Zero waste shopping ban: Week 2
This is the week to break out the mesh coffee filters that came with your coffee pot; the ones you left in the box and never even considered using. It’s week two of the zero waste shopping ban and we’re talking about the kitchen. The kitchen is the room in the house where you probably empty the trash most often, and it’s also the room in the house that gets the most intense use. If there were an area of the home where buyable zero waste switches are infinite, we found it. Rather than focus on bulk shopping and package-free food, the zero waste kitchen begins with taking care of the resources you already have. This week, be prepared to look through your whole kitchen.
Most of this post builds on the assumption that you already have a functioning kitchen in order. If your kitchen is a frying pan, a colander, and a blender, it may not offer you very much.
Begin by taking a visual inventory of your kitchen. Look through the pantry, open the cupboards, look in the drawers and on shelves. You are looking for: cleaning products, reusable containers, broken items, disposable items, perishable and non-perishable goods, and unused things.
How many products do you use to clean your kitchen? Do you have extras waiting to be used? The five Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot) are most easily applied to the kitchen, and now is your chance to put refuse into practice. The easiest way to avoid the emissions and waste that come from the existence of a product is to not use it. An all-purpose cleaner does the trick.
Reusable containers are food safe containers that are washable; in my eyes, a container doesn’t need to be created for reuse to be reused, but it does help if the container was made to be resealed/reclosed after opening. Look for containers you have meant for reuse like Tupperware, packaging you have adopted for reuse like Cool Whip tubs, and yet-to-be-reused containers like jars with pickles or plastic tubs with sandwich meat. While you’re at it, dig out a reusable water bottle, since most of us have at least one, and a travel mug for hot drinks if you’re into that.
Keep these containers and use them in place of disposable snack bags, for storing leftovers, and the like. Feel free to remove the label, or don’t.
Chipped bowls or a blender whose motor quit. If something is broken or no longer works, it may have been shoved to the back of a cupboard or go unnoticed since it is unused. Anything that is broken should, at the inventory stage, come out of its’ hiding place.
Everyone has them; I have a box of plastic straws from pre-zero waste (ironic, I know). Are there disposables you use every day, like paper napkins or sandwich bags? The shopping ban doesn’t focus on where/what in lieu of replacing disposables, but we can still maximize the use of these resources.
Hopefully you have at least some dishtowels or have acquired something for cleaning from last week. If your dish towels and napkins have been overshadowed by the paper towel, it’s time for their reappearance. Be conscious of where they are so that if you run out of disposables you can easily access cloth for clean up.
You’ll probably notice some things in your kitchen that go unused. Like anything broken, the unused should come out of their hiding places and be managed directly.
Resources to use up and donate
With a better idea of what is in your kitchen, you have probably unearthed some forgotten disposables. Like with other unused products, you may have the opportunity to pass along unopened resources to those in need. Boxes of unopened disposable cutlery or packages of paper plates might be given to a local food bank or other organization. As before, passing along these resources doesn’t change the fact that their creation was a poor use of resources or that they will ultimately sit in landfill. All it does is reduce your visible household waste. You may find it useful to write down the products you are trying to use up so that you don’t neglect using them; unfortunately, some of these products aren’t 100% necessary and therefore go unused.
For opened products like paper towels or paper napkins, you can use them up yourself or pass them along to a friend or family member who would use them. The worst thing to do at this point is simply throw them in the garbage, which would entirely waste all the labor and resources that went into creating them. I found a few paper cups at the top of a cupboard; I probably won’t be using them, but I will save them to bring to a party where they will be used.
This is also a good moment to take note of the products you will use up yourself. Since open containers can’t easily be passed on to be used, I suggest using up whatever cleaning products and disposable products you have. Counter-top, stove-top, and stainless steel cleaners probably don’t need to be re-bought or found in zero waste varieties. Be conscious of the resources you already have so that they are used up.
Finally, in the category of use up and donate, we have disposable items that you can try and use more fully. Some ways to reuse disposable products include:
Wash disposable sandwich bags
Wash disposable cutlery
Reuse aluminum foil
Well, as long as it isn’t gooey.
Clean disposable straws
Save plastic wrap to re-cover
Especially if you have to cover the same container again.
Line small garbage cans with bread bags
Use bread bags for carrying snacks
Unfortunately, most disposable products make it to landfill due to breaking from use or simply being discarded; even if we purchased disposable products before we knew better, it is still our responsibility to take care of those resources. If during the ban you run out of these disposable products and wish to find a zero waste version, there are things to do in the meantime. Instead of plastic wrap or bees wrap, many bowls and plates can be sealed for fridge storage by placing another plate or bowl on top. Aluminum foil can almost always be skipped; all you have to do is wash or rinse the pans after use. If last week you did not end up with any old towels to use for cleaning and rags, within the next weeks of the ban you may find you already have available resources to use for this.
Resources to start using in the kitchen:
There is a good chance you have many of these reusable resources already, but have chosen to use disposable options out of convenience or busyness; you may have adopted the attitude that reusable ceramic or glass kitchenwares are for special occasions, not any old Tuesday. Either way, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of things to continue (or start) using:
Cloth napkins aren’t just for Christmas, even if your only set is fancy. Don’t worry, they’re made to get messy.
A towel is a towel is a towel. Finish up the paper towels and use reusables if you have them. If you have no napkins, kitchen towels will make great napkins for the next month. Anything in poor condition can be relegated to the position of purely clean-up cloth.
Ceramic mugs and cups
Red solo cups can’t beat using a glass that won’t blow away in the wind. As for mugs, I’m still a believer there are more novelty mugs exchanged as gifts than anyone ever wanted in the first place. You probably have one.
Plates and bowls
You might have a matching set or a conglomeration, but chances are you have some reusable dishes. Even in homes where disposables are the most common choice, I’ve always found ceramic.
Disposing and taking care
If you’re not respecting your things already, it’s time to begin doing so. Hand-wash things that must be hand-washed; find out if it is possible to fix any broken gadgets. Anything you took out of your cupboard because it was broken should be evaluated for how it can be used or repaired for the future. Chips in ceramics usually mean they are no longer microwave safe, but perhaps it could still serve as a candy bowl or for mixing. If something is really, irreparably broken, dispose of it properly. Ceramics cannot be recycled in most curbside recycling, however, they can usually be recycled anywhere that recycles cement or bricks. Hamilton Beach will take back any of their small appliances for recycling. Many electronics recycling facilities and drives will also accept small appliances like coffee pots or blenders for recycling. As for things you don’t use from the kitchen, consider donating them or giving them to someone who is more likely to benefit from owning them. The more we keep pre-existing products in use, the lower the demand for new products is.
Finally, take some time for maintenance on the things you already own. Sharpen your kitchen knives, re-season cast iron if you have any, polish the silver and shake the crumbs out from the toaster. To maintain wooden tools like spoons and cutting boards, some recommend oiling them with non-food oils; it helps to wash them by hand as well to prevent the wood drying out and cracking. If you have a natural stone counter-top that you don’t regularly maintain, this week is your chance to give some attention to that resource. As for anything broken, chipped bowls and mugs make great pots for household plants and for garden decorations. If you need a new part for any of your kitchen appliances, it would fall under the repair section of the ban. If you’re sure you’ll use the part, replace it; for example, if your blender needs a new gasket to be usable, it’s worth purchasing.
When you’ve finished taking stock of your material goods, take a look in your fridge and cupboards. Are they so packed you don’t know what is in the back or how long it has been there? Of course, there are many reasons one might keep their cupboards tightly stocked, but if you have a great deal of non-perishable goods you aren’t likely to eat, they could be donated. If you have non-perishables that have actually expired, it might be an indication you’re overbuying.
Next, check the fridge, freezer, etc. for spoiled food. Take out the forgotten leftovers, stale crackers, and wilted lettuce you hoped you would eat but never did. While there is an enormous amount of waste in the food system, it should not be accepted that even once food makes it into our homes that we allow some of it to spoil. Anything that is spoiled should be composted or thrown away. If you are someone who often throws away food that is safe to eat or finds that leftovers are spoiled, the biggest zero waste task for you the rest of the ban is to stop throwing away food. Try and see if there is a pattern to the food you throw away; do you cook in too-large batches? Do you buy a week’s worth of groceries and eat out every day? Do you buy food (like meat) that you intend to cook but spoils before you have the chance? Are you buying for the eating patterns that you want instead of the eating patterns you have? If there is food you notice spoils regularly, it might be the time to simply stop buying it, or at least stop purchasing it ahead of time since it doesn’t seem to be eaten.
During week two, eat what is in your fridge. Unless you meal prep, make it a point to eat your leftovers and not cook anything new or eat out if you have more than two or three meals worth of already made food or food that will spoil shortly. And while we’re talking about meals, it’s about time most of us ate less meat and fewer animal products. Non-negotiable. If you eat meat, try and make at least one meal a day vegetarian for the remaining five weeks; breakfast is easy for this one. I am a vegetarian, so to fight emissions from my diet, I will try and make at least one meal a day vegan.
Finally, if you’re big on veggies, use a bowl (or bread bag, or any container) to save your vegetable scraps or animal bones from the week. At the end, cook them down to make veggie or meat stock (or as my own family would say, “cook some garbage”).
If you won’t be cooking your garbage-I mean, veggie scraps-consider starting a compost. Any water proof container, or even a cardboard box lined with an old grocery bag, can be used to store compost. If you can’t compost at home, look online if there are any public compost sites in your area. If it doesn’t make sense to go frequently, you can freeze the compost so it doesn’t smell.
Any time you try and make the kitchen a less wasteful place, you’ll come up against a food system loaded with disposables and a room that gets more wear and tear than most other areas of the home. Before you feel tempted to buy anything zero waste for your kitchen, take the time to be aware of and manage the resources you already have. The most sustainable option is the one that already exists.
If you want to see more about how I’m taking care of my resources during the zero waste shopping ban, follow me on Instagram @lesswasteworld ! Throughout the weeks I will be sharing what I am doing in my stories, which are then saved as highlights on my page. Enjoy!