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5 Steps Toward Going ‘Zero Waste’ in the Kitchen

5 Steps Toward Going ‘Zero Waste’ in the Kitchen

Written by Katherine Martinko

I’ve written a few times about my ongoing quest for a zero-waste household. While I don’t have much hope of reaching Bea Johnson’s level, whose family produces only one quart of waste annually, I have certainly learned a lot by paying close attention to how much garbage and recycling my household generates on a daily and weekly basis.

One happy discovery I’ve made is that the zero waste movement is much more popular and widespread than I thought. Recently I spoke with Shawn Williamson, who lives with his family just outside of Toronto and runs an environmental sustainability consultation firm called the Baleen Group. He hasn’t taken a bag of garbage out to the curb since August 2011!

While Johnson’s tips from her book, “Zero Waste Home,” vary from easy to somewhat extreme (i.e. pulling silk thread from cloth to substitute for dental floss, planning drives in the car with priority given to right-hand turns), Williamson describes his zero-waste lifestyle as much more practical. He believes it’s most important to focus on the big things that do a lot to divert waste from landfills (i.e. composting) rather than getting caught up in small details like dental floss.

If you’re looking to go zero waste, or at least “minimal waste,” the kitchen is a great place to start. Here is a list of the most useful tips I’ve encountered, gathered from my conversation with Williamson, Johnson’s book, and personal experience.

1. Shop with reusable containers

Prevent waste from entering your home, and then you won’t have to deal with it. Refusing packaging also makes a public statement and educates people about zero waste. I shop with glass Mason jars, which are easy to fill, store, and clean. Read more about it here: Why I’m hooked on shopping with glass jars.

Take along reusable produce bags for small items that can’t be kept loose. I purchased some organic cotton mesh bags with a drawstring that can be easily laundered. Available online at Life without Plastic (the site has lots of other very cool things for going zero waste).

2. Buy groceries in bulk

This can be interpreted in two ways, both of which are important. “Bulk,” according to Johnson, means bought in reusable containers, since that’s what many alternative bulk stores do. For Williamson, it means literally buying large quantities of food in order to minimize the amount of overall packaging. He shops a few times a year for dry goods from the suppliers of bulk stores, picking up 50lb bags of rice and almond flour. It’s much cheaper that way, saves gas on trips to the store, and you rarely run out.

3. Set up a good backyard compost system

Composting is the best way to deal with organic household waste, since the waste doesn’t need to get shipped anywhere and gets converted to rich soil. In Williamson’s household, the composter diverts 74.7 percent of their waste. He uses a 2-part system, with an earthworm-filled box composter that receives the initial load of food scraps and a tumbler that finishes it off. Within a month of warm weather, he has a fresh load of soil – and that’s in Ontario, with its relatively short gardening season. Meat scraps go in the green box, which is the municipal composting program.

4. Make certain things from scratch to avoid packaging

Some might scoff at the idea of making the following foods from scratch on a regular basis, but I can tell you from experience that once it becomes part of a routine and you become comfortable with the recipes, it can be very quick, and even save time by not having to run out to the grocery store.

Yogurt: Make it in glass jars. It takes a few minutes to mix, then can be left for hours.

Bread: Most bread recipes require about 10 minutes of upfront work, then minimal attention sporadically throughout the day. Some, like no-knead slow-rise bread, can be left completely alone all day long.

Canned fruits and vegetables: These take a lot of work, but it all happens in the summer and fall, as produce reaches its peak. If you can afford to spend a few days canning, you’ll thank yourself months later – not only for saving money, but also for the fabulous fresh taste.

Cereal: Make large batches of granola and store in jars, instead of buying boxes of cereal with cardboard boxes and non-recyclable plastic bags.

5. Ditch the disposables

There’s no need to keep paper towels, paper napkins, garbage liners, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and disposable plates or cups in the kitchen. Though it may seem strange at first, you will always find reusable alternatives when the need arises. I find it’s better just to get rid of those ‘tempting’ items and make do without. It makes for a lot less stuff in the trash can.

Here’s a helpful list of how to store fresh produce without plastic.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

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Photo Credit: Ross Catrow via Flickr

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84 comments

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3:27AM PDT on Mar 30, 2014

There must be a way if one cares about others as well

4:34AM PDT on Mar 25, 2014

I use aluminum foil and after recycle it.

2:21PM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

Good tips,thanks for sharing

8:41AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

Good tips but I would add a little caution to "buy in bulk". Here in the UK I saw a TV programme highlighting how much food we buy here because of the "buy one get one free" deals etc but we end up throwing a lot of that away because it has gone off or is no longer fresh.

10:24PM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

tks

7:23PM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

Thanks.

9:34AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

Definitely some good tips here.
I already do most of these things, and it has significantly cut back on the garbage I produce :)

Instead of canning I use my Excalibur food dehydrator. Food dehydration preserves nutrients and vitamins substantially better and it significantly cuts down on storage space needed. On average I can fit approximately 50 jars of canned vegetables into about 5-10 equal size jars when dehydrated. Properly dehydrated and stored food will last 20 years without loss of taste, nutrients and vitamins. Canned food loses 60% of his nutrients and vitamin during the canning and storing process alone :( Dehydration creates on average only a 10% nutrient and vitamin loss and none during storage.

Of course there are some things that are nice canned, but don't fool yourself the food nutrition value on those things is terrible ;)

5:30AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

Thanks

10:14AM PDT on Mar 17, 2014

Thanks

9:28AM PDT on Mar 17, 2014

Personally, I have room to improve. Still, there are some things I will never give up. Call me frivolous but when I make a stand I stand up straight and when I do not want to I will not. Composting is so hard for us to do where there is wildlife around and domesticated pets. Urban living have its compromises. I will do my best to love this Earth, manage wisely the resources I can control and reuse-> reduce->recycle.

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