Organizing Tips for a Zero Waste Kitchen
This week we are continuing our discussion around transitioning to a more zero waste lifestyle and now focusing on different ways we can become more zero waste in our kitchens.
As we mentioned in our previous post on zero waste bathroom organizing, we know that a professional organizer helps declutter, organize, and create systems for their clients. Eco-friendly organizing does that and MORE.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE ORGANIZING?
When we think about sustainable living and how to make the transition into living with less of an impact we need to be able to organize ourselves and create a plan for how we are going to do that.
This post will help you plan and organize your kitchen to be more zero waste as you transition into living more environmentally friendly.
HOW DO WE CHOOSE WHAT TO BUY?
When we want to make more sustainable purchases there are different factors we need to take into consideration. Some important environmentally friendly considerations we use are:
Plastic is often not recycled and ends up in landfills or, if sent to a recycling facility, it is shipped overseas to third world countries for them to deal with. They often do not have the means, equipment, or facilities to sustainably process the items for new materials, so only a small percentage of the plastic items we purchase actually gets recycled. The rest end up in landfill. 💔 Opt for paper/cardboard or glass packaging if possible.
If we want to keep plastic out of the recycling bin and our landfills it’s often best to find products which come in reusable packaging like glass or no packaging at all. If an item comes in glass this allows for repurposing and reuse of the container for other things, and eliminating the need to buy something new for that new purpose.
Hard plastic is not the only thing cluttering up our recycling centres and landfills though. Unless your municipality has a soft plastic recycling program (like the plastic that covers toilet paper roll packs or the plastic around a bag of salad greens) this plastic will also go in the garbage. Any paper with shiny or glittery flecks in it (think holiday/birthday wrapping paper) cannot be recycled so also inevitably ends up in the landfill. 👎🏻
There are many refill stores popping up all over North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. These stores allow for you to take your own container (you could actually use a plastic container if you wanted, doesn’t necessarily have to be glass) to refill your products. In the kitchen, things like flours, pastas, rice, spices, sugars, coffee beans, baking soda/powder, butters, maple syrup, honey, and cooking oils are all products that can be refilled. Every time you refill one of these products instead of buying one in a brand new container, that is one less container that will end up in the landfill, in some country overseas, or in the ocean. 👏🏻
Supporting your local economy is a great way to support the sustainability and growth of your town and support the individual business owners and their families who rely on that work for their wellbeing. If they can make more money then they have more money to spend on other services, restaurants, events, products, and activities in the town as well. Everyone helps everyone and creates a beautiful, harmonious cycle of living and sustainable growth for all.
ZERO WASTE KITCHEN ORGANIZING - STEP BY STEP
Step 1 - Decluttering:
Declutter your pantry and refrigerator/freezer items that are expired or stale. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT just throw these things in the garbage. Anything that was once edible can be composted. Composting allows for food waste to be re-integrated and transformed into fertilizer for soil, plants, trees, and crops. Many municipalities have compost collection now-a-days. If your does, please make sure you get yourself a compost pail. If your municipality does not have a composting program then you can buy your own composter to DIY.
Step 2 - Use Up All The Product:
As we mentioned in our Zero Waste Bathroom Organizing post, it’s SUPER important that when making the transition to becoming more environmentally friendly and working towards Zero Waste that the next step after decluttering is to USE UP ALL OF THE PRODUCTS YOU ALREADY HAVE FIRST. That means: eat all the snacks, use up all the pasta, eat all the stuff in the freezer, use up all your dishwasher powder/tablets, use the sponges until they are dust, etc. This will not only save you precious money by not buying all new things when you’ve already paid for the things you currently have in your kitchen, but will also keep the clutter down.
If you don’t want to use it or don’t like it then see if you can pass it on to someone that may want to use the rest of it. Try your best NOT TO throw consumable items into the garbage at all. If it is still edible and you don’t want to eat it, try to find someone else who would enjoy it. There is so much food that ends up in the landfill which will just rot over time. If you are going to “throw out” food, make sure you are composting it like I encouraged in Step 1 above.
Step 3 - Choose Sustainable Replacements:
Once you have used up a product then it is the perfect time to switch to the more sustainable option. A LARGE bonus of switching to the more sustainable option is that most of these swaps are reusable. They may cost (sometimes, sometimes not) a little more money but they will last much longer.
Check out these excellent Zero Waste Kitchen swaps and ideas below.
Refillable containers - refill store or bulk
As I mentioned above, and just like bathroom products, utilizing refill stores to refill various products significantly reduces the amount of plastic and non-recyclable containers that end up in the landfill. As I mentioned above things like flours, sugars, spices, cooking oil, rice, etc. can all be refilled into your reusable containers. Some refill stores even have the option of refilling various dairy and deli products such as cheeses, butter, hummus and dip, peanut butter, honey, maple syrup, ice cream, pierogis, samosas, etc…. Yum!
In Vancouver stores like The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples and Nada will refill all sorts of different products. Jarr Co. Grocery Delivery delivers products in reusable or refundable glass jars to also help eliminate waste.
Bowl covers are an awesome alternative to plastic wrap or aluminum foil. You can buy them or they are relatively easy to make. If you are interested, here’s a good tutorial to teach you how.
Beeswax wrap is an excellent alternative to plastic wrap or foil and has a lot more uses than bowl covers. Beeswax wraps can be used to wrap snacks, it can function as an alternative to Ziploc bags, they can wrap a sandwich and it is good to wrap anything that needs a little bit of air flow to it (think fruits and vegetables). I find that beeswax wraps are excellent to wrap an avocado. The avocado stays green for a longer period of time than when using plastic wrap, foil or putting it in a Tupperware. I also love using beeswax wrap to wrap fresh bread. The bread stays soft yet chewy and crispy for far longer than using plastic wrap or foil. This helps you get more life out of your bread before it can get hard and stale. Beeswax wraps come in tons of different sizes. It also comes in small pouches and large bags for bread. You can buy them from an artist/maker or you can make it yourself using this tutorial here. Once I switched to beeswax wraps in my kitchen I have been able to significantly reduce the amount of plastic wrap and foil that I use on a regular basis thus saving me money and significantly reducing the amount of plastic and aluminum accumulating in the landfill. 👏🏻
Swedish dish cloths
Swedish dish cloths are an awesome cleaning tool for your kitchen and for around the house. Part sponge part cloth they absorb exceptionally well and far better than the average kitchen rag. They dry very quickly, are much more durable than a paper towel, and hold less bacteria than a normal kitchen rag. Use them until they deteriorate into holes and then once you’re done with them they can be composted because they are made of cellulose fibre. They are my absolute favourite zero waste kitchen and cleaning tool I have discovered!
Cloth paper towels
Paper towels are another source of waste that we accumulate in the kitchen. If you’re going to buy a paper towels then please ask for recycle paper. The best zero waste option are reusable paper towels made of cloth. You can find various styles with different prints that snap together and roll up just like a paper towel roll which will fit on a standard paper towel holder. If you are crafty and like to sew, you can also stitch these rather easily by using two different types of absorbent fabric and putting snaps on each end so that they can connect to each other. Once you have used them you can throw them in the wash to get clean. You can find some cute options on Etsy here. If you fancy making your own then you can find a fun tutorial here.
Bamboo dish brushes
Often dish brushes are pieces of plastic with plastic bristles that cannot be recycled. Therefore dish brushes often just end up in the landfill and take hundreds of years to biodegrade (if ever) or they end up in the ocean. Similarly to hairbrushes like we talked about in the Zero Waste Bathroom post opting for a bamboo dish brush will prevent more plastic from ending up in the landfill and can be recycled with your wood/paper products.
Castile soap or bar soap
Castile soap is my absolute favourite type of soap to use in all parts of the home. It is a vegan, cruelty-free vegetable oil-based soap. It is an excellent multipurpose cleaner and can be diluted to use for hand soap or left a bit more concentrated to use for dish soap. This is what I use for my liquid dish soap when I am hand washing dishes. Another option for handwashing dishes is to use a bar dish soap where you can take your dish brush and rub it on the bar of soap and then wash your dishes. If you’re the type that fills the sink full of water and soap to wash your dishes then you can still do this with bar soap by placing the bar in the water and running your hands all over it and releasing some of the soap into the water with the dishes. Another option is to wet your dish and then rub the bar soap on it before you use your dish brush or cloth to finish washing it. Castile soap can be refilled at refill stores as well making it, by far, the best environmentally-friendly soap out there.
Dishwasher powder is another product that can be refilled at most refill stores. The one that I buy from The Soap Dispenser and Kitchen Staples works so well I only have to use a tablespoon and it cleans a full load of dishes perfectly. It saves me a lot of money especially compared to dishwasher pods. I keep my dishwasher powder in a pretty glass jar under my sink. You can make your own dishwasher powder using a tutorial like this one or if you prefer the pod form, you can make your own dishwasher pods with a tutorial like this one.
Brita water pitcher and filter
Water filter and refillable bottles as opposed to bottled
If you look at any photo of plastic waste in the ocean you will notice that a huge majority of the plastic waste accumulating our oceans and landfills are from plastic water bottles. If your tapwater is not drinkable then the best zero-waste and environmentally friendly option is to use a water pitcher with a filter in it like a Brita. If you like carbonated water then you can pour your filtered Brita water into a Soda Stream. Companies like Brita and Soda Stream will allow you to recycle their filters/CO2 bottles with them and thus keeping them out of the landfill. According to Brita’s website, one Brita pitcher can eliminate 1,800 single use water bottles from the landfill, the ocean, and lakes.
If the water out of your tap is completely undrinkable even after filtering, then it is best to opt for a water cooler. Even though these are still one gigantic plastic bottle, water cooler companies will take your old cooler and will sterilize/recycle it into new coolers for future use.
DIY Recycling Centre by The DIY Mommy
When you are organizing your kitchen and deciding on where things should go, it’s imperative to make sure that you create space for a recycling centre. The best location for a recycling centre will be directly next to your garbage. This will ensure you are much more likely to recycle things if it is equally as convenient as throwing the item in the garbage.
Yes, recycling centres can be sexy! (Say what?! There are many different layouts and styles of recycling centres with endless styles of bins and containers.
For other awesome tips on how/where to place items in your kitchen for easier access, check out our previous post by Organize By Flo
Please know that no one expects you to make the jump to zero waste everything overnight. REMINDER: Make sure you use all of what you already have before replacing. Then slowly, gradually, make the transition to zero waste/eco-friendly substitutes. Don’t stress yourself out or spend a ton of money buying all the pretty things at once. It’s ok for it to be gradual, it’s ok for you to take your time to integrate this new approach into your life.
NO ONE EXPECTS YOU TO BE PERFECT.
Remember my favorite saying,
“IT IS BETTER TO HAVE A MILLION PEOPLE LIVING IMPERFECTLY ZERO WASTE THAN ONE PERSON DOING IT PERFECTLY.”
It doesn’t help for anyone to be elitist or arrogant over how much they are doing and looking down on others who aren’t. Let’s all help each other to replace one container at a time and organize our kitchens, our bathrooms, and our lives to be more zero waste. 🌎
Marybeth Welty is a Professional Organizer, Interior Designer, and Mindful Living Coach, and is the owner of Sustainable Lifestyle Solutions. She helps her clients create a calm, organized, and sustainable home and the life of their dreams by utilizing refined design principles, organizing best practices, mental wellness strategies, and a holistic lifestyle approach to sustainability. You can connect with her at www.sustainablelifestylesolutions.com and on Instagram at @this_sustainable_lifestyle.
Melanie McConnell is a Professional Organizer and the owner of Mello Spaces. She helps busy professionals and parents get the organized home of their dreams. Check out her website www.mellospaces.com and follow her on Instagram: @mellospaces
Florena Davies is a Professional Organizer and Owner of Organize by Flo. She uses her experience as a wife and mother of 2 to create real life organizational systems and changes for work and home that allow our 2 worlds to co-exist and 'Flo" together. Check out her website at https://www.organizebyflo.com/ and on Instagram @organizebyflo.