Very few places produce as much waste as our very own kitchens. Food packaging and scraps, sponges, water waste while doing the dishes, and even the way we store our food can all contribute to excessive waste. These are some low waste swaps you can make to reduce your waste and create a more sustainable home!
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 it 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 note that buying local is the best way to reduce extra emissions from transport. Thrifting or trading locally is a great option, especially! 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!
Dish blocks are bars of long lasting, cleansing soap or synthetic detergent designed to get your dishes sparkling. As a soapmaker, I’m biased towards soap, of course! Dish soap bars often contain additives like citric acid to make them more effective, and use high-cleansing, hard oils such as coconut oil for long lasting qualities. I recommend trying out this recipe by Lovely Greens if you make soap! Nest Soapery also has a great recipe available on their site! If you don’t, check out places like the Zero Waste Store and etsy for dish blocks and bars.
Keep in mind that if you have hard water, you may need to strip your dishes or use a vinegar solution after washing to prevent white spots and soap build up. Citric acid helps to prevent this, but you may still need an occasional strip! White vinegar makes glass extremely shiny and clear.
Hand soap most often comes in plastic bottles that aren’t high quality or versatile after they’re used up. Often enough, the pump breaks or the bottle is otherwise compromised by the end of the soap’s life. To reduce your plastic consumption here, try to buy hand soap sold in glass packaging, or learn to make your own. The simplest way I have found to make hand soap is by following a true castile soap recipe. Made in a crockpot with 100% olive oil, some water, and of course, potassium hydroxide lye, it’s an incredibly simple way to stock your pumps throughout your house. Or, you can purchase this kind of soap on sites like etsy! If you make it yourself, you can customize the fragrance and additives to create a beautiful and unique blend (to learn more about soap making tools and supplies, check out my article here).
Some shops sell liquid soap as soap pastes, which you dilute with water to your desired ratio. You can also add thickeners like salt or xanthan gum. If you can’t find a reasonably priced soap in glass packaging, you can buy regular liquid hand soap in bulk to limit the amount of packaging you do consume. Reuse containers as much as you can and replace them with sturdy glass options like these (amber option) or these (clear option) once they run out.
Instead of traditional sponges that get gross and need to be tossed into the garbage weekly, consider switching to loofah sponges (grown from gourds) or biodegradable brushes that you can compost! I buy whole loofah sponges from Bulk Apothecary when I order my oils for soap making, but you can also find them pre-cut on Amazon and etsy. Another option is to use coconut fiber scrubbies, like these ones from the Zero Waste Store!
When it comes to finding the right dish brush, keep in mind that many are labeled “low waste” or “eco friendly” while being made with plastic bristles, which, when used in water, have a tendency to shed and create microplastics. These microplastics then make it into the environment, where they have the potential to cause harm. Instead of these plastic bristle brushes, look for ones made with natural fibers! Zero Waste Store has an awesome dish brush that is completely plastic free.
Paper towels lead to rolls and rolls of waste. While technically biodegradable, when put into garbage bags and thrown into landfills, they don’t get a chance to return to the Earth. Many paper towels are also created with chemicals that aren’t food or planet safe, and therefore aren’t environmentally friendly. You can swap out paper towels with a plethora of absorbent rags. If you prefer, you can purchase premade “unpaper” towels fitted with snaps or velcro (I recommend avoiding microfiber due to their plastic content), or you can create your own. You can also opt to cut up old bath towels, hospital baby blankets, or t-shirts to use as cleaning cloths. Keep a basket or two of clean towels at the ready, and make a spot for dirty towels to live in between washes. I’ve seen some people store their dirty towels in sealed containers to prevent smells from escaping, but I personally prefer to store them in a mesh bag or put them on a line or hanger to dry out. By drying them out, you can avoid the smell of musty towels and won’t need to worry about bacteria and mold growing in your container. I don’t recommend just tossing them in your laundry basket, though, because you’ll end up forgetting that you need to wash them or lose a few in the process. Keeping things organized and convenient is the key to low waste living.
If you want to reduce your food waste, start by auditing your fridge and pantry. Think about what you have that is currently expired or about to expire. What have you bought recently that you haven’t used like you intended to? Obviously if it’s past its date and isn’t looking or smelling safe to eat, it has to go. But if it hasn’t gone bad, use it up! Get creative with sites like SuperCook to find ideas. Not only will this reduce your waste, it will also save you money.
Before you go shopping, look in your pantry and fridge. What do you have that you could build a meal on? Be mindful of what you have, what you need, and what you should buy in smaller amounts. It’s okay to buy small containers of items you know you won’t go through before they expire. Sometimes bulk buying leads to more waste instead of less! Buy your staples in bulk instead, and store them properly.
If you live in a humid environment, consider purchasing some air tight containers to store your food in, especially items like crackers, serial, rice, and pasta. In the past, I have used these plastic containers to keep my siblings’ cereal from going stale (our pantry and laundry room were one in the same, which made dry goods go off quickly). They were pretty small, but held enough at one time to keep things fresh. Other alternatives include glass containers and big sealable jars, and these five gallon buckets for storing bulk items such as rice, sugar, and pasta. It’s also worth researching what produce does best in the fridge versus on the counter to keep them fresh longer!
Get scrappy with your leftovers! If you cook with a lot of vegetables, try making your own vegetable stock! Simply save the peels and scraps of your veggies (excluding root veggies and exceptionally bitter plants) in the fridge for a week or two, and throw them in a pot of hot water. Let it all simmer for several hours, add seasoning to your taste, and voila! You’ve got yourself a delicious stock to make soup with. You can learn more about how to make and use vegetable stock with scraps here on Well and Good. If you don’t think you’ll use up a stock quickly or have other food you need to get through first, try making bullion cubes or powder to keep in your pantry and use later! This article by Alpha Foodie does a great job showing you how to do this.
You can also save other scraps using unique techniques including powdering tomato skins to turn them into a fragrant powder, blending up overripe fruit to make into fruit roll ups, and many other creative options! I love Carleigh Bodrug’s instagram page and her many tutorials on rescuing food from the garbage! She also has a plant based cookbook called Plant You that you should totally check out!
Aside from powdering and boiling scraps, you can learn to preserve food before it goes bad, too. By learning skills such as canning, dehydrating, fermenting, and curing, you can optimize your harvests and keep your pantry stocked with prime produce, meat, and more. I adore foods like canned artichokes, which are simple to can and keep around. Youtube is full of tutorials on canning and dehydrating, specifically! For fermenting, I would check out Pascal Baudar and his book on using wild foraged foods in fermentations. He has great resources on his instagram, too!
If you have the time and ability, foraging for some, most, or all of your food is another excellent option. I particularly love the idea of foraging for invasive species that cause harm to my local ecosystem. People like Pascal Baudar do an amazing job teaching others how to find, harvest, and cook with foraged flavours. As mentioned above, he has great tips on his instagram page. I created this canva template for foragers who are wanting to keep track of their harvests and spots to return to! You can customize it, print it out, or use it as is! It’s listed on my etsy right now for $1.50! Check out my resources for learning about foraging here, on my monthly herbalist study plan!
These swaps may seem like small changes, but they can lead to massive change if many consumers voice their discontent with their dollars. It isn’t our responsibility to fix the Earth alone, but as individuals we can certainly do our best to educate and establish better habits! I hope these tips inspire you to make some low waste swaps in your kitchen!
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