I consider the term zero-waste to be a buzzword. The reason I say that is because zero-waste in most households is unattainable, but it’s a word that is thrown around a lot lately. It’s something that most of us strive to achieve; however, it is an unrealistic goal for anyone to be completely zero-waste. When I refer to zero-waste, I use it as a term that means zero-waste to landfill. I know that in some countries, recycling is a joke and that the local council doesn’t do enough to recycle your recycling properly. It also doesn’t help that so many of us don’t know how to recycle properly, but that’s a post for another day.
When I refer to zero-waste, I want it to be accessible, something that we can all strive to achieve day in, day out. So I wanted to share with you some simple, beginner level tips on how to get started. Now, this isn’t a perfect system, but I have been learning about this way of life for over six years now and have learned a trick or twenty 😉
Buy your dry goods in a bulk store.
Having worked in a bulk store myself, I know the ins and outs of how a store like this works. I also know how to make the best use of it and what can be bought in the ones that I have come across.
Most of us have some jars lying around in the pantry, if they are not already in use, make sure to keep them. They will come in handy. If you normally recycle them, please consider giving them a good wash and storing them in a spot in your kitchen that is out of the way but accessible.
I have clearly labelled them with what goes inside, and when the jar is empty, I wash them and put them in my shopping bag ready for my next trip to the store. This will also eliminate impulsive buying because you will only buy what you have jars for. I typically take one extra one just in case I want a snack for the way home or am planning on going to the movies and want a treat. This jar is my miscellaneous jar that is on rotation for random things that are a one-off.
This is also where minimalism plays a role in your kitchen — being really intentional with the foods that you eat by only buying the ingredients that will go in your rotation of jars. I have about 20-30 jars that I rotate, meaning I don’t take them all at the same time to the store as some are still full or not completely empty. This covers things like cereal, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, flour, lentils, beans, rice, pasta, chocolate (a total essential!), nutritional yeast, salt, spices, herbs, sugar, superfoods, oils, vinegar, and cleaning products.
Cleaning products are something I buy about twice a year — things like dishwashing liquid, laundry powder, dishwasher powder, all-purpose cleaner, white vinegar.
Get familiar with your local farmer’s markets.
Ever since I was little, I have been going to weekly farmers markets. If I couldn’t buy it at the markets, I would consider not buying it at all. Markets give you not only the option to buy produce free from packaging but the option to also buy seasonally. If it’s the middle of winter, you won’t have the option to buy fresh tomatoes and cucumber.
Farmers markets also give you an opportunity to build relationships with the farmers and ask them questions about how they grow what they sell. Over the years, I have built relationships with a handful of trusted farmers that are either organic or don’t spray their crop. They tend to have a smaller selection of produce, but that’s totally fine with me.
I would rather have a smaller selection of super fresh, chemical and package free options than have an abundance in the supermarket that came from who knows where and has been treated with several different toxic sprays. Also, trust me when I say that the markets are always cheaper!
If you don’t have farmers markets that you can get to regularly, do some research to see if there are any farmer outlet stores in your area. We have two in my city that are open six days a week and get conventional and organic produce straight from the farmers. I would rather give my money to them than to the big corporations that own the supermarkets.
What you can’t buy without packaging, consider ditching it.
When you choose to buy all your dry goods in bulk, you take away so much packaging in your pantry. If there is something that you cannot buy in bulk locally, get from the farmer’s markets or the last resort is in glass or paper packaging, maybe reconsider using it. Or you can find a Facebook group that buys things in bulk and shares between larger groups of people.
As I talk about in this article, I was making tofu from scratch (using soybeans) because I couldn’t find tofu in bulk anywhere locally. After giving it a go, I decided that it just wasn’t worth my time. I would rather make/cook other things with that time that would give a better return on my investment. For instance, making a big batch of tomato sauce or cooking and freezing beans for later use.
Pick your battles but be smart about them. Maybe rather than making tofu all the time, as you’re used to having it a couple of times a week, save it for special occasions. If you can’t buy noodles without packaging, swap them out for spaghetti or just pasta instead. If you feel like getting a healthier option, try making them out of things like zucchini and spaghetti squash.
What’s in your rubbish bin right now?
Have a rummage through your rubbish bin right now. I know it sounds gross, but hear me out. By doing this, you will see what it is that you’re actually sending to landfill. Without even looking at what you put in there, I bet that at least 80% of it could have been avoided. Everything from food scraps that can be composted, the paper that should’ve gone in the recycling bin, and soft plastics that could’ve been recycled at your local supermarket.
Is there anything in your bin that you think belongs in the rubbish bin? I’d love to hear in the comments below what that is, and maybe we could work through disposing of it more appropriately.
Once you see what it is that you’re throwing out, you’ll make a more conscious effort to avoid putting it in that bin. One trick you can try is to remove your rubbish bin from your kitchen altogether. That way, you will have no choice but to dispose of it appropriately and question purchases in the future that would require you to have a rubbish bin that sends items to landfill.
Invest in a pressure cooker.
You might think that I’ve gone mad to suggest you actually buy something! Well, maybe just a little. And also for full disclosure, I don’t even own one! You see, we are in the process of moving to Slovenia in a couple of months, so I don’t want to buy one until we get there. But I can tell you that it would be well worth the investment if you plan on going zero-waste in your kitchen. I’ve been boiling by legumes on the stove this whole time; it’s a process.
What’s one thing that we all seem to struggle with? Time. This is one of the reasons that I would suggest for you to get a pressure cooker. You would save so much time in the kitchen. We all know that buying dry legumes can be a pain. We want them to be ready on hand when we need them. Soaking and boiling them can take hours, even days! This is where the pressure cooker would step in to save you some time.
The other important thing to note with pressure cookers (the reason why I’m interested in it) is that it deactivates the lectins in your food. Now, lectins are natural carbohydrate binding protein that protects plants. This means that it acts as a toxin to deter animals away from eating the plants. Small amounts of lectins are perfectly fine, but larger amounts can create all kinds of issues in your body. This is why some people may struggle to obtain any nutritional benefit from plant-based foods that are high in lectins as they pass straight through your body but cause havoc along the way. Furthermore, using a pressure cooker will keep more nutrients in the food source intact! It’s a win-win!
It’s all about habit change.
So I hope that the above suggestions have given you some food for thought. There are a few other random bits of useful information that I’d like to share with you.
Equip yourself with cotton bags, the kind with a little drawstring. These can be used for storing fresh produce in the crisper, shopping at the markets, using for dry goods in the bulk store (if you don’t like the idea of lugging glass jars around, and for having snacks on hand when out and about).
Want fresh bread, but don’t want the packaging that comes with it? No problem, just ask the baker to place it in the bag that you bring with you. You can also do this with delis. Take in your container or jar and ask them to use that instead to give you olives, sundried tomatoes, antipasto goodies, whatever you like!
Just because you’re reducing waste, doesn’t mean you have to go without.
Pick and choose.
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to completely go without if you think that you’re doing a good enough effort in other areas. My way of looking at it is that I’d rather go without if it comes in plastic packaging than if it comes in a paper bag or glass jar. As I know, I can always re-purpose those.
If you’re wondering what to do with glass jars once you’ve built your own collection and don’t need more, donate them. There are many food co-ops that will take them as well as people that need jars and bottles for preserving etc. Think outside the box, share it in Facebook groups or even ask your friends and family if they need any.
One last thing (or many).
These next couple of points may be obvious to some, but as a beginner, you may need a refresher.
- Always take reusable shopping bags with you when you go grocery shopping.
- When you plan to order takeaway have containers on hand and request the cafe or restaurant to put the food in that for you. Avoid single-use plastics that have a use for up to only an hour but will be on this Earth for hundreds of years to come. Remember, plastic can only be downcycled.
- Refuse straws when you drink out or bring your own. Have reusable metal, glass or bamboo ones at home.
- Have a keep cup (reusable cup) for your hot beverage that you want to take with you on the go.
- Take your own drink bottle with you from home, preferably glass or stainless steel.
- Carry a napkin with you if needed. Also, have a set of washable napkins at home to use when you have guests over.
- If you use a rubbish bin, either don’t use a bin liner or make one from newspaper. The thought of buying something to literally throw it away puzzles me!
Ready to learn more?
If you’re ready to dive deep into the world of reducing waste in your kitchen, I’m currently putting together a video course on that very topic! You can learn more about it here. I will also be sharing some wonderful zero-waste recipes with you that utilises this lifestyle as well as gives you some ideas on things that you would normally throw out!