first place.
Thanks to local recycling programs reusing and recycling has gone mainstream over the last few decades. Americans recycle more than 67 tons of waste every year. The trend is rising as we stay home more and receive more deliveries in cardboard boxes that we repurpose.
You probably do your part to recycle the paper bags and aluminum cans that come into your kitchen. But how about cereal boxes, flower bags, and packaged goods? Buy in bulk and store your non-perishables in glass containers. You may never have to take out the trash again.
Another easy step toward a zero-waste kitchen is reusable shopping bags. Bring along your fabric or heavy cloth bags to the store, instead of accepting the single-use plastic bags most grocery stores offer.
While some stores barred or discouraged reusable bags at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, many of those restrictions and limits have eased.
Rot is also known as composting. Take your kitchen scraps, your lawn clippings and your yard trimmings. Layer them together, keep everything moist and occasionally turn the mix, and voila! Your waste turns into organic compost that helps enrich your garden soil.
Not only is composting a great way to reuse your kitchen waste, you’ll cut down on your need to buy fertilizer, which often comes in plastic packaging.
5. Restroom Detour
There’s another room in the house that’s easy to overlook when it comes to zero-waste practices, and it’s just a few steps away from the kitchen.
Recycling isn’t usually top of mind when you’re using up the last of the shampoo in the shower, or replacing a roll of toilet paper.
Consider a small recycling bin in the bathroom, right next to the trash. You’ll be surprised at how much trash ends up in the recycling bin when you think twice about what you’re tossing.
Patience and zero-waste principles pay off
Finally, have a little patience as you work toward making your kitchen (and restroom) zero-waste. Start by putting these principles into practice, and consider what changes you can make along the way to a zero-waste home.
Going to zero-waste in your kitchen probably won’t happen overnight, but the payoff for your home, your bank account, and the environment will be worth it.
By Larry Jergins
Larry Jergins has worked in his county waste management division for 20 years and recently became certified as a recycling specialist. His favorite project is turning Christmas trees and yard waste into mulch for the community.