It’s easy to succumb to the greenwashing of eco-friendly packaging.
Buzzwords like recycled, organic, compostable and recyclable convince us to buy additional products just because they say they’re better for the environment. But the central ethos of reducing our impacts and waste have to start with buying high-quality and long-lasting items, and end with nothing getting tossed out (even if it’s being thrown into a recycle bin).
Nowhere in our lives is this process more difficult than in the kitchen. From the excessive packaging on food to the wastefulness of food storage methods, the kitchen ends up being one of the most wasteful zones of the home. Composting is simply not enough to counteract the onslaught of garbage that comes with virtually every meal. So we talked to three heavyweights in the zero-waste movement about how to turn a kitchen from wasteful to waste-free.
Lily Cameron founded The Wild Minimalist with her husband Max after a trip backpacking through the Pacific Northwest and visiting the French countryside. Living so minimally inspired the couple (then engaged, now married) to go zero-waste — and to help other people get on board, too.
This work resulted in the pair’s website, which serves as a one-stop shop for reusable, "timeless alternatives" to throwaway items in everyday life. "I’ve found that the kitchen is the single biggest source of disposable plastic in the home, and there are so many simple ways to combat this waste," Cameron told Green Matters in an interview.
After a long renovation, I finally have my dream pantry. All my jars here to greet me in the morning and remind me why #zerowaste is a beautiful thing. Our contractor was confused that we weren’t building “a proper” pantry with lots of cupboards and doors — where would we put all our stuff? But with jars this beautiful, who wants to hide them 🤷🏻♀️ In addition to the shelves, we have one drawer of spices, canned goods and misc baking supplies and of course the fridge. A proper tour of our minimal (dream) kitchen coming soon!
"I suggest preventing plastic from entering your kitchen in the first place by greening your grocery shopping routine. Bringing reusable canvas bags to the market is a great start, but take it a step further and bring reusable produce bags. These bags are super versatile and can be used for fruits and veggies, but also bulk items like grains, nuts, legumes, flour and chocolate."
Cameron takes it a step further, urging people to buy wet items such as fresh nut butter, olives, and bulk liquid soap in glass jars brought from home. "You just have to weigh your jar first (so the cashier can deduct it from the weight of the item you're buying) and be sure to check in with your local grocery store to make sure they accept bringing your own jar," she said.
"Once you start cutting down on the plastic entering home, it becomes easier to pay attention to what else is disposable in your kitchen. Pay attention to what you're throwing away, and then look into reusable alternatives. Instead of plastic sponges, switch to compostable wood dish brushes. Instead of paper towels, switch to reusable cloth 'unpaper' towels. I could go on!"
Here are Lily Cameron’s top product picks for reducing kitchen waste:
Wonder how my family of four manages to produce one jar of trash annually? Think waste-free living takes time and costs more? Or maybe you have specific questions that you'd like to ask me? Join me on my US tour (link to events and tickets on the blog and FB page). I'll debunk the common misconceptions associated with the zero waste lifestyle and answer questions from the audience. Can't wait! See you there!
Bea Johnson is an author, speaker, and influencer who founded ZeroWasteHome.com, a blog about waste-free living and the global rise of the zero-waste lifestyle movement. Johnson’s best-selling book has been translated into more than 20 languages, and her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram followers number in the hundreds of thousands. Best part is, Johnson walks the walk. She and her family have been zero waste for a decade, producing just a pint jar of trash every year.
Their secret? What Johnson calls the 5R’s: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and only in that order.” “To eliminate packaging, we buy our food loose, using reusables: totes, cloth bags and jars,” she told Green Matters in an interview.
Johnson had a lot of other tips for keeping waste out of the kitchen, too. Here's a list of the principles she shared:
Those who follow my insta stories already know: I spent a big portion of Sunday doing our annual canning of 🍅 sauce. Just in time before the end of the season! (Instructions in the archives of the blog). #zerowaste #zerodechet #zerowastehome #unpackaged #seasonal #farmersmarket #local #sansemballage #leparfait
An action shot from a recent sourdough bread class. Here I am adding the leaven to the wet flours. My next sourdough class is in May. I have a fermentation class (kimchi and kombucha) coming up on April 14th and ginger beer on April 20. For Earth Day, I’ll be at the Sunnyvale Library's Living Green Fair on April 22, doing a zero-waste cooking demo at 1:30pm. Link in profile for my schedule. Thank you @madewithoils for all of your beautiful pics 😊 - #sourdough #sourdoughstarter #wildyeast #wildfermentation #fermentation #ferment #guthealth #gut #plasticfree #breakfreefromplastic #zerowaste
Anne-Marie Bonneau has lived plastic-free since 2011, working her way up to existing today with virtually zero waste. Bonneau lives in an intentional community in the San Francisco Bay Area, works as senior editor of a small publisher, and has two kids. And still, this busy person has managed to live without waste.
Her secret lies in three basic rules: “No packaging. Nothing processed. No trash.” Her no-nonsense approach to ditching waste begged the question: How can the average person move toward zero waste?
This weekend’s farmers’ market and bulk haul combo. How do we manage to eat so much? My daughter boxes three times a week. That must be where it goes 😉 I had trouble finding my new item of the week yesterday but then spied some sugar snap peas (in the bag, middle bottom). I’ll sauté those with a bunch of minced garlic. - I always get questions about my food-filled jars when I post them. Get the weight marked on jars and containers before you fill them up at the bulk bins. At some stores, customer service will weigh them for you and mark the tare (the weight) on a sticker or piece of tape (if you have a china marker, which you’ll find in art supply stores, you can just ask them what the tare is and mark it yourself to avoid the sticker). Other stores set out scales and you weigh the jars yourself and mark the tare on the jar. The cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the total weight of your food when checking you out so you pay for the food only. Not all stores do this but if enough people ask, more will start to do it (that’s what happened at Bulk Barn, a huge bulk chain store in Canada!). Have a great week, everyone! - #jars #masonjars #crazyjarlady #plasticfree #plasticfreeforthesea #breakfreefromplastic #lessplastic #zerowaste #slowfoodmovement #farmersmarket #eatfoodnottoomuchmostlyplants
"My number-one tip is to cook real food," Bonneau told Green Matters. "So much plastic trash in our waste stream comes from food packaging for processed food, which isn't healthy for us or the planet. So cut the shiny packages — chips, soda, cookies, frozen pizzas, fast food and so on — and you not only eliminate a ton of trash, you improve your diet and health. You'll eat more fresh produce (vegetables have their own package, for example) and you learn what to do with food already in your kitchen before you buy more. That will help reduce food waste also, which is a serious problem as foot rotting in landfill, cut off of oxygen as it so tightly compacted, releases methane gas as it decomposes — a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide."
Bonneau stressed the importance of taking first steps to reduce waste. "You may feel paralyzed to start because when you begin to become conscious of plastic, you see it everywhere. That's because it is everywhere! So you could start by no longer buying bottled water, by taking a reusable mug or thermos to your local café, or by shopping at the farmers' market for loose produce. Next, refuse single-use plastic like shopping bags (use cloth ones), produce bags (again, use cloth ones), straws, plastic utensils and stir sticks. Start small and keep going. It's a journey."
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