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The kitchen is the most wasteful room in the home. After all, our biggest trash bins are kept in the kitchen. Today we’re going to cut down on some of that waste by discussing various zero waste kitchen swaps to remove single use or plastic products in the kitchen. These swaps are easy to make and won’t cost much money. You’ll even save money over time by reusing a product instead of buying a new one over and over! For tips on reducing food waste, head over to this post to reduce kitchen waste even more!
1. Paper Towels
Many households go through paper towels like candy. Every spill is cleaned up with a few sheets. They’re used to dry or clean off hands and dishes, or cover food in the microwave. Switch to reusable alternatives instead.
Cloth towels are the easiest zero waste kitchen swap for paper towels. If you don’t have any, go out to the thrift store and pick up a few or make your own squares of terrycloth. Then hang them off handles or set out a little pile on the counter. After the dirty, just toss them in the wash.
If you’re very used to ripping off sheets, check out these “unpaper towels“. They are paper towel sized cloths you can either wrap together into a roll to stick on a paper towel holder. Same deal, just wash them after use.
Similar to paper towels, most kitchens keep a stack of napkins at the ready. Switch out paper napkins with either cloth rags or cloth napkins. This napkin folds into a little snack bag too! I keep either a rag or cloth napkin in my lunch box and will bring one with me when I expect to eat while I’m out someplace. At home I just use a rag or towel.
3. Plastic Containers
Tupperware and other plastic containers are huge mainstays in most kitchens. Beyond being made from plastics that never break down, these containers can leech chemicals when heated. Many containers also lack in quality or durability.
So instead, switch to glass. While glass has its own environmental struggles (read about them here), glass is infinitely recyclable and inert so it poses no health issues.
Most glass containers still come with plastic snap-on lids, but we have these style containers from IKEA which have bamboo lids (with plastic gasket) (not affiliated). You can also use mason jars for food storage or just reuse other glass jars from pickles, pasta sauce, etc.
4. Plastic Wrap
Plastic wrap makes me so mad because it’s so wasteful. You always end up using way more than necessary because it just sticks to itself, and it’s a one-and-done single use product. You really can’t reuse it if you wanted to.
Wax wraps are great zero waste kitchen swaps because you can mold them to fit the container you want and can rinse and reuse them many, many times. The most common is beeswax wraps, but for vegans, you can get soy wax wraps instead. You can use these wraps to cover containers or to wrap up a sandwich or snack to replace a plastic snack bag.
If you need to cover a plate, there are washable cloth covers, or for the free option, place a plate over the top of the bowl in the fridge. This option is good because them you can easily stack other things on top.
5. Snack Bags
While plastic snack/sandwich bags are reusable a couple times at best, they are far from as reusable as these reusable bags from (re)zip. We like them so much, we bought a second set.
To get around both these issues, small glass jars offer the solution. These zero waste kitchen swaps are both plastic free and provide a water tight seal to prevent leaks. I’ve used little jam jars to hold berries so they don’t get smashed, and since they are small, the weight isn’t much of an issue.
I feel like most people aren’t constantly using plastic straws every time they have a drink at home, but they are common enough to need replacing.
Ditch the flimsy plastic and opt for metal, glass, or bamboo reusable straws instead. We have this set and often use them when we have smoothies, but sometimes I like to use them with glasses of ice water. They come with silicon toppers to protect sensitive teeth.
7. Dishware And Flatware
These may be more of a zero waste party swap than zero waste kitchen swaps, but there’s no need to use paper, styrofoam, or plastic plates and eating utensils.
While, yes, it is more convenient at parties to hand everyone things they can just throw into the trash, that’s a whole lot of waste. By swapping single use dishes and flatware for the real thing, you prevent multiple post-party trash bags and you’ll class up the party.
If you’re in the market for dishware or flatware, check your thrift store or online marketplace first. For parties and events, rent out real dishes. We did that for our sustainable wedding.
8. Cookware And Bakeware
Many pots and pans are coated in teflon to create a non-stick surface. Teflon is the trademarked name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), and its fumes can cause harm to our health and the health of animals.
Switch to stainless steel, cast iron, or glass cookware instead. As always, check for secondhand pots, pans, and bakeware first. This goes for cooking utensils like spoons and spatulas as well.
9. Coffee And Tea
Our daily hot drinks can create a lot of waste. Single use paper coffee filters or individual K cups and tea bags (did you know many tea bags contain plastic?) can really pile up day after day.
If you have a coffee maker, keep using it. It’s always best to use what you have first. After using up your paper filters, switch to some reusable cloth coffee filters with a pour-over coffee maker. Instead of buying more disposable K cups, purchase a set of reusable cups and use your own flavors of coffee.
If you need a new coffee machine, consider a French press. They are metal and glass, and do not require filters. Search for one secondhand first, of course. That goes for traditional coffee machines too if you don’t want to go the French press route.
As for teas, use up your remaining bags and then switch to loose leaf teas. The tea bag gets replaced by a tea infuser which can be a little metal bulb or a fun silicon manatee that hangs on the edge of the mug.
10. Kitchen Appliances
There are a million kitchen gadgets and small appliances on the market, but many of these do one single task which could be easily accomplished by something you already own. For example, an apple slicer can’t do much else, but a knife does the job just as well (and is less scary to use in my opinion).
Think about what you actually need first. If you rarely use fresh garlic, do you really need a garlic crusher? Can something you already own do whatever job already? Look for tools with multiple uses instead of novelty one trick ponies. When you do go shopping for a kitchen appliance, look secondhand first.
11. Dish Soap
Some dish soaps are harmful to our health and the environment due to their ingredients, and they inevitably come in plastic bottles.
Many zero wasters have switched to Dr. Bronner’s castile soap which comes in many different scents. This soap is vegan and uses organic and fair trade ingredients. They’re plastic bottles are 100% post-consumer recycled content, although they also sell paper-wrapped bar soap.
You can buy a large jug and transfer it to a dispenser to lessen the total plastic packaging. Check your local zero waste shop of food co-op as they may offer bulk castile soap so you can refill your own containers.
12. Sponges And Brushes
That yellow and green sponge is an iconic dishwashing tool. These types of sponges are actually made of wood pulp, but foam sponges are made from plastic. You may also use plastic brushes or those brushes with a sponge on the end.
There are multiple zero waste kitchen swaps to replace your sponges and brushes. The first are wooden scrub brushes. I have one with plant-fiber bristles like this. There are versions with longer handles where you just need to replace the head.
The next option is a wash rag you can hang to dry and wash when dirty to reuse again. You can also find cloth “unsponges” handmade on Etsy which are sponge-sized alternatives you can wash as well.
From food storage to cooking to eating to cleanup, these zero waste kitchen swaps will surely lighten your trash bag at the end of the week. Remember that it is best to use up what you have and looking for secondhand deals first. This way, you make the most of the resources we already have available instead of letting them go to waste. If you haven’t already, check out my post on reducing food waste for more zero waste kitchen tips.