9 totally free ways to have a more zero waste kitchen
The trash jar is as the trash jar does, and zero waste isn’t only about the single-use plastic in our lives. The invisible impacts of our daily lives need also be reduced if we wish to truly get closer to a zero waste lifestyle. For both physical garbage and resource use, the kitchen is a hub for use and waste. Bulk shopping helps reduce our dependence on disposable plastic and unsustainable packaging, but our use of electricity and water are equally important. Only about 11% of energy consumed in the US comes from renewable resources, meaning that heating water, using appliances, and more mostly depend on burning non-renewable resources, which also pollute the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect.
That in mind, you don’t have to spend a cent or buy a thing to reduce your waste in the kitchen. Whether you’re new to zero waste or a pro, here are even more ways to keep your kitchen zero waste:
If you have reusables in your kitchen, use them! Ceramic plates are for everyday use, not just special occasions. Reusable silverware, mugs, glasses, and so on should be put to use whenever needed instead of disposables. Choosing reusable options will even save you money since there will no longer be the need to constantly replace disposable products.
Use any waterproof container, from a bucket to a grocery bag-lined cardboard box, to collect vegetable scraps and other compost materials. These can be composted and returned to the soil to grow other plants. You may not have the opportunity to compost at home, but some counties and towns have local composts where you can bring your material. When plants rot in landfill instead of as compost, they are often in an anaerobic environment and release more methane gas, which has a much higher warming factor than CO2, which is released when decomposition occurs in a compost.
Skip the plastic wrap; without buying bees wax wrap or another product for purchase, you can help store your leftovers by covering containers with other reusable dishes. Foods and liquids should be covered in the fridge because the compressor cooling the fridge must work harder to combat the moisture from uncovered foods, resulting in more electricity use.
The FDA recommends keeping your refrigerator under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and there’s no reason to go much colder than that. Over 42 degrees is typically where dangerous bacteria are thought to grow, so below that is perfectly safe; go too cold, and you risk freezing some of your refrigerated products. By keeping the fridge less cold, less energy is needed to keep things cold and cool new food that is placed in the fridge.
Pack the fridge
When your fridge or freezer aren’t full, packing them with containers of water can help save energy and keep the appliance cool in case of loss of electricity. These containers, properly spaced, reduce the amount of air that flows in and out of the fridge when it is opened that must then be cooled. In a more tightly packed fridge or freezer, the items inside can also keep one and other cool.
Use your oven consciously. On hot days, don’t use the oven during the hottest hours; it will warm the home and make the air-conditioning work harder if you have it, and simply make the house unbearable if you don’t. Likewise, make use of that heat in winter; after turning off the oven, leave it cracked open so the heat can escape and help keep the house warm. Early morning and the evening are the best options for using the oven in hot and cold weather alike; doing so avoids heating the house during the hottest hours of summer and adds extra heat during the coldest hours of winter.
Dishwashers can use about a quarter of the water needed to handwash dishes, so if you have a dishwasher, make use of it. Be sure to run your dishwasher when it is full as well, because it uses the same amount of water regardless of how many dishes are being cleaned, and therefore the same amount of energy to heat that water and run the machine. Also, if your machine has the option, you can set the default washing temperature lower so that less energy is needed to heat water.
Plug the sink
Handwashing uses much more water than a dishwasher, but some things must be handwashed and many people don’t have dishwashers. One load of handwashing can use 20 gallons of water, so be sure to plug the sink and fill it with soapy water when washing dishes, and turn the water on and off to rinse rather than keeping it running.
If you’re using the faucet briefly, always opt for cold water. Even if the water runs shortly and doesn’t have the chance to run hot, the hot water is still pulled. Choose cold unless you’re running the water intentionally for washing.
Energy.gov recommends that to save water, rather than rinsing dishes for the dishwasher, you should scrape off any remaining food. To be honest, I haven’t tried this, but as long as the food doesn’t dry hard on the dishes before the dishwasher is run, I think it would work well.
Eat your leftovers and stop buying food that regularly spoils in your household. If you’re in the habit of throwing away edible food, it’s time to make a better habit of saving leftovers and eating what you have.
Eat less meat
Finally, vegetarian and vegan diets are huge improvements for most people on their emissions. A vegan diet is known to be the single most effective way to reduce your negative impact on the earth. If you’re not ready to fully change your diet, make the choice to eat at least one vegetarian meal a day if you still eat meat and animal products and at least one vegan meal a day if you’re vegetarian. Point-blank, skipping a million straws doesn’t mean much if you don’t tackle your invisible impact as well.
If you haven’t heard it yet, you can’t buy your way to zero waste. So much of what we can do and what needs to be done to reduce our waste means tackling how we consume and use our resources. In the kitchen and anywhere else, you can be more zero waste exactly where you are, with exactly what you already have.
For more on zero waste kitchens, check out this post from the zero waste shopping ban that focuses on the kitchen!