Moving towards a low waste or zero waste kitchen can feel overwhelming with so many food products coming in packaging but there are a lot of sustainable swaps we can make even if we don’t have access to a bulk bin store.
We can’t always control what options are available to us at the store, but here are fourteen ideas to help you get started on your low waste kitchen journey at home!
Note that there are partners and affiliates included in this guide. As always, all products meet high standards for sustainability and are from brands I believe in!
1. Cloth Rags
To replace paper towels
Paper towels might be convenient, but they come at a heavy cost — to our environment and on our wallets. As I shared in my Easy Zero Waste Swaps guide, a family of four could easily be spending $650 – $1,000 on paper towels over the course of five years! Every day, over 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is produced in the US alone.
And while estimates vary on the exact environmental impact (this source estimates there are 3,000 tons of paper towel waste in the U.S. and that 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are used per ton of paper towel production), there’s no question this single-use habit is simply unsustainable.
2. Reusable Cloth Napkins
To replace paper napkins
Another single-use paper product that we have to end for the sake of our forests and our wallets? Paper napkins!
Reusable napkins are an easy zero waste kitchen swap to make that will save you from having to buy package after package of single-use paper napkins.
To minimize the environmental impact, consider sourcing linen, hemp, or organic cotton napkins or even better, using fabric you already have to make your own!
Use your existing towels/rags first and check out this guide to DIY-ing your own cloth napkins! If you need new ones, check our these organic cotton cloth napkins ($18)
To replace plastic baggies
Whether you’re using plastic baggies for prepping lunches, storing leftovers, tossing veggies in oil and seasoning, or freezing food, these 100% platinum-grade silicone Stasher bags from EarthHero will be a perfect replacement to reduce waste. Just as functional to use as plastic but safer (no BPA, BPS, phthalates, etc.) and more durable, these silicone bags are safe to bake, cook, microwave, freeze, boil up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and even put in your sous vide machine. Neat, huh?
I love my Stasher bags — they’re self-sealing, making them as convenient as plastic bags and easy to clean out, too. The color you see above is “Sky”!
To replace conventional dish detergent
Dropps’ natural dish detergent pods are the solution for getting your dishes clean without all of that plastic packaging or questionable ingredient list that comes along with conventional dish detergent.
I had been hesitant to try dish detergent pods before out of concern they wouldn’t clean as well as powder, but Dropps sent me some of their pods so I could test them out before I shared them with you all — and they work great! You simply put the pod into the slot of your dishwasher you’d typically put any other detergent and after you run your dishwasher, your dishes are clean and the pod has disappeared. (The pod is 100% biodegradable!) The process is super easy and mess-free.
I was also impressed by how minimal Dropps packaging is — the packaging is the container of the pods, making it as minimal as shipping packaging can get while still being protective. (You can see the packaging in the background of the photo on the left!)
Check Out Dropps’ Biodegradeable Detergent Pods ($25 for 64 pods/39 cents per pod for small package; $40 for 120 pods/33 cents per pod for larger package. There is a 30% discount if you do the subscription.)
There are also bulk options available that come out to as little as 16 cents per pod! Use the code ‘life15’ for 15% off your order!
To replace plastic dish brushes
There are lots of reasons to love a good wooden dishwashing brush. This plastic-free kitchen swap is just as functional as any other brush, but reduces a whole lot of waste. The brush head is replaceable, so you don’t need to discard the whole brush when the bristles get worn.
Both the handle and the brush head can be composted when they reach their end of life.
Check Out EcoRoot’s Wooden Dish Brush ($11 with $7 replacement brush heads)
To replace dishwashing soap in plastic bottles
And if you’re scrubbing with an eco brush, might as well use low-waste dishwashing soap as well!
This soap bar is all vegan, palm oil-free, paraben-free, and completely biodegradable. EcoRoots always ships in minimal, plastic-free packaging as well, which I love!
7. Swedish Dish Cloths
To replace synthetic-fiber sponges
Swedish dishcloths are super absorbent, making them a great natural alternative to synthetic sponges. EcoRoots has some eco-minded dish clothes made from 70% cellulose, 30% cotton and printed with watercolor-based dyes. They are 100% compostable at the end of their life.
8. Glass Jars
To replace single-use storage
This is one of my favorite zero-waste kitchen swaps because it reduces waste, costs nothing, and just looks so aesthetically pleasing!
Glass jars are kind of the quintessential zero waste “look” but you don’t need to go out and buy anything new and fancy. If you ever buy something in a jar, just clean it out and re-use it! The photo here features homemade granola in an old sauce jar and some pasta in an old cranberry juice bottle.
9. Sturdy Reusable Containers
To replace single-use bags
Food containers are a great way to store leftovers and cut-up produce for later. There are over 40 million tons of food waste each year just in the U.S. or about 30-40% of the U.S. food supply.
The lowest waste option for food storage is to use any containers you’ve already got on hand!
To replace single-use plastic wrap
Skip the filmy thin plastic wrap for beeswax wrap from EarthHero that can be used over and over again. This beeswax wrap — which is made from organic cotton and sustainably-harvested beeswax — is perfect to use for any situation you’d typically use tinfoil or cling wrap. I like using it to cover homemade baked goods, leftover food in bowls without lids, or for wrapping around cut produce to keep it fresh.
The beeswax wrap cleans up easily with just water and the wrap can be composted at the end of its useful life.
11. Cloth Produce Bags
To replace single-use bags
Store your produce away safely with reusable cloth bags! Cloth reusable bags can also be used at grocery stores to eliminate single-use plastic produce bags. (At the time of writing, many stores are not allowing reusable bags due to COVID-19, but I do think that we will be able to bring in our own reusable bags again.)
Don’t have bags? Check Out These Organic Cotton Produce Bags
12. At-Home Water Filter
To replace plastic water bottles
I love Soma’s water filter! I’m not a picky water-drinker (I honestly don’t notice much of a difference from spring water from a bottle to tap water from the sink), but I do feel much better knowing that chlorine, mercury, zinc, cadmium, and copper, are filtered through this Soma water filter.
Soma’s filters are made from 60% plant-based and renewable materials and the company is B-Corp certified.
To replace individually-wrapped tea bags
If you love tea but don’t love all that packaging, there’s an easy swap for that: loose-leaf tea + tea steepers. Not only will you reduce your exposure to microplastics by skipping the plastic teabag, but I find that loose-leaf tea often tastes so much better too. Lately, I’ve been loving the Sacred Blossom Farm teas that were kindly gifted to me!
For a full guide to loose0leaf tea (and tea packed in natural, compostable bags), check out my guide to sustainable and fair trade tea.
14. French Press or Reusable Coffee Filters
Instead of single-use filters with filter coffee
There are a few ways to go about zero waste coffee making. One is to use a french press! With a french press, all you need is the coffee and some boiling water — no single-use paper filter needed.
If you do prefer filtered coffee for taste or time constraints, try a reusable coffee filter, like these from EarthHero.
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