Low waste living has its challenges. Food comes in never-ending plastic packaging, restaurants don’t offer sustainable take out containers, and purchasing appliances is hard. Like, really hard. In part two of my low waste swap series focusing on the kitchen (click here to open part one in a new tab!), I’m diving further into low waste swaps that you can make at home. Some of these tips may be super simple and easy to implement, others not so much; and it’s okay if you can’t do all of these things. That’s the beauty of low waste living; any action you make to show producers you are interested in sustainable products is a step in the right direction. My goal is to inspire you to make the changes that you can and get creative while doing so! So, share this post if you find it helpful, and let’s get started!
A quick note before we get started: I always advocate for using what you have before making a swap! If you have a pantry full of plastic Ziploc bags and a full roll of foil, use them up, then make your swaps when it runs out! Don’t inadvertently make more waste by trying to be less wasteful! On that note, I’d also like to say that buying local and second hand is the best way to reduce extra emissions from transport. Thrifting or trading locally is a great option, especially! However, I totally understand that not everywhere has a thriving “Buy Nothing” community or good thrifting options, which is why I have affiliate links to various shops and sites in this post! I recommend checking locally before making a purchase using one of my links. If you do make a purchase through them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which goes towards the running of this blog! Thank you so much!
When shopping for pantry staples, consider buying in bulk! Usually, you can pour your own bulk items into packaging of your choice. However, even if your staples come in plastic or another unsustainable packaging option, you will create less waste overall by buying larger amounts. Make sure you have the room for these items and can store them properly before committing to a jumbo sized version. You’ll want to store bulk dry goods like pasta, rice, and beans in moisture-proof containers. Many people opt to use 5-gallon buckets like these lined with cloth or plastic. I recommend sealing off a majority of your dry goods to prevent constantly opening up your containers (which lets moisture in). Keep these containers away from excess heat, light, and moisture, and store a small amount of each item in your pantry for easy access. I recommend keeping them in jars like these that have seals, or similar earthware options like this. However, you can also reuse the packaging from smaller sizes you have bought as well! Keep sturdy cardboard boxes and mesh bags handy for impromptu storage. You can always wrap them in paper or twine to make them more aesthetically pleasing!
You don’t have to buy bulk to use your own containers, though! Some places allow you to bring your own containers to refill at their stores regardless of how much you’re buying. I have seen honey, grains, rice, coffee, and nuts all available for purchase by the ounce. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask the store manager!
When not buying in bulk, opt for items in reusable packaging, compostable packaging, and as a last resort, recyclable plastic packaging.
The best way to purchase packaged food is by buying items in sustainable and reusable packaging! Glass, aluminum/metal tins, and cloth are a few great examples. Unfortunately, not everything can be purchased in these kinds of packaging. However, when purchasing foods such as sauce and dips, extracts, teas, coffees, and bulk items like rice or flour, try to opt for such options. There’s no telling how much plastic, tape, or styrofoam was used to transport these goods, but by purchasing products visibly lower in waste than their alternatives, we are sending our low waste message to companies and their marketing teams.
When reusable packaging isn’t available, look for items packed in paper, cardboard, and other biodegradable materials. While not all paper is safe for the environment due to the ink printed onto it and some chemical processes it can go through, it is generally less harmful than plastic. It can also be reused in some cases. I like to use cardboard packaging to store miscellaneous items and organize closets, drawers, boxes, and craft supplies.To make a bunch of boxes look more cohesive, simply invert the box and glue or staple them back together so the brown side is showing. If you are particularly crafty, consider making your own paper using this packaging! I love using my handmade journals (click here to see an example!). If you aren’t as crafty, simply cut up pieces of paper packaging into note-sized pieces and store them somewhere convenient. Upcycling is a big part of low waste living, and can help reduce a lot of waste!
Believe it or not, recycling plastic is not an infinite or an eco-friendly process. The more plastic is recycled, the lower the quality it becomes until it is not able to be recycled again, and many plastics we use are poor in quality to begin with. While recycling plastic is a better option than throwing it out, it is not sustainable. Not to mention that most of the plastic we recycle ends up in landfills anyway. Plastic also has concerning effects on the environment, ranging from litter and its physical impact on wildlife to microplastics and the fact that they have been recorded in human blood for the first time and we don’t really know what consequences this may have. For some, plastic will be unavoidable until companies are held accountable and make a lasting change, whether that’s due to the cost of more sustainable options or lack of availability in their area. It’s important to keep this in mind when sharing our low waste message with others!
Unfortunately, eating at restaurants can produce a lot of waste, especially when dining at fast food restaurants or ordering takeout. To limit this, bring a spare container for leftovers, your own utensils, and a reusable napkin. You can keep this set in your car or purse so you always have it on hand. Some places will let you fill up your own cups and containers, however fewer places do so since the pandemic began.
If you want to lessen your waste when ordering food at home, you have to avoid ordering through apps like Doordash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub. Most restaurants include a set of plastic utensils, a truckload of napkins, extra dipping sauces, and straws, and it’s rare that you can add notes to the person packing your order. Instead, order directly from local restaurants that can pack your order as you like it. Call ahead to find out if they can accommodate your requests! If a shop has a delivery option, make use of the notes section to ask them to follow a low waste approach to making your order. You can also opt to make food at home or dine-in.
When eating out, find restaurants with low waste serving options. Places that give you real silverware and plates opposed to somewhere that serves everything in paper or plastic. Typically, these places are sit-down style options, and rarely cheap. Keep that in mind when you head out for the day!
There isn’t much you can do to change a massive company’s food-packing practices, although some are starting to take notice of low waste initiatives! You can always write to a company or business about their waste production and express your interest in seeing them change, but in my personal opinion, legislation is the only way to improve their habits. Smaller businesses are more likely to listen to their customers, but may also have financial concerns about making low waste changes. The waste small businesses produce is also a much smaller issue compared to franchises that all run the same way across a country! Voicing your concerns is a great way to spread awareness of low waste living, which has become an alternative lifestyle instead of the norm.
Cookware and Dishes
Cookware can last generations when made with the right materials and treated properly; dutch ovens, cast iron pans, and well-made appliances can be used for decades. I find most of my cookware and supplies for my kitchen in secondhand shops and on sites like mercari. When faced with needing to buy a new item, aim for quality over quantity. While amazon may be selling a cheap set of pans for $30, it probably won’t last as long as a quality set with fewer pieces. You may also find them to be a pain to cook with.
Research the best brands and styles of an item before committing to a purchase. By spending extra time learning about a tool, you’ll be more likely to end up with a lasting, quality piece. You may also learn something about using it and get more out of it! Ask around your friends and family for their favourite (and least favourite) appliances, tools, and kitchen sets. After all, no one knows a product better than someone who already owns it!
Avoid materials that are flimsy, particularly fragile, or likely to corrode/degrade quickly. For example, you may think wooden spoons are biodegradable, so they’re low waste. Which isn’t wrong, but it’s not quite right, either. While some wooden spoons are crafted to stand up to the test of time, most of what we find in our big box stores are usable for a few years at best. They quickly splinter, lose shape, and break easily. A better option in this case would be a sturdy stainless steel spoon, or a wooden spoon with integrity and good care instructions (psst! if you aren’t oiling your wooden spoons already, you should look into it!). By being picky about what you buy, you’ll end up with longer lasting, better quality items.
Keep a list of items you would like to replace with better quality ones (or acquire) and periodically check sites like mercari, ebay, and facebook marketplace for them. You can also use browser extensions like honey to keep an eye on big box site listings, too! If your oven is on its last leg, research the best make and model you can afford at any given time, and keep an eye out for sales and listings. By the time it dies, you will have a few ideas as to where to get a new one if you haven’t already secured one. This will help prevent a spur of the moment purchase made out of necessity, assuming you can afford whatever appliance when it goes out.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. I would love to see you on my socials! Please share this post if you enjoyed it to help me reach my goal of educating others on herbalism, low waste living, and self-sufficiency! You can use the image at the end of this post to pin this article to pinterest!
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