7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen

Updated 01/05/18

my refrigerator

I love my (nearly) zero-waste kitchen routine. I eat a delicious, healthy diet and have simplified my shopping habits. But it did take me a couple of years to (nearly) perfect this routine and I may never achieve complete zero-waste. (Remember calculus class? You merely approach zero.)

When I shop at the bulk store, for example, I still indirectly generate a small amount of waste. The food arrives at the store in paper or (gulp) plastic packaging after all. Also, I refuse to give up butter and the paper does go in the trash. So, until I buy a farm and produce all my food myself, I will create some waste somewhere. Then again, if I live on a farm outside the city, I’ll have to drive everywhere and burn more fossil fuels…So, I suppose as a precursor to these tips, I should add—above all—don’t strive for perfection. That and cook everything yourself. “Cook everything yourself” is my number one rule of life.

1. Shop with reusable containers and bags

Before I go shopping, I figure out what I need and accordingly organize my:

  • Glass jars for bulk items like flour, seeds, nuts, spices, tea, honey, coconut oil and so on
  • Metal containers, such as Lunchbots or tiffins for meat and fish (Life Without Plastic sells all sorts of them)
  • Cloth shopping bags and homemade cloth produce bags for produce and bulk foods like pasta or cat food

Different stores deal with containers in different ways. Some set scales out in the bulk section for you to weigh the empty containers and mark the tares on them. You don’t want to pay for the weight of a heavy glass jar when you buy bulk tea at $39 a pound (I know). At other stores, customer service will weigh the jars for you. At yet other stores, your request will completely baffle the staff.

Gathering my jar-, container- and bag-filled bags adds a few minutes to my routine but it also saves time in the long run. I have nothing to throw out after we eat everything, which saves me a trip to the curb. Plus, food in glass just looks nice.

jars cropped 2

2. Hit the bulk aisle

I live close to three stores with decent bulk sections, which makes zero-waste shopping easy. I’ve heard from a few people in the UK that bulk bins aren’t very common there. If you can’t buy from bulk bins, and need lots of, say, flour, buying large amounts of it reduces your packaging to product ratio. Maybe you can share with a neighbor who digs the zero-waste idea.

3. Buy fewer ingredients

I buy lots of baking soda. I use it for baking, washing pots and pans, cleaning, washing my hair and making deodorant. I make several dairy staples from milk plus one other ingredient. If you run out of something, you may find a fix in your kitchen cupboards. For example, you can make baking powder out of cream of tartar (4 parts) and baking soda (1 part). Before I cultured buttermilk, I often “made” it with milk and fresh lemon juice (1 scant cup milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice). If you want to go zero-waste, buy less stuff.

4. Think twice before you buy another gadget

My kids think I’m strange because, for one, I refuse to own a microwave. I don’t have room for a bunch of appliances in my kitchen. And I probably don’t need what I don’t already have. Besides, there’s always Google. My daughter MK last year bought a cherry pitter that looked like it would break in about 2 minutes. While she returned it to the store, I found instructions online for a DIY cherry pitter that works like magic!

3 Cherry pitter

5. Ditch the disposables

My mom wonders how I run a kitchen without paper towels or plastic wrap. Having had two kids, I have enough too-small cotton t-shirts to make rags that will last me the rest of my life. As for plastic wrap, plates on bowls work. I also have a few Abeego Wraps, beeswax coated cloths that cling to dishes. (In the fridge pic at the very top, you’ll see one on the middle shelf, to the right). I sewed napkins on my serger about six or seven years ago and we still use them. I take a mug with me every time I go work at my favorite cafe, Philz.

6. Recycle as a last resort

When plastics are recycled, they are actually downcycled—meaning even when reincarnated as toothbrushes, shopping bags or more plastic bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill eventually, unlike glass or metal, which can be recycled over and over without any degradation in quality.

You may have heard of America Recycles Day, a day designated to encourage us to put plastic water bottles into the recycling bin. Who dreamed it up? Industry. You can check out the sponsors here. One, the American Chemistry Council, a trade association, keeps attempting to convince me in my Twitter feed that BPA is wonderful (it’s not). So Big Soda makes a big mess and encourages us to clean it up, which doesn’t actually work. Better to cut off the trash at its source and refuse all this plastic junk.

7. Compost differs from waste

For me, zero waste means zero trash and zero recycling (because you buy so little in packaging). I exempt compost from the category of waste. That doesn’t mean I buy more food than I can eat or throw edible food on the compost heap. In fact, even my vegetable scraps don’t make it to the heap until after I’ve made broth out of them. Occasionally I find the odd furry lemon or a puddle of what-had-been-parsley in the back of the fridge. The good news is that compost can save the world! It sucks carbon out of the air and not only that, a half-inch layer of this black gold can still increase yields six years after its application, as Michael Pollan explains in this wonderful video. The video lasts about half an hour, but is well worth the time.compost

181 Replies to “7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen”

  1. Reblogged this on Bric@bacs and commented:
    Excellent article d’Anne-Marie Bonneau (zerowastechef.com) : quelques trucs pour une cuisine presque sans déchets!

    J’en retiens deux principales leçons:
    – La planification est centrale : se faire une liste et s’y tenir, préparer ses contenants pour l’achat en vrac, etc. Lorsque l’on a pas accès au vrac, on peut acheter en plus grande quantité permet de limiter les emballages.
    – Lâcher prise sur la perfection! Il y aura toujours un minimum de génération de déchets (même si on achète tout en vrac par exemple, la boutique qui reçoit les produits a également des emballages à gérer (et si on a une ferme, cela implique généralement la consommation d’essence pour le déplacement en voiture 😉 ))

    Bonne lecture!

    1. Merci pour le reblog 🙂

      1. Ça fait plaisir! Te conseils sont vraiment concrets et utiles, c’est inspirant 🙂

  2. […] – I keep myself from acquire new kitchen tool, use only what I already had. I want a multifunctional kitchen robot which I still considering if I really need it for my modest cooking activities. I like the way Anne-Marie Bonneau invents her tool in this post. […]

  3. Very useful tips, thank you so much for sharing! I’m into all the zero-waste philosophy three months now and I still adapt to the changes to this new lifestyle. Your tips will definitely come in handy to me, thank again!

    1. Thank you Rachael. I’m glad you found the post useful 🙂

  4. […] – I keep myself from acquire new kitchen tool, use only what I already had. I want a multifunctional kitchen robot which I still considering if I really need it for my modest cooking activities. I like the way Anne-Marie Bonneau invents her tool in this post. […]

  5. Gill Robinson says: Reply

    I don’t throw butter paper away, I use it like greaseproof either round or on top of cakes in the oven

    1. That’s a great idea Gill. I actually started adding them to my compost pile. They are breaking down out there!

      1. you can easily make butter yourself by just shaking heavy cream in a glass jar!

  6. Thank you for the tips! However, there is no such thing as “pure” recycled materials. In every recycling process there will be impurities. Recycled plastic will have a lower quality but as will recycled glass or metal compared to virgin materials.

  7. Just curious why not avocado pits in the compost?

    1. I think because they take a long time to break down. I have started a rogue compost pile in my yard and I add them to it. They will break down eventually. The person in charge of the compost pile pictured in this post is very strict about what can go in.

      1. Nickitree says:

        I read that you can dry avocado stones then grate them and add to smoothies, soups etc.

      2. I have heard that too but haven’t tried it. I read your comment right before I ate an avocado and so set the stone aside. Thanks for the idea 🙂

  8. Hi just chanced upon your blog and it’s great….I am not zero waste yet…am 90% preservatives in food as I make nearly everything from scratch at home. Like you not butter yet..:)

    1. Thanks so much. That makes my day 🙂 Butter is the final frontier.

  9. Hi, I liked your post, intrigued about making your own products such as baking powder. Can you recommend any good books about going zero waste?

    1. Thanks Rob 🙂 I happen to be working on a post today about book recommendations on food and waste. I love Beth Terry’s book Plastic Free. Her website is great too: myplasticfreelife.com. We got started with all of this when my daughter found Beth’s blog. I haven’t read Bea Johnson’s book yet, Zero Waste Home, but that sounds good too. I loved the documentary No Impact Man a few years ago and Colin Beaven has written a book with the same title.

  10. Some really helpful tips about minimising food wastage in the house! Its actually crazy how much money we can save by doing little things around the kitchen 🙂

    1. Thanks Clarissa 🙂 I buy expensive ingredients but overall I spend less than I did a few years ago. I use absolutely everything and don’t follow recipes very strictly any more. I try to just look at what I have on hand and decide from there what to cook.

  11. Running a kitchen without paper towels or plastic wrap is not a tough task. I am doing the same thing at home. There are always some T-shirt which could be made for rags. Thank you for sharing such a great post! Greetings!

    1. I agree Betsy. It’s pretty easy. Actually all of the stuff I do is pretty easy. Some of it takes a bit of extra planning but not much and in the end I think it’s more efficient. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

    1. You’re welcome. Thanks for checking out my post 🙂

  12. […] Source: 7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen […]

  13. […] 7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen […]

  14. Hi! I just found your blog and it’s very interesting.
    The link at the end for the Michael Pollan video unfortunately leads nowhere.
    Could you share the title or any other information you have of it so Google can find it for me? Thank you!

    1. Thanks for letting me know Annika. The conference was called Food for Tomorrow. Here’s a link that works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSjHN8zefak

      1. Thank you!

  15. Great tips. Unfortunately we are way behind in the uk and taking your own container just does not happen here. I would love to but shops just don’t allow for it, great shame…

    1. Occasionally I meet with resistance when I take my own container 🙁 It’s frustrating. The idea of bringing your own has caught on though, so (hopefully) it’s just a matter of time before this is considered normal (again).

      1. Equality 333 says:

        Yep were packaging mad in the UK. One shop in my town does pack your own, one spices etc. I’ll work on them 🙂

    2. Oh and thank you. Glad you liked the tips 🙂

      1. In Germany, where supermarkets offering unpackaged foods are starting up, you’d have a hard time too. There’s mainly a food safety concern. I don’t know how those bulk/unpacked supermarkets get around it.
        Is that not an issue in the States? The liability of the shop in case you get sick because your containers weren’t safe?

    3. Phillipa Gilfillan says: Reply

      I go to a local butcher and a fish van and they both happily put produce in my glass containers – worcestershire UK – You just need to ask and educate!

  16. Equality I’ve just started going to a proper butchers and they happily put my meat in my containers as does a fish van that comes to the farm shop regularly. Lidl also seem to be doing more unpackaged veg and nuts and Wholefoods markets to nuts and seeds and other staples which can go into your own containers. I’m in the Midlands, UK.

    1. Yay! That’s great news, Phillipa. Thank you for sharing it.

  17. So many great tips and ideas! I am a beginner at all this. Just decided to start minimizing the food waste at home and all the other waste at all, and then came the idea for trying zero waste. Your tips are really helpful and I’m definitely trying this all in my kitchen. Thank you for the inspiration! Jewel from http://rubbishcollectionclapham.co.uk/ 🙂

    1. Thank you Jewel. I’m glad you found the tips helpful. Happy waste reduction 🙂

  18. Prior to finding ZW (through Bea Johnson, and what I believe was called the Empty Bin in UK), I found veganism so while I have no dairy, meat, eggs, honey or butter to manage, I do dream of a fresh tofu/ZW option. I strongly encourage a whole food/plant based diet in conjunction with ZW. What you don’t consume, you can make into broth and finally toss into the compost bin with no concerns about separating out animal-based items. On the country wide level, veganism is really the best solution for water/land/air pollution, as well as saving so many from horrible lives culminating in terrifying deaths, all for a cake, burger, a shake…just something to consider while making lifestyle changes to improve your carbon footprint/health/etc.

    1. Veganism (and vegetarianism to a lesser degree) certainly make zero-waste easier. Buying beans, lentils, nuts and other bulk items (if you have access to bulk bins…) and fresh produce is easy enough to do without producing waste. None of this is very difficult. It just requires adopting and adjusting to some new habits.

      1. Catherine says:

        Your pin came up and when I saw your carrots pictured I was reminded of mine slowly getting rubbery in their mesh bag…how do you store yours (it doesn’t look like you have a very fancy fridge with the modern humidity controls)? Thanks!

  19. The kitchen can generate a lot of waste for many homes. I like your tip about using glass containers since they are reusable for airtight food and spice storage. I know that many people like to use glass when they remodel their kitchens because it is water resistant while being recyclable as well. I’ll keep our tips in mind to help make my kitchen practices more economically and ecologically friendly.

    1. Great Alex! Glass is not only practical but beautiful too 🙂

  20. This is a great post, I’ll be sharing on my FB page! Like you, I strive to have zero waste in my kitchen but living out here offers challenges that I didn’t have when I lived in the big city. We make the rounds when we travel from our small town of course but those rounds are few & far between. So I settle for repurposing (or composting) before finally recycling. Love the glass jars in the fridge, and as a bonus it’s seldom that leftovers stored in glass are forgotten until they turn into a science fair experiment. I buy my flour in 25-lb paper bags and shred the bag for the required ‘browns’ for the compost when done. Like you I use a plate atop bowls in the fridge – I saw my grandmother do that when I was a child & it came back to me when I started making my push to remove plastic from our home. But when plastic does come into our home (and it DOES) I’ll repurpose it before throwing it away (it’s not recyclable in our area). Large family-sized bags of toilet paper are removed carefully opened so that plastic bag can be used to line our small bathroom-sized waste basket. Since I’ve not mastered tortillas, the zippered plastic tortilla bag is used to section out my homemade bread for the freezer. I make my homemade yogurt in single-serve 1/2-pint canning jars. Sometimes it just takes stopping & thinking a bit. Thanks for sharing this post!

    ~Taylor-Made Homestead~

    1. Wow, you are very resourceful! I think storing food in jars in the fridge is probably one of the best tips for preventing food waste. You can actually see what’s in there! And then you’re much more apt to eat it. I agree, all of this just requires a bit of thinking and planning. Thanks for reading the post and for sharing on Facebook 🙂

  21. Hi, I’m trying to get rid of most of the plastic in my kitchen (containers, utensils etc) but I’m not sure how to replace rubber (plastic) spatula/scraper. I use these all the time – what do other people do?

    1. Hi Sharon. Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I have silicone spatulas that I bought before I went plastic-free and I’m still using them. This bamboo scraper looks nice from Life Without Plastic: http://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/bamboo-scraping-spatula.html They are sold out at the moment but it’s something to keep in mind. ~ Anne Marie

  22. I am slowly getting rid of plastic containers but find glass jars take up much more space. The plastic tubs stack on top of each other. My freezer now has less room for left overs because of all the glass jars. Any ideas?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Carol. If you can find jars of a uniform size, that can help. I like wide-mouth short, 16-ounce ones. They fit in my freezer best. I beg people for their glass peanut butter jars. Wide-mouth mason jars are good too because you can stack them. But be careful opening the freezer when you have glass stacked in there and don’t overpack them. One could fall out onto your foot (ouch) or the floor and break. ~ Anne Marie

  23. How to clean plastic container which are greasy so that I can recycle them, eg margerine, oil containers? I know you don’t buy plastic, but maybe you have some ideas.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Baking soda is your friend when you want to remove grease. It works like magic. Just sprinkle some on and then scrub away with a damp sponge. That should do the trick.

  24. A lot of stuff can be not wasted through a different method: people when buy at mall avoid “ugly” products, eg
    if a yogurt has 4 parts and one splits,
    an onion/potato bag that opens and some items fall out-just weigh those who fell so that you pay for the weight on container,
    a plastic container that obviously was hit and not because of spoilage, eg popcorn/peanuts container-popcorn doesn’t spoil,
    even you may risk some containers of products that spoil especially if the risk is small (almond milk) . I think 99% of such distorted containers are because they were hit in the process from factory to shelves, not because of spoilage
    a creamer/yogurt whose cap fell down but still has the thin plastic cap
    In general, to buy all these products that are shoved away by customers. Nothing is really wrong with these products.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Yup, there’s nothing wrong with these products but a lot of food goes to waste because people demand perfect. We have to get over our obsession with perfect looks, whether it’s food or people!

  25. Heather Jarvis says: Reply

    I’m impressed with all that you do to create less waste. I need to work on that myself. I saw in the comments that you wanted chickens, but can’t have them. We have chickens, 2 ducks for pest control, and about dozen Japanese quail (domesticated). I really enjoy the quail. They are very quiet, but make a lot of cute soothing calls.
    We origionally got the quail because my son suffers from severe hayfever year round. The quail eggs help with that, better than anything his allergist has prescribed. Anyway, back to your situation, most cities that have restrictions about keeping chickens do not have rules about quail. They can be easily kept on a balcony or even in a house if needed. They are quieter than most of the wild birds in the neighborhoods, so they are easy to keep without annoying your neighbors. 5 to 6 quail eggs equals a chicken egg. They taste is similar, slightly richer. They don’t need much room, although mine are pretty spoiled with a 5′ by 10′ dog kennel. Look them up if you are interested. If you do get any, I highly recommend getting a pair of quail egg scissors (amazon has them) Thanks again for your post, and good luck to you.

  26. […] do like a little bit of butter to my bread”. And I wouldn’t be alone in that. The Zero Waste Chef  says forthrightly ‘I refuse to give up butter and the paper does go in the trash.’ […]

  27. […] cozinha vale a premissa compre menos, desperdice menos ainda. O site Zero Waste Chef tem dicas para uma “cozinha lixo zero” (site em […]

  28. […] compramos o que não vamos consumir, tem muita gente que precisa dessa comida “extra”. Zero Waste Chef tem 7 dicas para uma cozinha lixo […]

  29. Really like these ideas! Thanks! Truly one of the very best things you can do for the planet, however, is to stop consuming animal products. It’s one of the top ways to reduce your carbon footprint! So while steps like you mentioned are super important, it’s going to take bigger lifestyle changes if we’re actually going to save the planet.

  30. Great info as always, there are so many alternatives! I have been taking grocery bags back to the store instead of throwing them away. My local grocers also recycle produce bags, so check if yours do the same. As far as food wrap goes, I have personally used and love the beeswax wraps as an alternative to cling wrap and plastic bags. You can get them in rolls also like here : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07SNHC4PR?.

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