Keeping a clean and organized kitchen is essential in our home. Max and I both love to cook and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so we try to make it an inviting space. Going zero waste in your kitchen is not only good for the environment, it's good for the soul. I love looking around our kitchen and seeing plastic-free, minimal countertops. It gives me peace of mind opening my cupboards to neatly arranged glass jars with bulk grains, baking ingredients and spices. And while going zero waste can seem daunting, the transition is more about simple switches that make your life easier, not harder. So let’s start in the kitchen, shall we?
1. Drink from the Sink
You know what my favorite drink is? Tap water. In Oakland, we enjoy some of the best water quality in the state—90% of our supply comes from Sierra Nevada snowmelt (picturesque, no?). At home, I drink straight tap water (no Brita or other filtering device) from a large mason jar and I never leave leave the house without filling up a reusable water bottle.
The bottled water industry would have you believe that their product is “safer and better tasting than tap,” but did you know that bottled water is less regulated than tap water? And don’t get me started on the plastic—bad for the environment, bad for your health. In the U.S., municipal water utilities have to meet rigorous federal and state water quality standards and publish annual water quality reports. Of course, there are exceptions if you live in place that doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. I recommend doing some research and checking out your municipality’s annual drinking water quality report.
2. Swap Paper for Cloth
I remember our last roll of paper towels. We had already started our transition towards a zero waste lifestyle, and were using up the few remaining vestiges of our former disposable lifestyle. We made that roll last a loooooong time, and now that it’s gone, I don’t miss it one bit.
We now use reusable cloth and microfiber rags to get the job done—from wiping down counters to mopping up spills to cleaning the oven and windows. We keep a dedicated drawer in our kitchen with about 30 cloths total and a special laundry basket for storing grimy rags until we have time to wash them (about every 2 weeks). You can make your own cloths by cutting up old towels.
3. Reusable Bags
A growing number of people bring reusable grocery bags to their supermarket, and it’s awesome (Portlandia did a hilarious bit on this). Take it one step further by eliminating your use of plastic produce bags. Cotton produce bags are now a thing and a super easy swap for plastic. We have a wire basket in the kitchen to store all of our reusable produce bags and take about 5-10 bags with us to the grocery store or weekly farmers’ market.
When I get home, I either transfer the produce directly into the fridge crisper (apples, potatoes, avocados, etc) or a glass container (mushrooms, berries) or I keep the produce in the bag itself (lettuce, kale, chard) and spritz the whole bag with a little water before placing it in the crisper (this keeps greens hydrated and fresh). What would you rather have your fruit and veg stored in—plastic or organic cotton? At the end of the week, I wash all of the bags and place them back in the wire basket.
4. Buy in Bulk
Speaking of reusable produce bags, you can also swap plastic bags for cotton muslin bags to buy all of your nuts, grains, flours and snacks in bulk. Bring your bags, fill them up and note the PLU (price look up) on your phone or write it on your bag with a washable marker like Bea Johnson does and check out.
Once you’re home, transfer your bulk items into glass jars. Not only are you reducing plastic waste, but admire how pretty your cabinets look with neatly stacked glass jars displaying your bulk goods instead of a bunch of lumpy bags (it also makes it so much easier to find what you need). You can also bring jars to the market if you want to fill them up directly. I like to bring jars for wet items like olive oil, maple syrup, soap, nut butters and olives. Just remember to tare (weigh) the jars before you fill them (read our post on how to tare jars here).
5. Clean like Grandma (or Grandpa)
Marketers would have you believe that you need a “special” cleaning product for every appliance, surface and room in your home. Not true. You would be amazed at the cleaning power of plain ol’ white vinegar and water—it worked just fine for our grandparents' generation.
We use an all purpose cleaner of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water (with a few drops of essential oil of choice) in a glass spray bottle. This all purpose solution is used on counters, the stove, windows, cabinets and even our floor. For cleaning dishes, we use pure Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap in a reusable glass soap dispenser. It gets our dishes clean and we can use it to wash our hands as well. Simplicity my friends.
We use a wood dish brush with a replaceable and compostable head to wash dishes and pans and a compostable wood bottle brush to wash glasses and bottles. These tools are designed to last—no more nasty plastic sponges. We store them upright in a ceramic pot next to our sink when they’re not in use. They look nice, too.
6. Keep Minimal
Take inventory of all of your appliances, gadgets, dishes, tools and other do-dads in your kitchen. How many of them do you use on a weekly basis (be honest). Try to minimize your use of “things” and instead cultivate multi-use tools that you use on a regular basis. Donate the items you don’t use.
If you do need to buy a new kitchen tool, try buying it second-hand first. Vintage kitchen tools tend to be higher quality and are generally constructed to last. Cultivate tools made of stainless steel, wood or glass and minimize plastic objects.