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10 Simple Swaps for a Zero Waste Kitchen

Written by Sarah Robertson-Barnes for The Zero Waste Collective

Please note this post includes sponsored and affiliate links.

From food packaging to cleaning supplies, the kitchen is one of the largest sources of waste in most homes. But it doesn’t have to be! By assessing our habits, we can begin to swap out conventional convenience items for more sustainable options. The swap may cost a bit more upfront but will pay dividends long into the future of using it over and over, saving you time and money!

Approach each one of these swaps as you run out of what you are currently using - after all, zero waste is about using what we already have and making better choices when it is time to buy new.

Here are 10 simple swaps you can make in your kitchen to start reducing waste today!

1. Paper Towels

Paper products require a lot of resources to produce, package, ship, purchase, and throw away. All of that just to run out and have to go buy them again!

Swap: Unpaper towels (search Etsy for or local maker or Pinterest for a DIY pattern), old tea towels, or rags made from old t-shirts. Each option keeps materials in use and out of the landfill. Simply toss them in the wash when they are used! You can also use Swedish Sponge Cloths!

2. Paper Napkins

Just like with paper towels, we buy this resource-heavy item just to throw them away. They aren’t even that effective.

Swap: Cloth napkins to the rescue! In addition to sitting on your lap at the table, a cloth napkin can be used to wipe up spills, as a container when shopping, a makeshift bag, or a bowl cover. A very versatile swap indeed!

3. Sponges

Plastic sponges cannot be recycled or composted, and the little bits that break off go down the drain and enter our waterways. Not to mention how funky smelling they get over time. Next time you need to replace one, opt for something longer lasting and eco-friendly.

Swap: Natural wood/fibre dish brushes, knit or crocheted cotton dishcloths, Swedish dish cloths, or loofah sponges are all long-lasting and effective choices that can be composted at end of life.

4. Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap is not recyclable and can typically only be used once owing to its tendency to stick to itself. Storing food without plastic wrap is easier than we think, if we look to what our grandparents did!

Swap: Try covering food with beeswax wraps, cloth bowl covers, lidded storage containers, or even cut side down on a plate. Each of these is just as, if not more effective at keeping your food fresher for longer with no waste.

5. Food Storage

Look at what you already own and think about how they can be used in new ways. If you are currently using disposables for food storage, such as sealable plastic bags, consider purchasing reusables when they eventually run out.

Swap: Silicone bags, mason jars, glass or stainless steel containers with lids, repurposed food jars, and whatever else you already have are all great for storing food, even in the freezer. Did we mention jars?

6. Lunch Containers

If you work out of the home or have kids in school, this is a great area to begin reducing waste. Bringing your lunch from home saves you money and reduces food waste, while dishing out servings (of things like yogurt) from larger containers saves single-use packaging.

Swap: Pack food in reusable containers you already have, or invest in a set to be used for years to come. Stacking or bento style stainless steel containers are great, lightweight options for packing what you need for the day. And whether it is a set from your drawer or bamboo to go set in a roll, don’t forget the reusable cutlery!

7. Water Bottles

Bottled water is an easy thing to refuse if you live where the water is safe to drink. Forgoing this convenience item saves time, money, and precious resources.

Swap: A reusable water bottle is a key zero waste swap. Depending on your needs and budget, everything you could want exists from the thrift store to a specialty cup. An insulated bottle will keep your morning smoothie cold and your afternoon coffee hot. Consider your reusable water bottle as part of your “wallet and keys” check before you leave the house.

8. Straws

Straws are not recyclable and are one the most common items found in litter cleanups. If you use a lot of straws in your home or while on the go, consider switching to an alternative if possible.

Swap: Reusable straws come in all sorts of materials (usually metal, glass, silicone, and bamboo) and sizes. Evaluate what you typically use straws for and make your decisions from there. And of course, if you don’t really need a straw, politely decline.

9. Food Shopping

Plastic grocery and produce bags are extremely difficult to recycle and are largely unnecessary. Get in the habit of bringing your reusables shopping with you by storing them near the door so you never forget them when it is time to go shopping.

Swap: Swap out plastic produce bags for bags made of natural fibres such as cotton, hemp, or linen. Shop for produce, bread, and bulk goods in these lightweight bags and wash with other kitchen linens. Bring jars or other suitable containers to the bulk aisles or deli, just remember to get them weighed first! Better yet, just set your produce down straight in the cart. Bring everything home in your reusable tote bags.

10. Coffee and Tea

Coffee filters are a resource intensive paper product, pods are difficult to recycle or compost appropriately, and did you know that most tea bags contain plastic? All the accessory items needed to make your morning cup can be very wasteful indeed.

Swap: Depending on how you brew your potion you can swap filters for a metal basket or reusable cloth filter, swap single-use pods for refillable ones, invest in a tea ball for loose leaf tea, or eliminate the need for filters at all with a French press. Breathe deep and enjoy!

These changes may take some time to implement and get used to, but soon they will be like second nature!

For more tips on going zero waste, read the book and head to zero waste 101!


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