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Top 10 Swaps for a No Waste Kitchen

Eliminating waste in the kitchen can be overwhelming. Start with these 10 easy swaps to get you started on your No Waste Kitchen journey.

It’s easy to say you want to reduce the waste in your kitchen. But it’s not as easy to know where to start. It can be a bit overwhelming when you think about all the potential ways that waste is made in the kitchen. Start with a few swaps that you can easily do in your home.

Take baby steps. No Waste doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a journey that you are choosing to partake in. 

The following swaps are some of the easiest ways to get started while making the biggest impact. (Hint: If you’ve read the 30 Day Challenge, some of this will sound familiar)

Originally Published On: October 2, 2018

Last Updated On: November 6, 2020

Reusable Kitchen Swaps

1. Cloth Grocery Bags

The next time you go to the grocery store, or any store for that matter, refuse the plastic bags. Bring cloth reusable bags and have everything put into those bags when you check out. 

I know many people have a few of these bags laying around the house, but if you don’t, you can pick some up for cheap. Check your grocery store the next time you visit. Many of them have bags near the checkout lanes for a few dollars apiece.

Remember, your bags don’t need to be fancy, they only need to be functional. I also find that they can hold a lot more than a plastic bag, so I only need a few for a regular trip to the grocery store.

Keep them in your vehicle so you always have them, and keep one in the front seat as a reminder to grab the bags when you go inside. I’ve also used mine instead of a cart when I only have a few things, and keep a small one that the boys can carry so they feel like they are helping.

2. Reusable Water/Coffee Cups

If you are often on the go, invest in a good reusable water cup or coffee mug, or both. Personally, I don’t drink coffee, so I just need a good cup for water while I am out. 

Make sure you get one that is not plastic, since that’s also part of the idea of No Waste Kitchen, to cut down on your plastic consumption. I have a stainless steel cup that I earned from Kelloggs when they were running a special that you turn in three receipts with their products and you got a cup. It seals completely so it’s great for when I travel because I don’t have to worry about it spilling. 

You can also get ones with silicone straws built into the cup if you prefer a straw, or for the kids. Both of my boys are required to have a leakproof cup with them at school every day. 

For coffee drinkers, get an insulated cup that you can pour your coffee in before leaving the house and it will stay warm for hours. Or, if you get your coffee out, ask them to put it in your cup. Most places will agree and some even give a discount. 

3. Cloth Rags

Instead of buying yet another package of paper towels or napkins the next time you go to the store, buy a package of cloth rags. They are great for almost every spill or cleanup job you need to do in the kitchen. 

I purchased a 25-pack of cotton shop rags and we use a new one every day. It stays over the edge of the kitchen sink, and we all know it’s there to grab if we have anything to clean. Sometimes it’s hands and mouths, sometimes the table, other times the counter. My only rule is if it touches a contaminant such as raw meat or eggs, or is used to clean the floor, it goes to the laundry immediately and a new rag is taken out. 

At the end of the day, the rag goes into a basket just for the “wet rags” (as we call them) and they will be washed at the end of the week.

Hint: buy white. Yes, they get dirty and stained, but I bought red the first time for that reason and they can’t be washed with anything else because the color still bleeds after dozens of washes. And when I tried to clean off my white pantry door the rag tinted it red. 

4. Bamboo Dish Brush

What do you use to clean your dishes? There are basically three options: a sponge, a brush, or a rag. Personally, I can’t stand cleaning dishes with a rag because they tend to smell quickly. And sponges are just gross, in my opinion. 

We have a cleaning brush at our kitchen sink. But most brushes are made of plastic, which we are trying to avoid. The bristles are made of a different type of plastic than the handle and there’s usually a silicone grip. Because it’s mixed, it can’t be recycled. 

The solution: a bamboo cleaning brush. These are typically made with brush fibers that can be composted, and the bamboo can as well. I also like to throw mine in the dishwasher once every month or two to help clean it out. 

5. Glass Storage Containers

I’ll bet almost anyone can go to their kitchen and find some type of plastic food storage containers. I am guilty. I’ve been working at having a No Waste Kitchen and plastic-free for many months and still have things to work on. 

My next big improvement will be in food storage. I am talking about the containers in my pantry, the ones I use for leftovers, and zip-top bags. All of these are made of plastic which means all of them can leech microplastics into our food.

Instead, next time one needs replacing, find containers made of either glass or stainless steel. I know a lot of people, especially with kids, don’t like the idea of glass. Personally, I want to be able to see through them so I use glass leftover containers. 

You can also start saving glass jars from foods you purchase at the store and use those for storage. We used to put our meats in zip-top bags in the freezer. Now I use glass jars because they can be reused over and over again. 

Bulk foods in glass jars and mesh bags for a no waste kitchen

Action-Item Kitchen Swaps

6. Beeswax & Silicone Wraps

When talking about waste in the kitchen, we have to consider any single-use products. Four big culprits that most people overlook are plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper, and parchment paper. 

Each of these can be replaced with more sustainable options, and the one you use will depend on the application. When covering a dish of leftovers, try a beeswax wrap. They are cotton covered in the wax that forms to the dish and sticks to it with the heat of your hands. 

For baking, a silicone baking sheet works in place of aluminum foil so the food doesn’t stick to the pan. Or, if you need to cover a dish while it bakes, lay a cookie sheet across the top. 

7. Compost

Compost everything you can! A majority of the waste in any kitchen is food. Produce that went bad before being used. Scraps of the produce that aren’t edible. Leftovers that didn’t get eaten. 

Much of this food can go in a compost bin to break down into nutrient-rich soil that you can use in your yard for a garden, flowers, etc. Compost also needs a lot of brown materials in addition to the food, so it’s a great place to use up any cardboard you may have from the packaging. 

Compost bins can be purchased ready-to-go and include a tumbler, or you can make your own. Depending on where you live, it can also be done in a pile in an inconspicuous corner of the yard. There are many ways, so you’ll have to figure out which is best for you and your area. 

8. Coffee Grounds

How many of you use a single-serve coffee machine with those little plastic pods of grounds? Don’t worry, I did, too, until just a few months ago. It’s so easy and convenient, I know.

But it also doesn’t take much longer, in the end, to fill a reusable pod with grounds. Then you don’t have the plastic waste from the pod and the grounds can go in your compost bin. 

9. Reduce Eating Out

Especially when it comes to lunches for work and school, try to make your own at home and bring it with you. The easiest way to do lunch from home is to pack leftovers. This gives you a good meal and helps use up any leftovers that would otherwise potentially go to waste. 

When you eat out, especially if you hit a drive-thru, there is so much waste you then have to deal with. The burger is wrapped, there are small packets of condiments, plastic silverware, a drink in mixed material that can’t be recycled, and a bag to carry it all in. That’s a lot of waste that can be avoided if you bring your own lunch. 

10. Make Your Own Snacks

Similar to number 9 above, making your own snacks instead of purchasing them from the store will reduce your waste. Especially when a lot of the ingredients can be bought in bulk. 

For example, rather than purchasing granola bars that are individually wrapped, you can create an entire pan of them in about 30 minutes from some common pantry items. Another easy thing to make yourself is trail mix.

When you make your own snacks, you can control the ingredients so they are exactly to your tastes. This also eliminated any preservatives and other artificial foods you don’t want to consume. 

Your Turn

  • What can you do today to start reducing the waste in your kitchen?
  • Have you tried any of these swaps yet?
  • If so, which is your favorite?
  • Do you have any other ideas for easy swaps to get started?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. Or, as always, feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments since someone else may be wondering the same thing!

More No Waste Kitchen Ideas

24 thoughts on “Top 10 Swaps for a No Waste Kitchen”

  1. Great tips! We already do pretty much all of these now except composting, which we have done in the past but didn’t get on with as the bin always smelt and the food waste attracted mice and rats – yuk!

  2. I totally agree about most of these no waste kitchen alternatives. I need to get better about using cleaning rags for all household purposes.

  3. These are great tips. I admit it can be a challenge not to use plastic for all our waste. We don’t have space where we can compost those biodegradable kitchen waste. I had tried using unused clay vases I have lying around but it can’t keep up with the amount og kitchen waste we produce. Im still trying to find other ways.

  4. I am for the cloth grocery bag. I have 2 beautiful bags that one of my old friends in Jersey gave me and still use them. I am still trying to reduce my eating out habit, but it’s hard. I have been working from home for the past 5 years, sometimes, I just have to go out once in a while to socialize.

  5. I’ve been steadily looking at ways to reduce my waste in the kitchen for a while now. Your suggestion of using a beeswax wrap is great! I’m going to have to hop over to Amazon to purchase some. Plastic wrap goes fast in my house.

  6. We have been getting much better at reducing waste in our kitchen with reusable dishware, but we really could be better at not eating out so much! These are great tips!

  7. This is just the article inneeded to read! I have been wanting to try this for quite some time now as I take on my vegan journey. I’ll definitely keep in mind those tips you mentioned.

  8. These are great tips – we already do all of them other than using a bamboo dish brush and food wraps, so I probably need to look into those next…

  9. I love this! I compost in my backyard and it has resulted in not only less trash in my garbage can, but it also does not stink as much. Thanks for these tips!

  10. Awesome tips for making a no-waste kitchen. There are things I am already doing (using cloth rags) and things I can’t do (we have to use trash bags that are marked with the city logo here in Japan), but there are some that I learned for the first time. Some grateful tips!

  11. Love trying to be eco-friendly and not produce so much waste, especially in the kitchen. Definitely need to keep trying to make my food at home rather than eating out. Especially for lunch and breakfast when in the office.

  12. We do still have some plastic containers in the kitchen. I like the glass better for many reasons and hope to switch fully over soon.

  13. I use cloth shopping bags and it really saves me money too because we have to pay for bags here in Japan. I also try not to eat out a lot.

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