Zero Waste Tomato Sauce

Zero Waste Tomato Sauce
zero waste tomato sauce

This past weekend my family got together to make one thing: Homemade tomato sauce! I won’t lie: The process was very tedious, labor intensive, and NOT waste free. There was a lot of plastic I couldn’t necessarily avoid (gloves, bags, etc.), and food scrap waste. However, it was at my aunt’s house so it was not within my control (I don’t have the means or the equipment to can at home). None the less, I plan on providing my aunt with some suggstions for next year: This year was the first time we’ve done it as a group and we plan to make it an annual thing (yay). I’ve already thought of several zero waste solutions to combat the waste problems I spotted while making the sauce. So today, along with providing the recipe we used to make our sauce, I’ll also be providing ways to counteract waste. I plan on pitching these simple zero waste fixes to my family next year to make the process a lot more eco-friendly. Hopefully, with this in mind, we can create some amazing zero waste tomato sauce next year! Until then, I hope it helps you make your own zero waste tomato sauce – now excuse me as I go devour some pasta. 


Zero Waste Tomato Sauce

zero waste tomato sauce

(for one bushel – makes about twelve 32 oz jars or twenty four 16 oz jars)

  • 1 bushel of plum tomatoes (53 lbs – we used two full crates of tomatoes for one bushel)
  • 6 white onions
  • 8 red onions
  • 30 to 35 garlic cloves (3 to 4 heads of garlic)
  • 3 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups sugar (optional)
  • 10 basil leaves

Note: These ingredients can be adjusted based on personal preference. The tomatoes alone give the sauce its sweetness, so you may want to opt out of adding any sugar altogether. Not a fan of onions in your sauce? Feel free to opt out of that too. It’s all about what flavors you enjoy in your sauce, so keep that in mind when buying ingredients. 

zero waste tomato sauce
The canning device (basically a processor) – this helped puree our chopped ingredients into sauce!


  • Mason jars (Twelve 32 oz jars or twenty four 16 oz jars)
  • Funnel
  • Big pots
  • Canning device (runs the ingredients through and turns it into sauce)


zero waste tomato sauce
This entire crate of plum tomatoes is only half a bushel!
  1. One day before actually canning the tomato sauce, clean your tomatoes and dry them. You can put the tomatoes into big bins and fill them with water – whatever water is leftover can be used to water your garden or indoor plants. You’ll also want to sterilize the mason jars a day before hand: My aunts did this by putting the jars in a dishwasher twice, washing them. Then they put the jars in the oven,  heating the oven to 170F and laying the jars on the oven shelf, not touching one another. They closed the oven door and sterilized the jars for a minimum of 10 -15 minutes. They used oven mitts to take the jars out and laid them on a heat-proof surface (aka, my aunt’s counter top). When all this is done, you’re ready to begin the canning process.

    zero waste tomato sauce
    Cutting up and adding the onions and garlic!
  2. On the next day, set up your canning device. We placed ours outside because things were bound to get messy. On a table, grab a cutting board and start chopping those tomatoes you cleaned the other day into fours. Add them to a big pot. Peel and cut up the white and red onions too, peeling the garlic cloves. Add them to a seperate pot. Save any food scraps (like onion and garlic skins) for the compost, or to create zero waste vegetable broth later down the line. Immediately compost any bad tomatoes you find in your bushel.

    zero waste tomato sauce
    Adding in the tomatoes – getting ready to mash it all up!
  3. Grab two extra pots that are big (trust me, you’ll need two): Place a layer of mixed onions and garlic at the bottom of each pot. Cover it with the tomatoes you cut. Add the olive oil – making sure to split the 3 cups of it between both pots (so about 1.5 cups per pot), sugar (1 cup per pot – if using), basil (10 leaves per pot), and salt (1/2 cup per pot). Using your clean hands, start squishing the ingredients – the goal here is to get the tomatoes to release their juices and water content. You can also use a potato smasher to make your life easier, and avoid getting your hands as dirty.

    zero waste tomato sauce
    Putting the mashed tomatoes, onions and garlic up on the stove to cook for a bit.
  4. When you’ve mashed the tomatoes enough (there should be at least some liquid at the bottom of the pot), put the two pots up on the stove, letting it cook for about 20 minutes. After the time is up, remove them from heat and take them over to your canning device. Make sure there’s another big pot ready to go and catch all the sauce you’re about to make. Dump the contents of your heated ingredients into the processor – not all at once, but a little at a time. Feel free to use a ladle to make your life easier. Push the contents through and watch as it comes out pureed into sauce! There will definitely be some excess chopped ingredients coming out of the machine as well – you can compost that immediately.

    zero waste tomato sauce
    Tomato sauce coming out of the canning machine – pureed, ready to be cooked some more!
  5. When you have your sauce, and have ran both big pots through the processor to make it, put the sauce up on the stove to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes or so. Feel free to add a few more basil leaves at this point for extra flavor. Use your judgement as to when the sauce is ready (so however long you typically cook canned pasta at home). When it is ready, transfer it to your sterilized mason jars using a funnel. When you’re done filling all the jars, seal it with the lids and store in a cool place out of direct sunlight.


Waste problems + solutions:

zero waste tomato sauce
The discarded remnants from the sauce – these can go straight into the compost!

As I mentioned in my introduction, canning tomato sauce can be a very wasteful process. There’s was a lot of food scrap waste along with plastic waste I encountered. However, I have thought of several solutions to these problems. I intend on talking to my aunt about this next year when we do the sauce again to see if she’d be up for some of these eco-friendly alternatives.

Problem: Plastic gloves (used while manually squishing tomatoes)
Solution: Get a potato masher, or simply use your hands without the gloves.

Problem: Food scrap waste (from onion + garlic peels, discarded tomato remains, bad produce, etc).
Solution: Save some onion + garlic peels for zero waste vegetable broth, set up a compost bin for any bad produce or tomato residue.

Problem: Single-use bags (produce + shopping bags), produce stickers on onions.
Solution: Purchase produce plastic-free at the farmers market using reusable produce bags + tote bags.

The only other problem we encountered was bugs – they were everywhere! But that’s not so much a waste problem as it is a general annoyance. Though, if you want something to laugh at, you should definitely watch the video I posted on Facebook of us canning tomatoes…and running away from wasps – which I initially thought were bees. Funny stuff. Check it out below.

Have you ever made your own zero waste tomato sauce before?


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