Zero Waste Lifestyle: 20 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Kitchen

Zero Waste Lifestyle: 20 Ways to Have a Zero Waste Kitchen
zero waste kitchen

Take a quick look at the items in your kitchen: What items do you use over and over again, and which do you toss after one use? For me, paper towels and napkins come to mind. For the longest time, my parents and I would constantly toss both those single use items in the trash, dooming them to a landfill. Well, not anymore! Thanks to learning more and more about the zero waste community, I decided to invest in a compost pail. It fits on my kitchen counter and is great for collecting food scraps…but that’s not all it collects. I put used paper towels and napkins in there too! The guy we donate our food scraps to every Saturday (he’s at our local farmers market) said it’s completely fine to add these because they decompose. So, while it’s not a completely zero waste solution, it’s definitely better than tossing them in the trash. This is just one way to make a small adjustment towards a more sustainable, zero waste kitchen.

It’s important to remember big changes don’t happen overnight, nor should they. You don’t have to go out and buy 500 new items all made out of sustainable materials to create an eco-friendly kitchen. You simply have to work with what you already have, and find the best use for it. At some point, I’d love for my kitchen to be completely napkin and paper towel free, but I don’t think that will happen until I move out of my parents’ house. I cannot control what they buy when I’m not around. That said, I can make a positive influence and gently suggest things. And so can you.

No matter what your living arrangement, I hope you will find this article useful, and something you can come back to often. Bookmark it, if you have to. Use it as a guide. Do you already have/do something on this list? Look for the things you don’t and agree to try doing at least one of the tips provided. Perhaps you incorporate one zero waste item into your kitchen every month, or you choose 5 you want ASAP. The choice is yours, simply let this be a helpful guide. Just remember to go at your own pace (I know I have – it’s a journey, but that’s what makes it fun). 

Also, if you already have a zero waste kitchen, you might want to check out my post on having a zero waste bathroom, or being zero waste on the go. Just a heads up, I do have a few affiliate links scattered throughout the post, but it’s nothing I wouldn’t use myself (and/or items I do already use). Now without further ado, lets greenify that kitchen of yours!


  1. Stop buying frozen food packaged in plastic – even if it’s organic. Chances are, the plastic bag it came in is not recyclable. Instead, learn how to freeze fresh food in glass jars. Yes, it’s safe. You can freeze almost anything without plastic: Fruit, vegetables, bread, beans, etc. My only piece of advice to you is to leave headspace if freezing a liquid of any kind. Oh, and another tip is to use jars that used to have food in them. No need to go out and purchase a whole set of mason jars: Just reuse jelly, jam, or sauce jars instead! Make sure you clean them out really good first though.
  2. If you use a lot of paper towels, try replacing them with dish towels, or un-paper towels (you can grab some on Etsy).  Reach for a dish towel/un-paper towel first to wipe your hands after washing them in the sink. You can also create rags by ripping up old, worn out clothes, especially shirts. These work well for cleaning dishes or unexpected messes. Then, just wash them and reuse.
  3. Replace napkins with cloth napkins. You can learn how to make your own, or buy them online. The Tiny Yellow Bungalow is a great place to find reusable napkins (with really cute designs on them too). Once you’re on that site, just go to shop – kitchen – and lunch gear to find them. I bought my mom one so she could take it with her to work: The one I bought for her is the flower cloth napkin (priced at only $6). You can see it here, along with a few other goodies I got for her from The Tiny Yellow Bungalow’s shop (it was her birthday, of course I’d spoil her).
  4. If you cannot completely cut back on paper towels, try doing what I did and investing in a compost pail. The one I use is stainless steel and has a built-in filter that completely masks any odor. It’s perfect for leaving on your kitchen counter and has a handle which makes it easy to transport. I take it to the farmers market every Saturday. Check out my blog post on composting to read more about how I do it. And of course – don’t just use it for paper towels – use it for food scraps too!
  5. When you go to the store, stop buying water, soda, juice, energy drinks, and any other beverage that comes in a plastic bottle. Chances are it’s unhealthy for you anyway. Plus, you could always make your own juice and sodas at home (google and Pinterest probably have some great recipes waiting for you). Instead, drink water straight from the tap. Worried about the quality of the water? Invest in a filter. We use a Brita filter in my house, and on the go I use Miyabi Charcoal to keep my reusable water bottle filtered and pure.
  6. Stop buying plastic straws, cups, utensils, plates, and stir sticks. It’s just adding to the single-use epidemic. Use reusable products instead, like stainless steel or bamboo cutlery, glass cups and straws, ceramic plates, etc. If you want to have single-use cutlery, straws, cups, and plates for a party or something, look into ones that are biodegradable. Here’s a set of biodegradable cutlery that I love to get you started. You can compost them after one use!
  7. Use what you have: Being zero waste doesn’t mean completely getting rid of all plastic. If you already have something, use it. Just don’t buy more of it. For example, many zero wasters struggle with what to do with their Tupperware after going zero waste. While I’m not a fan of Tupperware, and know how toxic the plastic can be, it’s more wasteful to just throw it out than to use it to the end of its life. Here’s a good guide that will help you deal with plastic (both in the kitchen, and outside of it). When you’re ready to, simply replace it with glass or stainless steel food storage options. Mason jars work great at storing leftovers too!
  8. Avoid using single-use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and parchment paper. Most states do not recycle these (New York certainly doesn’t recycle plastic wrap – but it does accept aluminum foil wrap), so it’s best to do research into what’s deemed acceptable to yours. There are some great alternatives worth seeking though; Have you heard of Bees Wrap? They create products that function similar to plastic wrap, but are completely compostable and reusable. They’re not the best option if you’re vegan though (they’re made with beeswax). Instead, you could try finding cloth covers for your food. Etsy is a good place to start, and you could find some cloth covers for bowls of various different sizes (look for ones that use elastic bands instead of beeswax). Here’s one from a another website I trust (Life Without Plastic) that has cute flamingos on it and can cover a medium sized bowl easily.
  9. Try shopping at bulk food stores. I know not everyone has access to these, but do your best to find ones near you. In my zero waste food shopping guide on how to use the bulk bins, I show you how to find a bulk food store near you. I only have one bulk food store near me and I need to take a few train rides to get to it. Still, it’s good to know, and this app helped me find it. If you plan on going to a bulk food store, be prepared: You’ll probably need some glass jars (they don’t necessarily have to be mason jars though), cloth bags, and reusable bags to get you through it. Here’s how to use bulk bins without creating any waste (a handy guide I created)! 
  10. If you cannot find a bulk food store, try locating a local farmers market. Farmers markets aren’t always completely zero waste, but they are usually considerably low waste!  The food there is typically plastic-free. Mine uses paper cartons to hold any smaller fruits, like berries, in. These are reusable, or you can just take them back the next week so the farmers can reuse them. Cool, right? Just take a few reusable bags with you and some produce bags. Then you’re set! Here’s more information on how to shop zero waste at the farmers market. Also, to save a buck, here’s how to create your own reusable bag from an old t-shirt.
  11. Can’t find a bulk food store or a local farmers market? Don’t fret, you can still work it out. If you have a local grocery store, do your best to buy only these items from it: Fresh produce, and products packaged in paper or cardboard. Unfortunately, fresh produce at the grocery store will probably have non-recyclable stickers and bands wrapped around them. Still, it’s better than buying the produce completely wrapped in plastic (trust me – I’ve seen that too). For dry foods, like grains, avoid plastic packaging as much as possible and go for the paper/cardboard boxes. At least these can be recycled and composted at home. Avoid processed foods, as most of these are snacks packaged in un-recyclable wrappers (granola bars, candy, etc.). If you buy things made in cans, make sure the cans are BPA free and recyclable in your area. Also, there are some things you should learn how to make at home, instead of buying them at a grocery store. For example, learning how to make your own condiments (peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and mustard) is a good start. Also, try making your own nut milks to avoid buying the milk in cartons. I love making quick cashew milk – my recipe doesn’t require you to soak the cashews for hours!
  12. If the products in your kitchen are at the end of their life (such as plastic storage containers, plastic spatulas, plastic cutting boards, etc.), replace them with sustainable alternatives. Try getting a bamboo spatula, some stainless steel food storage, a bamboo cutting boardglass measuring cups, and stainless steel measurement spoons. These are only a few options (there are so many alternatives to plastic, it’s not even funny!). Do your own research, and when the time comes where you need to replace a certain item, you’ll be ready.
  13. Make some zero waste dish soap to clean those pesky dishes with. This will help stop water pollution and can be stored in a mason jar with a stainless steel soap dispenser. Here’s my favorite zero waste dish soap recipe (super easy to whip up in less than 5 minutes!).
  14. Sponges – they’re not exactly as natural as they sound. At least, not the ones sold at conventional stores. Instead, why not try using a compostable, reusable dish brush? You can also choose between one with hard bristles and soft bristles. It will get the job done and won’t create any waste at the end of its life. Plus, it’ll save you a buck (re-buying sponges gets tedious after all). You could also try an un-sponge, which are available by the ton load on Etsy.
  15. Did you know plastic dish dryers cannot be recycled? Instead, lay your dishes out to dry on a reusable towel. It’ll still work, I promise. If you’re worried it will soak through to your counter, lay two towels down for extra protection.
  16. If something is really stuck on a dish, reach for a compostable loofah scrubber. Tiny Yellow Bungalow sells so many really cute ones shaped like eggplants, the earth, flowers, fruits, and animals. They’re made with 100 percent natural vegetable dye coloring, so they’re completely non-toxic. You can use them for other things too: They’re gentle enough to be used on fruits and vegetables, durable enough to be used on surfaces like wood, glass, porcelain, stainless steel, etc. We love ours (we have a pineapple and an eggplant shaped one), and when we’re done using it, we just rinse it and hang it on the sink faucet to dry. Simple! Just go to Tiny Yellow Bungalow, then click on shop – kitchen – and loofah scrubbers to get your own.
  17. Ditch the non-stick pans for cast iron pans. These are the absolute best to cook with. Not to mention there are so many health problems associated with non-stick pans, and they really don’t last forever. They actually get funky really quickly, in my opinion.
  18. Have you tried a glass coffee maker? Personally, I’m a tea person, so I won’t be needing this in my future home. That said, I feel like my parents would appreciate this as a gift, considering they love their coffee. They currently have a plastic coffee maker, but maybe when that runs out of fuel I’ll get a glass one for them (Christmas will be here before you know it!). Here’s a glass coffee maker that makes a whole pint (equal to about 3 cups of coffee), and the filter (it’s made from hemp!) for it.
  19. After buying from bulk food stores, or from the farmers market, make sure you have proper storage ready at home. Store dry grains in glass containers on your counters or in your cabinets. For fresh produce, you can place them in a fruit bowl, refrigerator, or freezer. Just make sure you don’t put them in plastic – either keep them in reusable produce bags, store them in reusable bowls, or freeze them in glass jars.
  20. Try preparing some zero waste recipes (I have a few already on my recipes page and plan on adding more)! There are so many available, you’d be surprised. Take any food scraps you have and compost them, or freeze them to make vegetable stock/broth in the future. Challenge yourself to make a full day of zero waste recipes by using nothing that comes from a plastic container. For some inspiration, here’s a great index of zero waste recipes from the Zero Waste Chef you can make in the comfort of your own home. Use these on weekdays, weekends, and at parties too!

Did I forget anything? Have any feedback? Want to discuss your own zero waste kitchen stories? Leave a comment below!


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