Room #1, the kitchen. I have always had the philosophy of starting a mission/assignment/journey with the hardest tasks first. This one has been the most daunting for me, I feel like the majority of waste comes into, and is produced in the kitchen. Whether it be plastic produce bags, plastic shopping bags, plastic bags that produce is sold in (like grapes), stickers, those little twisty ties for the produce bags or around greens, and food waste. Don’t forget about packaging for snacks, non dairy milks, and other necessary staples. I do not have a recycling program where I live, so it’s very difficult to avoid packaging. I find other ways that I can cut back on waste in the kitchen. I hope to find a store where I can buy food “in bulk” in the future. Bulk means to buy food in larger quantities without a package. How? 1. Bring your own container to the store; jar, tupperware, bag. 2. Weigh your container either at home or at the store. This allows the cashier to tare the scale so you only pay for the weight of your food, not the container. 3. Bulk foods will usually be displayed in bins that you can scoop from.
1. Don’t let it come into the house in the first place.
I think I will start off each room this way. It just feels right. Please keep in mind that sometimes keeping waste from entering your home may include carrying more items on you (reusable bags, cups, cutlery, handkerchiefs, pads/cups, tupperware), it is a hard pill to swallow at first, but each time you bring one thing at a time, you’re still replacing what would have been destined for a landfill. I will bring reusable shopping and produce bags to the store. I love ChicoBags! They can fold into themselves into a little ball with a carabiner for easy travel. You can pop them in your car/purse/backpack and be ready to carry groceries, or anything you would need additional storage for! I will take a traditional reusable shopping bag and put several ChicoBags into it so I don’t need a lot of real estate to carry many bags. I try to find produce that does not have a sticker on it, the cashiers have a list of produce codes so the stickers are obsolete. Unfortunately, they are placed on the food while still at the facility it came from. I try not to buy too much food. If there’s excess, it will go bad and be thrown out. If your local grocery store has a bulk foods section, check it out. Sometimes they have nuts, grains, or pasta. If you can’t avoid packaging for necessary staples, try to recycle or upcycle it. Upcycle means to reuse an item in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
2. Try to avoid single use items.
This would include plasticware, paper plates, plastic cups, saran wrap, parchment paper, muffin cups, coffee filters, K-cups, baggies, single use food storage (like tupperware, but disposable). If you don’t have access to reusable versions of these items, don’t stress yourself out over using them. If you do have a reusable swap, get into the habit of implementing them into your daily routine. Washing dishes is pretty lame, but so are plastics that don’t degrade and leech out the materials they’re made from. I really like Stasher and (re)zip bags. I also use Rubbermaid containers to store food in, I don’t like the idea of using plastic, but I do not need to purchase more because of what I already have. A good swap for clingwrap is to either put it in a container with a lid, or using wax paper wraps. They’re similar to saran wrap, but you can clean them and use them over and over! Another way to stay away from single use items in the kitchen would be to buy coffee in a metal can or in bulk, instead of K-cups. Then, you could either use a French press, which does not require a filter, or a coffee maker and a reusable filter. Yes, there are reusable coffee filters! They are so common now that they are made in different sizes and for different models of coffee makers. If you only have a Keurig-type coffee maker, some models will come with a plastic “K-cup” that you can scoop your own grounds into. You can still have the convenience of making one cup at a time without the waste! For paper towels, you can use “unpaper” towels. Kitchen towels/rags are perfect if they’re absorbent. Instead of using foil or parchment paper for baking, you can swap to a silicone baking sheet. They’re non-stick, so they are very handy for cooking. There are silicone muffin cups that you can bake in!
3. Avoid food waste.
Try not to buy too much food. If you do, you could freeze it until you’re ready to use it, depending on what it is. If you plan out your meals and ingredients, you will be more likely to avoid wasting food. One source of waste created by food is scraps. You can take veggie scraps and boil them, strain it and you’ll have broth! You can also take the scraps from juicing and the aforementioned broth and make it into almost anything! When I’m juicing, I like to separate the veggie pulp from the fruit pulp so I can save them for savory or sweet recipes, respectively. If you can’t avoid throwing out a food or food scrap, you can always compost it! One specific example of using the same food multiple times is kale. I take the leaves off to eat, and I will save the stems to juice. I then take the pulp from the kale stems and freeze it for future recipes, like broth. I not only try to avoid throwing away (or composting when I can get a few more uses out of) food, but I also try to stretch the dollars I used to buy that food item. With my kale example above, you can use a food more than once, and use all the parts of the plant you’re eating. In addition to using it before going bad, you can learn new ways to store food properly. You can put wilted greens in water to perk them back up, put a ripe avocado in the fridge to “pause” the ripening process for a day or two, or freeze bananas if you love having them on hand, but don’t eat them often.
I have mentioned ways to upcycle scraps in #3, but I have a couple more up my sleeve. If you have vinegar and eat citrus, you can soak the peels in the vinegar to make a citrus-scented all-purpose cleaner. You can also make your own apple cider vinegar from apple scraps! You can use ACV for many things like cooking, dressings, scalp rinse, all-purpose cleaner, and many more!
If you can’t avoid packaging, you can either compost, recycle (which includes mailing into TerraCycle, more information in my intro post!), or upcycle them. The goal is to reduce waste, so any action taken in that direction is a win.