Zero Waste Kitchen

 just in case you are sick of all that rubbish

Do you recycle? I bet you do, are you still overwhelmed with the amount of trash that gets out of your door? I often am and I have been actively seeking solutions to minimize this. This post doesn’t contain an edible recipe, but tips towards a Zero Waste Kitchen.

Head straight to the Zero Waste Kitchen tips

In Greece, we started the New Year with a new charge on the plastic bags you get from the grocery stores, these now cost 4 cents per bag. It’s a practice most EU countries have put into effect for years now in order to reduce unnecessary plastic consumption, with very good results. This plastic bag levy was a bit of an abrupt change for Greece, there was little if any campaigning to support it. As you can guess it did not receive a warm welcome. To the contrary, the reactions were targeting businesses: ‘the companies are pocketing the profits now’ was a widely heard argument. It is not the case at all, this levy goes to the Greek Recycling Organisation that deals with all things recycling.

My thoughts on the matter are somewhat bittersweet. Glad on the one hand that recycling efforts are underway, sad on the other because we are largely unaware of the impact our consumerist habits have on the environment. We take so many things for granted, e.g. the plastic bag and once in the rubbish we don’t give a second thought on what happens next. Out of mind, out of sight as the saying goes, but is it really?

Every cup of takeaway coffee you get, it doesn’t get recycled but it ends up in a landfill as any soiled material, even if recyclable, it cannot be processed.  The plastic straw in the iced frappe or your canned refreshment you got whilst on the beach, it simply cannot get recycled. The same goes for the takeaway meal you got that is wrapped in a million and one plastic and paper wraps to keep it in place. Is there an actual solution to avoid all this?

Well, things are not really straight forward. Many claim that companies should have greater responsibility on how their products are packaged. Is the carton you buy your breakfast cereal recyclable? What about the inner sleeve? Does the steak you get from the meat counter need to be packed in Styrofoam and a meter of clingfilm? Nope, there was once a simple piece of paper to wrap it and safely take it home.  Not so long ago either.

Should we go completely retro then and do things they way we once used to? While some practices might be great, e.g. get your cereal in bulk, other might raise a few more concerns. For instance is it hygienic to get the meat wrapped ‘loosely’? Will the products be fresh? The point of this whole exercise is not to simply go retro but examine our practices and be more alert to what we do right and what we could do better. Recycling is certainly a good option, but not the only one.

There is also the claim that companies should be more active in their recycling activities. Not simply by recycling more, but actively taking on the costs their products would require to be recycled or upcycled and in general disposed off in an environmental friendly way. Such activities should be undertaken with our minds to a zero waste trace of every product.  Many environmental policies in western countries are heading towards such an example. Technology has helped a lot. Consider that only a few years back we were printing and archiving dozens of useless documents, now an electronic copy will neatly do the job. The cost of plastic bags is such an example. Progress, however, is slow.  Let’s face it: nobody really wants to foot the bill: neither the companies, nor us, the buyers.

Many movements are trying to get our attention on how to we can do things in a greener, more sustainable way. There is the no plastic movement, with excellent educational material and hands on activities. There are initiatives in local level, too. Municipalities run awareness programs and mobilise people into action. In Greece such an example is 2 minutes beach clean. People get together to pick up whatever is left behind. Not just because people are thoughtless and leave trash behind, but when on an island, plastic and all sort of debris tends to travel through water and end up on a beach. The same one you will go to enjoy your holiday. Out of all the actions, what clicks to me the most is the Zero Waste movement.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste, simply put, is activities that will minimize our waste. I bet you already carry a reusable bag for your grocery shopping, even better if it’s an eco-friendly net or a favourite fabric tote bag. You might even have a sturdy cardboard box in the boot of your car to get rid of the plastic bag headache. Still, no matter how you separate your waste into glass, paper and plastic there is still quite a bit left.  How to minimize this waste? Consume less, consume wisely.

Zero waste

Zero waste is not rocket science. Are you offered a free paper on your way to work? Say no, you already have the news on your tablet, mobile and TV screen. Even if you get the paper just to play Sudoku on your commute home, you know there is an app for it right? Perhaps you are already doing this for leaflets and all sorts of promotional material that come through your front door. And these are two small steps to Zero Waste Lifestyle. You are already doing it. Let’s go check the kitchen cupboards now.

Spring clean is actually the first step. Open your kitchen cupboards and take a really good look. Are there 2-3 pans of the same size? Are you really using them all? Most likely you are covered with a small and a large pot and a baking tray for everyday cooking even if you are cooking for a family. Wouldn’t it be better to give the rest a new home and keep a tidy and clutter free kitchen?

Let’s get to your kitchen draws now. Do you have 5 wooden spoons, 3 spatulas and 10 different sets for cake decorating? Unless you are a multitasking centipede cooking for an army of bugs I can tell you, most of these are taking up your space. You can choose your favourite and take a trip to your neighbourhood charity shop for the rest. Or even put it online and earn a bit of money.

Along with these you will probably discover many other items. This fondue set you purchased and used once or twice 5 Christmas ago, you don’t really need to keep it. You might also find a fondue set bought for your kid’s 6th birthday. Well if your kid is well into high school, chances are you haven’t used this in ages. Send it packing!

Most likely you are doing all these steps already, but perhaps not as often as you would like. The practice of minimizing the items you own will steadily lead you to a very different way of thinking and consuming. A minimal lifestyle with few items owned that gives more space to you and your family to grow. Zero Waste movement is a mentality towards less waste that we can apply only to the kitchen but in every aspect of your home.

Bea Johnson, writer of Zero Waste home, is a leading example of such lifestyle. In her book, she has put it down in five very simple steps: Refuse, what you don’t really need; Reduce, what you actually buy, Reuse, what you have; Recycle, whatever is left; Rot, make a compost or send to the landfill things you have no use for anymore.

These five steps into a Zero Waste lifestyle might sound awkward in the beginning but are in fact much simpler than you think. For most you have already ticked the boxes. First comes the kitchen and then way more, eg your wardrobe, your bathroom, your garden. These are practical solutions that can actually save you a lot of time and money.  Have a look on Bea’s ted talk for more examples or have a look at her book for a more inspired living.

10 tips for a Zero Waste Kitchen

So, can we really reduce what is going in and out of our kitchen? Above you probably read some of the examples on how to de-clutter your cupboards.There are practical and very easy ways to head towards a Zero Waste kitchen and swap old practices for new, more sustainable ones.

  1. Plan your weekly recipes and shopping. Think smart when you put down your recipes, are there items you can get that will leave no leftovers? E.g. roast a chicken, enjoy for dinner, pack for lunch and if there is still some left bake a pie or make a quick sandwich or salad with the rest. Such practices can save you a lot of money too.
  2. Follow your shopping list. once you have planned the weekly meals, follow through. It’s tempting to get another bar of chocolate or a fancy ingredient on offer. Do you need it though? If not leave it there.
  3. Buy in bulk – Opt for minimal packaging. Fruit, vegetables where possible legumes and other dry commodities you can buy bulk. All grocery stalls offer you the bulk food option for fresh fruit and vegetables, seek out the same for the dry goods and place them in cotton reusable cotton bags and in a jar when at home. Carry with you a shopping bag, preferably cotton or any sturdy sustainable material that you can use again and again. Get a cardboard box for your car to organise your shopping better. (OK I know you are already doing this).
  4. Don’t buy the same item twice. Check your cupboards for food before you go shopping, don’t leave the tuna can at the back of your cupboard forever. Avoid getting another ladle, unless you are a collector.
  5. Swap disposables for reusables. I bet you already have tea towels, how about leaving behind the paper towels and napkins?
  6. Choose sustainable materials. Buy items that are widely recycled and easily decomposed. Prefer cotton, paper, glass or wood, ditch the plastics. In the kitchen, you can apply this to any item you use, from food containers to pots, pans and all kitchen utensils.
  7. Borrow, don’t buy. when seeing another kitchen gadget ask your mum, friend or colleague if you can use theirs and return it. You really don’t need 10 different muffin tins for the office bake off.  You can actually have a good time baking together when they bring it over.
  8. Use second hand. Whatever for you seems to be rubbish it might be someone else’s treasure. Give things a second change.Take them to a charity shop, check if they have anything you need before hitting the high street.
  9. Prolong the life of things you have. Can you fix it? Perhaps someone else can fix it for you? Could you reuse it? Remember that every single jar in your kitchen can be used until you accidentally break it. Make this jam!
  10. Compost – use your organic waste for your garden, if you grow vegetables or herbs it will do wonders.

 

These 10 tips above are not exhaustive but indicative of what we can do to reduce our Waste. In the book  Zero Waste Home from Bea Johnson there are many more handy tips for a Zero Waste lifestyle. Remember that the 3Rs are the most important, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I already follow as much of these tips as possible. Watch this space: I will be coming back with detailed information on how my trip towards Zero Waste Kitchen is going.

Meanwhile, are there any tips you would like to share? Have you ditched plastic? Please feel free to comment below and by all means spread the word around.

From Athens with love,

Eugenia

PS. This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend items I use myself and I am confident they are high quality.

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