Kitchen Swaps, 10 Easy Ways to Reduce Waste in your Kitchen

Home is where the heart is and the kitchen is the heart of the home. 

I would agree with that! 

 The kitchen is where we gather at least 2-3 times a day with family and friends.  Where will start our days and end our days. Where we rush to get something on the table and rush to get out the door, sit and eat for hours with the whole family, linger to chat with an old friend or meet up for an impromptu party with music and laughter or as we call it, a good East Coast Kitchen Party.  Great memories are made in kitchens all over the world, it’s the universal gathering place.

The kitchen is undoubtedly where we spend a lot of our time and unfortunately a place where we create a lot of waste. I don’t mean to bring you down but shedding a light on our kitchen habits, when it comes to waste, can help us make some positive changes and keep those good memories going.

The first thing we can do in our kitchen is to observe our habits. What do we use up the most and what do we throw out on a regular basis. By doing this, we can identify what we can try to change to be less wasteful. Food waste is a huge issue in most households, check out these blogs on Earth Mamas International on ways to reduce your food waste.

Other than food waste, there seems to be a lot of single-use products or throw away items that we have become accustomed to using in and around our kitchen. These products or habits have crept into our kitchens and have become the norm. But they don’t have to be! We can always try to take small steps and small changes that could end up making a huge difference in our waste habits.

Check out these 10 simple Kitchen swaps that can help change our habits and reduce our overall kitchen waste:

Zero-waste Kitchen Swaps

  1. Plastic Sponge → Biodegradable Alternatives or Cloth

Plastic sponges have become a popular household item. They are cheap to buy and easy to throw away. Did you know that a year’s worth of discarded sponges from one household could take up landfill space for upwards of 52,000 years (1)

Do we really need sponges? Yes, they often have that convenient scrubber on one side and we are led to believe that they are more sanitary even though studies have proven that sponges can collect up to 45 billion microbes per square centimeter (2). That doesn’t sound good to me at all! A solution to the bacteria problem with sponges and been to lace them with harmful antimicrobial ingredients or pesticides that are harmful to your personal health and leach into waterways wreaking havoc on marine life (3).

What can we use as an alternative to the sponge?

  • A dishcloth or washcloth is something you probably already have in your kitchen. They work just as well as a sponge to wash dishes and clean counters and you can throw them in the laundry when they get dirty and use them again.
 Hand-knit Washcloths
  • Biodegradable sponges or scrubbers are also available for scrubbing pots and pans and sticky messes. Some of these sponges are made from loofah which comes from a plant and others are made of cellulose which is also completely biodegradable, or you might want to opt for a wooden brush with natural bristles. Whatever you choose, there are alternatives that won’t end up in a landfill for hundreds of years.

2. Paper towel → Cloth (unpaper towel)

Paper towels are not plastic yet most are wrapped in non-recyclable plastic that you immediately toss in the garbage. Paper products often seem like a safe option to have around the kitchen. They have been marketed as a convenient option to clean up spills, wipe off counters and tables among other uses. They are a product that we use once and immediately throw away without considering the greater impacts.

Here is some information on the environmental impacts of paper towels found in  Eco Family Life:

“Each year in the US 13 billion pounds of paper towel is being used each year, that uses 110 million trees per year and 130 billion gallons of water.  It also consumes huge amounts of energy to manufacture as well as fuel to deliver it to stores. After it has been used, 3,000 tons goes into a landfill where it can generate methane as it  breaks down.” 

It’s easy to forget all that goes into making a Paper towel and easy to trick ourselves into thinking they’re a good option because they are technically biodegradable but do we really need them? 

  • This is an easy swap: try replacing your paper towel habit with a cloth or un-paper towels.
  • Un-paper towels have become a popular alternative to paper towels. Often cut and sewn into strips made from an absorbent cloth material that can be washed and reused over and over again. 
    • Earth Mama Natalie is crafty and makes her own! Check them out!
Natalie’s Homemade Unpaper Towels
  • A regular dishcloth or towel you have already available in your kitchen can also be used as a replacement for paper towels. When you stop and think of it they can wipe up spills and clean counters and absorb excess liquid just like a paper towel. 

3. Paper Napkins → Cloth Napkins

Paper napkins, similar to a paper towel, are a one-and-done kitchen item. The environmental impact or lifecycle can be compared to the paper towel as in the energy used to manufacture, package, ship, store and sent to landfill or compost is significant.

  • The cloth napkin counterpart is not a net-zero product either.  According to Treehugger.com, cloth napkins consume at least half the amount of greenhouse gasses versus the paper napkin and even less if the napkin material is linen and not cotton.

Another great way to reduce the impact of napkins is by repurposing material and making them yourself or getting someone to make them for you. 

Here is a great blog from Eat, Play, Love …More on how to repurpose old dish towels into cloth napkins but you could use any cloth material you can find.

4. Plastic wrap → Beeswax wrap

Plastic wrap or cling wrap is something found in most kitchens. It is definitely a convenient way to keep leftovers and other food items fresh but do we need it?  

An article by National Geographic says this about plastic wrap:

“Though the portable, cheap wrap keeps leftovers fresh for longer, there are several catches: Plastic wrap contributes to the larger plastic pollution crisis, it’s difficult to recycle, and it’s made from potentially harmful chemicals, especially as they break down in the environment.

Thin, flimsy, plastic-like bags are difficult to recycle; without specialized equipment, they clog machines. And even when plastic wrap is recycled, it’s costlier than using virgin materials. When it ends up in landfills or incinerators, both PVC and PVDC can release a highly toxic chemical called dioxin, says the World Health Organization.

In marine environments, plastic wrap contributes to a larger plastic pollution crisis, but unlike other plastics, scientists are finding that PVC and PVDC do great jobs of picking up bacteria and metals. Those contaminated pieces of microplastic then harm the fish that mistake them for food.”

Not only is it a single-use item that fills up our landfills, but it is also highly toxic and causing havoc on our marine environments. Time to make a switch!

  • Have you heard of beeswax wraps?

These are strips of material coated with beeswax or a blend of wax and other oils. This coating makes the material sealable to any surface like plastic wrap. They can be used to cover bowls or plates of leftovers, wrap around and seal cut fruit and vegetables and wrap sandwiches and snacks. Best of all they are washable and reusable.

You can easily find them for purchase online but try your local farmer’s or craft market first. People are making their own and selling them locally. Check out this article on our blog about Hippie Food Wraps, a small business making beeswax wraps in Stony Plain, Alberta.

You can also try making your own beeswax wraps. Earth Mama Clarissa has successfully made them! Check it out!

5. Plastic Snack Bags → Silicone bags or Containers

Like plastic wrap, plastic snack bags have become a staple in our lives.  We use them for sandwiches, hold snacks and leftovers but tend to throw them away after one single use or a few uses if you take the time to wash them, dry them and reuse but that’s not common practice.

Wellness Mama’s blog describes it best here:

“Most plastics contain some type of harmful chemical, but plastic bags are one of the worst offenders. Not only do we collectively use and discard over 1 TRILLION plastic bags each year, but these bags also take 1000 years to fully degrade, releasing chemicals the entire time. On top of that, plastic bags are the second most common ocean waste (after cigarette butts) and they harm thousands of species of ocean wildlife each year (with an estimated 40,000+ pieces of plastic floating in each square mile of the ocean!).”

So what are our alternative options for the seemingly universal use of the plastic bag?

  • Containers: You can use any washable, sealable, reusable container to store anything a plastic bag will.
  • Jars: Glass jars like Mason jars are great storage containers. You can fill jars just like any other containers and keep leftovers and snacks in the fridge or take them with you, just wrap your jar in a cloth so it won’t break while on the go.
  • Silicone bags: One product that has been popping up as an alternative to the plastic bag is a storage bag made of silicone. People like these alternatives because they act as a plastic bag but you can wash them and reuse them several times which is definitely better than a single-use product.

6. Parchment Paper → Silicone Mat or Oil

If you do any baking then you’ve probably come across a recipe that calls for you to line your baking sheet with parchment paper. It helps make sure whatever you’re cooking doesn’t stick or get too brown/burnt and can really help with the clean-up, just crumple up and throw it away.

Pure Green Magazine describes here what parchment paper is made of:

“It’s just paper, right? Not exactly. It is made from paper, but it is then treated with an acid during production to give it high stability and high heat resistance, which is then coated with a nonstick material, typically silicone. Not recyclable, not compostable… just garbage.”

  • Silicone mats can be used as an alternative to line your baking sheets. They can be removed after use, easily washed and reused.
  • Nothing on the pan but oil or grease can be just as effective as a liner. You just have to watch your baking so it doesn’t burn.

7. Plastic Spatulas → Wooden or Bamboo Spatulas

It’s never a good idea to just throw away perfectly good items and go out and replace them if you don’t have to. The switch from plastic spatulas to wooden/bamboo can be made as you needed. Plastic cookware tends to melt and become damaged over time and use this is when you might consider the replacement for them to be wood or bamboo. The reason for this switch is again the that plastic does not break down for hundreds of years and can release toxins into our environment after you throw them away. But studies have also shown that plastics can release toxins to us directly through our food by using these utensils.

This is an excerpt from a Guide on how to avoid toxins in your kitchen from Mighty Nest:

“Avoid plastic whenever possible when it comes to food and beverage.  Hard plastics can contain BPA, which is a developmental, neural, and reproductive toxin. Scientists have linked very low doses of BPA exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes and hyperactivity[1].  It can be transferred from plastic into food and drink.  A recent study, found that even BPA-free plastics contain synthetic chemicals which can migrate into food[2].”

8. Store-bought Cleaners → DIY Vinegar Cleaners

There is a different cleaner for everything now. There is a whole aisle in the grocery store dedicated to these miracle cleaners that promise to save our lives. Okay, maybe I’m going a bit far with that but, these endless bottles of different chemical formulas scare me a little. 

I decided to stop using the cleaners when I became pregnant with my first baby. I was worried about what I was exposing myself to. I haven’t done a lot of research on the harmful effects of cleaners but there have been studies that link cleaning products to cases of asthma and lung disease as well as other carcinogenic properties. This is all well-reviewed in The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning

Yes, I do believe some cleaners can be harmful to your personal health but what are we washing down our drains and into our waterways and not to mention the waste left after each bottle is used up.

  • The best alternative to commercial cleaners that I’ve found that is also so easy to do and make is a vinegar solution cleaner.

9. Coffee Pods/Tea Bags → French Press/ Loose tea infusers

The morning coffee is a must in our household. It’s hard to even imagine the amount of coffee we consume in one year. It’s definitely a habit to look at when it comes to reducing waste.

Coffee pods became extremely popular and the dispensers or brewers are found to be in at least 38% of all Canadain Households and even more if you count office buildings and shops.

Some brands have produced recyclable versions on the coffee pod and even some biodegradable options which is great but there are other impacts throughout the lifecycle of the pod that shouldn’t be ignored. 

The lifecycle of a Coffee Pod

What is an easy alternative to the pod? 

  • The French Press is a great option.  It’s quick, easy and can come in several different sizes. Some people say there is a science to it, when it comes to the temperature of the water or how long you need to steep the coffee grounds but I am not as particular about it. I just add the ground coffee to the press and fill with boiling water.  Wait a minute or so and push the plunger down. Easy and convenient.
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash   

Maybe you’re not a coffee drinker but a cup of tea is more your thing?  There is also an easy less-waste switch for tea bags. Most tea bags are made with biodegradable materials that  could be thrown in the compost but some are lined with plastic to help avoid unwanted burst in your cup (2)

  • An easy switch away from the tea bag is by using loose tea in a tea infuser. You can try to find loose tea in bulk and save even more from packaging waste. A win-win.

10. Packaged Products → Homemade

Grocery stores are filled with easy and convenient products ready to pick-up and bring right into your kitchen. If you take time to look around your grocery store you will have a hard time finding any items that have not been pre-packaged.  From our bread to dairy products, cookies, and snacks, all are wrapped in some sort of plastic, aluminum or paper packaging. Yes, I would agree that it is convenient to grab-and-go, especially when our lives are filled up with work, school and activities, it’s hard to imagine any other way.

What if we found one or two things we could start with and try to make on our own at home?

Maybe it’s the cookies or granola bars that we put in our kid’s lunches or even as simple as cutting pieces of cheese from a bigger block instead of buying the single-packaged pieces?

Take a little inventory of what you buy at the store that you might want to try making on your own. This will reduce your waste and could also save money over time. 

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

What do you or would you like to make homemade? Share some of your less-waste or money-saving kitchen hacks. We would love to hear from you!

References and More info

  1.   –https://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/kitchen-sponges.html
  2. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/11/548926054/can-you-really-not-clean-your-kitchen-sponge
  3. https://www.organicauthority.com/live-grow/whats-your-sponge-made-out-of-green-cleaning
  4. https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/are-teabags-ruining-the-environment/news-story/0d73eb37335bd6ca06d9e01be028374f

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